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.)

OK..now, 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?

gentiles2

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

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Sermons from Outside the Walls- 1

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

May 29, 2018

Warning:

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.
Ready?
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

The true shape of your face..

TILICHO LAKE by David Whyte

In this high place
it is as simple as this,
leave everything you know behind.

Step toward the cold surface,
say the old prayer of rough love
and open both arms.

Those who come with empty hands
will stare into the lake astonished,
there, in the cold light
reflecting pure snow

the true shape of your own face

tilicho lake

Tilicho Lake is located in the mountains of Nepal. Over three miles above sea level, it is one of the highest lakes on Earth; thus, one of the most difficult to access. The poet David Whyte uses it here as a metaphor for that place of transformation of which we all are aware, but may not be consciously able to either express or explain the necessity of our finding it.

That shared longing is for the place where we are able to begin to move from the adolescence of our lives to becoming an adult. Without that transformative place of passage, it is possible to be an adolescent trapped in an adult’s body, endlessly seeking to find a role to play, a way to sate the the hormonal beast within, and unable to discover the exact questions which will further the journey that the body and mind are capable of travelling.

We all need to find Tillicho Lake for ourselves. It need not be high in the Himalayas, or in what others may call a sacred place. It does not have to be a far away, difficult to physically access place, and it almost certainly will not be a place one can buy a ticket for with the promise that the maturation of the soul will occur.

It will almost always be “happened upon” as it was with David Whyte. He travelled there, wanting to see a place of great beauty about which he had heard and read. But, upon seeing it, he became a part of the lake. He opened his arms to everything new that he was experiencing, and in turn was astonished as the lake opened its arms to him as well. It became his new face, part of the permanent shape of his soul.

Henry David Thoreau wrote in his Journal in 1857 of a dream in which he revisited a mountain he’d climbed years before: “What distinguishes that summit above the earthy line, is that it is unhandled, awful, grand. It can never become familiar; you are lost the moment you set foot there. You know no path, but wander, thrilled, over the bare and pathless rock, as if it were solidified air and cloud.” He is remembering the mountain, probably Mount Katahdin, described  in his book The Maine Woods, as a metaphysical place- a place where his mental and spiritual selves meet in transforming ways.

For Jesus, that sacred place happened during forty days among the rocks and crevices of the Jericho hills hard against the Jordan River. He left behind who he had been, and who he could have been, then opened his arms in astonishment  to his experience of the purest of Light.

It is there. If a person can remember that place, that time, even in a dream, then they have almost certainly experienced it a number of times since. It became a part of them, a mark on their being that has almost certainly been emotionally and spiritually enabling in the movement into their adult selves.

If neither the memory nor the dream seem to be there, I believe they will be, and soon, if one acknowledges the need for them.  Expectation and willingness are the insurance that the place will be discovered. There will be no need of its affirmation from an outside source. Tilicho Lake, Mount Katahdin, the banks of the Jordan: those places have been attracted toward the seeker even as the seeker has been attracted toward them.

It might also be the southeast corner of the neighborhood park, or the sight of a ginkgo tree in autumn as it becomes fluttering gold. Or the remembered blue wall of a childhood home where you first lost yourself in fixation and wonder.

Empty your hands, raise your arms in a rough prayer, and behold..

 

 

“Wow!” the 4th Sunday Advent Message

This message will be finished on Christmas Eve, so if you are unable to be here Friday night (at 6 p.m.), you may want to watch on line. (http://ourchurchvideos.com/76458/jacksborofumc)

Wow!”

The fourth Sunday in Advent, 2010

December 19, 2010

David B. Weber, Pastor, First UMC, Jacksboro, TX

I really do believe this gospel story is “Wow!”

I believe this story is still unfolding, still producing new “Wows!”

And I believe we have been waiting in wonder and with wisdom now1, and that we are about to see something new.

We know the gospel story, the nativity story. We know it so well that it feels like settling into a comfortable old chair when we hear those opening words from Luke: “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed..”

But my intentions this year have not been to get comfortable again with the story, but to look again at this story as a Thin Place this time- a place where, like the shepherds and the magi, we could encounter the divine nearby- as close as the condensing breath of a baby on the chilly night air.

So, in wonder, with no preconceived, prejudiced, expected or “historically traditional and acceptable” answers at the ready, I asked myself these questions:

1.What have I missed before in this story of Jesus’ birth?

2.Is there still more to be learned or to be known about the story?

Pulling from the wisdom then of a lifetime of authors, teachers, and my very own reflections; authors old and new, many Christian but not all, I am seeing Light. It’s a Light which is leading me to a place in my heart, in my soul..maybe in ways Light has led others to their encounters with the divine.

Here’s what is becoming so firm for me, so manifest, so apparent, so obvious that I am finally beginning to be able to articulate it:

The Word became flesh. And just as everything else in Creation was, once upon a time, described described as Good- that Word, that Word made flesh was also pronounced by God to be “Good.” (As in “this is my son in whom I am well pleased.”) This world, this universe, the earth, the sky, the stars, the animals- God said, “That’s Good.”

Goodness. That is what I am perceiving being revealed.

So from the scene of the stable and the manger, let’s move outward now and look at an always-becoming-larger picture:

Look first at Mary, a young woman, most likely 16, 17, 18 years old. We know nothing about her before the angel Gabriel came knocking. Nobody would have looked at her askance if she had looked out the peephole and hollered, “Get out of here!” But no, her response after the plans of God from the angel was, “Let it be.” She was a good young woman.

Joseph, Mary’s fiance. He could legally have had Mary taken to the edge of town and stoned. And who would have blamed him? His manhood had been insulted. His girlfriend was pregnant, and not by him! But he takes Mary as his wife, and raises her son as his own. Joseph was a good man.

And Elizabeth, Mary’s older cousin who Mary goes immediately to stay with at the beginning of her pregnancy. Does Elizabeth judge her cousin? Does she make Mary jump through moral hoops in return for a favor, or dictate dogma about unwed motherhood to her before she extends an invitation to stay? No, Elizabeth says to Mary, with no hesitation, “Come in, come in.” And then they sing together! Elizabeth was a good woman!

The shepherds..these were the tough guys of their day..the guys who could kill a bear or a lion with their fists and a knife. But they’re knocked over by the beauty of an angelic chorus; they’re made new by the gentleness of a baby’s presence. The shepherds were good men!

The wise men, the magi.. Riding across the property of Imperialist Rome, into the land of the puppet king Herod. The magi, following Wisdom- the Light, saw the prophecies of ancient oracles coming true and they risked their lives, their fortunes to keep that great news from the evil king Herod. They too were good men!

Most of what we have studied and understood about Christianity has been to understand the necessity of Jesus coming as the son of God to take away our sinfulness, our awfulness, our human badness. It seems as if that is how Jesus is most understood- as goodness standing in stark contrast to our badness?!

I’m here today to say something very different. I don’t believe Jesus came to make us ashamed of ourselves, or to stand in bright contrast to our dark-hardened heartlessness. On the contrary, I do believe Jesus enables us to rediscover, celebrate, and to more fully and abundantly live our human goodness. And I think today that I will probably spend the rest of my life understanding and sharing that. It is the Light that is filling my eyes, and it is also the wonderful wisdom I have waited a long time for- a Light that is also filling my heart and mind.

Have we been looking at the manger, at the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ from too many wrong and dark angles?

Have we been missing the covered-over goodness in ourselves and others that Jesus, from the time he was a baby, uncovered in all who came near him?

God looked out on God’s Creation- on the earth, the seas, the sky, the moon, the stars, animals, Adam and Eve and said, “That’s good.” God sent his son to demonstrate, to affirm that it’s still good- that it never stopped being good, and we never stopped being created in a good God’s image!

On Christmas Eve I’ll say more and tell you a story that reveals this truth- a story you will never forget.

And this is a theme you will hear me preach and teach often in the new year. But let this begin to sink in, beginning right now:

You have come near the Christ, you have reached toward Jesus, because you are good. We have been invited to the manger in Bethlehem; more importantly, we have been invited to the cross at Golgotha, because we are good.

Because we are good and we have always been good, but we have also been forgetful. And God, in the son, wants us to remember, to know, to live: we are good people.

Amen

1The three previous Advent messages have been about Thin Places, similar to the Celtic definition of them but concentrating on mental and emotional states rather than places. Wonder, Wisdom, and Waiting have been those states of being.

My Quasi-Long-Winded Response to Andrew Sullivan’s Christianism

Once upon a time, during those almost 300 years between Jesus and Constantine, Christianity, aka “The Way”, was a movement. After Constantine marched his army through the river in the year 312 and declared them defenders of the now HOLY Roman Empire, Christianity began its long slow, sometimes horrifying move into institutionalism.

The journey from movement to institution meant Christianity was done evolving- the spiritual revolution was over, and rules and buildings would begin to define it. What had been a threat to the State, now became, and would continue becoming, a guardian of the State, a Defender of the King and of the status quo. The stories of hell and fear and eternal punishment took on new urgency- they kept those unhappy peasants in line!

Of course all of that sounds familiar because we are so intimately familiar with the post-Constantinian Christian institution. We are not so familiar with the Jesus movement, and not even with Jesus himself. I say that, because few of us follow Jesus all the way into the sacrificial depths of his central statement- the Sermon on the Mount. But we try, and sometimes – oftentimes?- that trying produces stunningly wonderful results.

It’s when we get near the wounded, sick, demon-crazed, poor, lonely, homeless Jesus and accept his two-fold invitation to both help him and follow him, that we become great. We become great because the Kingdom of God in us is made evident. We forget ourselves for awhile and are possessed by the Other- the Other in need, the Other who needs the love and grace of Jesus that Jesus entrusted to us to spread around. Where we end and Jesus begins, and where the person in need begins and Jesus ends- all of that gets muddled and confusing- as it should! We realize there is no difference between us; the kingdom of God inside us is the same Kingdom of God inside the addict, the whore, the prisoner, and Jesus himself.

I once was blind but now I see- it’s a song we have to sing because we cannot keep quiet anymore, with our voices, hearts, or minds!

But the institution of Christianity cannot let any of the above paragraph’s realities happen. When the Jesus Movement comes round, rules and dogma and bank statements become of no importance. The building begins to be in need of repair and people start seeing the Bible not as a chain, but as a chain cutter. And that’s dangerous- to the Church itself, but also to the status quo, to governments, to the financially privileged.

Thus, the Church has had to be turned into something not found in the Bible, and certainly not in the gospels. It’s why the Bible is hard to read and confusing for many- it doesn’t seem to line up with the presidents who shout “Bomb them!” or the preachers who say “Damn them!” People need teachers and preachers to tell them what the Bible says- to lead them through the thick forest of difficult-to-understand histories and strange orthodoxies. Where do you find Weapons of Mass Destruction or slavery or border patrols in the gospels? It doesn’t make sense, so there are the TV guys and local self-ordained preachers to lead the unwashed through the darkness and into the holy light of FOX News.

Christianism is synonymous with the status quo, the need for continuous growth in the gross national product, and unchecked capitalism, in such a system. And it is entirely correct to ask in a time such as this, “Where the hell is Jesus?” It is correct to ask that question because the answers can only lead us to the edges of hell which is exactly where Jesus said we would find him: in need of clothes, food, water, medicine, and a friend.

Which is why churches with food courts, and gospel gatherings on the Mall, or anywhere that is entertaining rather than heart-provoking or heart-breaking, are such inviting, pleasant places to be. (“I hear they’ve got a new gift shop in Fellowship hall!”) They are not places where your hands will get dirty, where your nose will get bloodied, or where your wallet will be emptied.

And it’s why the remnant will always be going the other way in church. It is the remnant which has kept Jesus alive through the Crusades and the Inquisition and the crazy American “Spiritual Awakenings.” It is the remnant like Paul, Francis, Clare, Catherine of Siena, the Desert Mothers and Fathers, Galileo, Therese of Liveaux, John of the Cross, and so many others who dropped out and dropped away from the Institution and found again the movement and the heart of Jesus.

Christ is not Jesus’ last name. It is our identity. Jesus the Christ is the one we follow. The message is universal, it is not separating, it is about love. It is about the children, the women, the little men, the cripples, the former jerks, and the Jews, Gentiles, slaves, and freemen. It is about soldiers- even the ones with the hammers and nails. It is about the donkeys, the lilies of the field, and the birds of the air. It is about the rocks, for God’s sake, which are crying out when we do not.

It’s not about rules, or institutional bullshit. At all.

“Follow me,” he said.

Please Call by My True Names

(This is one of the first pieces by Thich Nhat Hanh that I copied and saved. I wondered at the time (about 10 years ago) if this was a poem Jesus could have written. Now I know the answer. I probably knew the answer then, too.- David)

Please Call Me by My True Names

by Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh, Thich Nhat Hanh poetry, Buddhist, Buddhist poetry, Zen / Chan poetry, [TRADITION SUB2] poetry,  poetry

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his "debt of blood" to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.

1989

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:

image

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:

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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

image

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?

and,

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.