Thoughts and Meditations

Forgive and Remember. A Christmas Message.

Sometimes I wonder what we would do without Christmas. I don’t mean this in the ‘What if Jesus never came into our world,” sense, but in the way in which Christmas is a time of forgiving and forgetting. Feuds, both silly and serious will be forgotten and relationships patched up by people that simply cannot resist a softened heart at this “most wonderful time of the year.” Without these wonderful Christmas miracles, the feuds would fester and burn year after year.

People will swear that they won’t attend a Christmas event because of so-and-so, and then they give in, and peace is made, or the feud and hurt are simply forgotten.

I myself have had this experience, swearing to avoid a situation where I feared being ridiculed again, and at the last minute letting loose of a stubborn grudge. In doing so, I found myself surrounded by those warm feelings that we seem to save up for Christmas.

Still, not all people will participate in “Good will toward all men,” this Christmas. Some feuds will continue, some grudges held. In every case, it will be because we will find it impossible to forgive, and the reason will be the conclusion that the other person(s) doesn’t deserve forgiveness. At the very worst of it, people will either believe that they don’t deserve the bad feelings directed at them (or refuse to accept their part) or that one believes that the other needs to come to them to beg forgiveness.

It is difficult to forgive and forget. Difficult indeed.

Recently, I had the good fortune of listening to a sermon on this matter by Bishop Clifton Daniel of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.

The Bishop provided me with a new way to look at things. I have thought about it quite a lot since then, and I am grateful to him; and so I wrap his thoughts and mine together, and offer them to you.

Basically, the Bishop says that we are not always able to forgive and forget. Although we have some terrific models for this, we generally are not able to get all the way there.

One example was Pearl Harbor. The hatred for Japan seems to have dissipated and now the U.S. and Japan are friendly. Nelson Mandela seemingly forgave his jailers to the point that he could provide leadership to exercise “truth and reconciliation,” to a once divided country.

The Bishop also uses the Bea Arthur character in the TV show Maude, and her constant pronouncement “I can forgive, but I can’t forget.”

What is the stumbling block? Why is it that for some, that they can never get past the hurt?

This is the help that the Bishop offers, and it is so obvious that it is brilliant.

First, consider that this always occurs in a broken relationship. Imagine any relationship between two people and you can identify what is at the center of it. It may be two friends that simply find humor in the same things, or two people that share a common spirituality. It might be the family connection of siblings, or parent to child. It could be husband to wife, or between co-workers. It doesn’t take much thought or imagination to see and name what was once at the center of that relationship.

And then something violent occurs. Someone steps out of a relationship, or tells a lie, or insults or steals or is just plain thoughtless. A wound is made. A deep cut that is undeserved. Isn’t the sense of undeserved pain always the cause of the wound? Can’t we always say “I didn’t deserve that!”

And so where we once had placed love or admiration in the center of a relationship we now place the wound. It’s like a rock the Bishop says. Perhaps it’s like a burning coal. A burning coal that burns on because we provide it with plenty of oxygen. The bellows of “I didn’t deserve that,” keep it a red hot and searing wound. It continues for as long as we wait for the guilty party on the other side to make things right, while we stand in our own righteousness with our arms folded across our chest.

This is what the Bishop tells me what I must do. Not them, me.

Take the wound and move it out of the center of our broken relationship. It is still there, you can’t forget it. But you can move it out of the center, and by doing so we can see what truly belongs in the center. It is the love or admiration that we once had for our friend, daughter, co-worker, girlfriend, mother, brother, neighbor, pastor, father…whoever. It’s up us me to do that, with the hope, but not the expectation, that they will do the same.

It’s about our own act of forgiving, with the knowledge that we won’t completely and entirely forget. Still, you have created a pathway to remembering the wound less. With the wound removed from being between you, all of the good stuff that was once there can become visible, can resurface, once again.

The Bishop seems to know that for me, I can accept a change only if the new thought or idea has a spiritual component.

He reminded me that when the resurrected Jesus came back to see His friends, he had already forgiven them.

Had Jesus forgotten the pain? When he reappeared in His resurrected body, it was complete with wounds at his hands and feet and side.

But He had removed them from the center of the relationship.

Thanks Bishop.

 

Imagine.

Imagine that you are a father. Imagine further that on a certain day, your son comes to you with the happy news that he has found love, and he plans to marry. I have had that situation in my life, I don’t have to imagine it . It is a great day for a father.

As the story continues, imagine that your son bestows a great honor on you. He asks his father, a Methodist pastor, to perform the wedding ceremony.

It shouldn’t be hard to imagine this double measure of joy.

Is there any way in which you would not quickly begin making plans for this doubly big day?

Now imagine that it is nearly seven years into the future. Somewhere, a person, doing what he believes is right in the eyes of God and His Church, decides to alert the church authorities that a rule has been broken. A person with no personal stake in the matter decides that it is warranted to report that the young man in love, is in love with another man.

For the father, this was apparently of no import at all. I can see it that way, easily. If God is love, then the Creator creates and bestows love as He wills it. Note that it is as He wills it, not us. It is beyond my imagining that the young man  is confused in thinking that what he feels is love. We know love in ways that we can only feel, and have difficulty in describing. But we know it.

By that love the young man chooses to share his life with another. The father blesses the union.

The issue now becomes a church legal matter. The church has made rules, the pastor has broken one. It is no longer about love. No one interviews the couple to see if they love each other. Love suddenly fails to matter. The commandment of Jesus to “love one another,” stands in the shadow of the rule.

That rule is the same in many churches, or at least it was until reason entered.

“Marriage is between a man and a woman,” they say. A church rule undoubtedly supported by Fundamentalist Heterosexuals, with no stake in the matter.

I can understand that the Methodist church has to make a ruling, now that the “concerned Methodist” has brought it up. I further understand that the church must conclude that indeed their rule was broken. The Pastor should admit to it, because he did it, and willingly. It also provides the opportunity for folks to speak to the rule.

Before you trot out the Bible verses that we all know that can back up the “one man to one woman” mantra, I will ask you to use your imagination.

What do you imagine the church fathers should do now? What do we do when the presence of love in our world seems to fly in the face of our church rules?

Rev. Frank Schaeffer doesn’t have to imagine any of this. It is his present reality. Here are some of his words.

“I didn’t do this to make a rebellious statement against the church,” Rev. Frank Schaefer said on Friday, reflecting on the action taken by a United Methodist Church jury of fellow pastors that last week sentenced him to a 30-day suspension after convicting him of violating church law for having officiated over his son’s same-sex wedding in 2007. At the end of the 30-day period, the Lebanon, Penn., pastor will be defrocked unless he renounces same-sex marriage, including his own son’s marriage.

In a few weeks, the church will have to make a decision. I feel confident that this decision will have to be made in light of the fact that Rev. Schaeffer will continue to chose love and reason… over the rules.

Can you imagine what the world becomes if the church decides that by this one act, Frank is no longer called to serve God and His Church and His people?

I can’t imagine being silent about this. I will find my way to say as a Christian father that I can only admire the reverend for this act of love and bravery. I will be heard, even if it is in some small way.

I can imagine that the church will have a difficult time looking at the rule and listening to the voices of those that want “justice”.

None of us sinners should be asking God to reign justice on us. We live in,and by, His mercy. That is the demonstration of His love for us.

Imagine that.

Many Mansions.

Somewhere in the Bible, Jesus says, “In my Father’s house, there are many mansions”.

I visited such a mansion last night. To some, it may not seem like a mansion at all. In point of fact, it is a row house in Phoenixville that is a bit ramshackle. By name, it is the Good Samaritan Shelter…http://www.goodsamshelter.org/

It is a mansion nonetheless. Sitting in the warm and comfortable living room with some friends that are current residents, we share and discuss the Bible. As it is Thanksgiving Eve, we begin to discuss all that we have to be thankful for me. My own list is pretty long, I am a lucky and blessed guy.

For the others, they offer thanks for one single thing. This shelter, their home.

One by one, they talk about where they have been, and how this place where we now sit and talk is testimony to God’s love for all. They smile, and look toward the kitchen as they talk about the huge pile of Thanksgiving food provided for them, all from the generosity of strangers.

There is some talk about previous Thanksgivings, including one tale where a fellow describes himself as being like George Washington, having spent a winter in Valley Forge. Unlike George, he spent his winter under a bridge.

In the midst of this genuine expression of gratitude, we all are mindful that we have it better than many do, and need to care for them, as we are able.

One gentlemen remarks that in this place, he doesn’t always see himself as “less than”.

As I count my blessings today, I am thankful for the providence of being led here, and being accepted by these new friends. I am grateful for the opportunity to be reminded that what may seem like a “homeless shelter for men” to some, is, in fact a mansion, which I am humbled to welcomed in.

I am doing my best to share this story,so that you can feel what I feel, but I don’t know how to write the words that describe the genuine smiles of gratitude.

There is a website above, in case you want to know more about this mansion.

Am I an Apostle Sheep, or a Lost Sheep, or a Wolf?

Jesus sends out the twelve, to preach to the Lost Sheep of  Israel. However, he sends them “as sheep,” and amidst the wolves.

In the world of the metaphor, who am I? Am I an Apostle sheep, or a Lost Sheep, or a Wolf?

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Wow.

In the verses just prior to this reading, Jesus is is giving instructions to the twelve. They were pretty basic. Go to the lost sheep of Israel and tell them that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

And when you’re not telling them; show them. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons:

Oh and by the way…don’t take any money. Depend on the hospitality of those who will hear your message.

For anyone that has ever preached, think about the fact that your bed and board are going to depend on your ability to preach your way into the house….

But these were simply instructions. Our reading begins with a warning.

“Behold, I send you out as sheep. We know about sheep. They are dumb, they are willing to walk into danger…they need a shepherd, they frighten and scatter easily.

In the midst of wolves. We knew about wolves, they are hungry, attacking things that move in packs. They are sneaky and dangerous.

Notice the I. Jesus takes responsibility. I am sending you…

Now comes the advice, the wise counsel.

I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. So be wise as serpents. When did Serpents become wise? In Genesis 3, when we first hear about serpents, it says: Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.

Crafty and wise. It is a fair translation to change wise to “Clever” in it’s most positive way. Crafty works.

Consider the serpent. No legs to run with, no wings to fly. All they can do is make Esses in the dirt. Not a first rate system of defense. Some have venom, most are benign in their bite.

So how does a serpent behave? He hides, he watches, out of necessity he must be cautious. Serpents don’t charge headlong into dangerous situations. Clever, Crafty, Wise.

And be innocent as doves. We know some things about doves. They share their nest, they don’t steal corn like crows. They stick with their mate and care for their young. We think of them as pure, which is why they are a fitting symbol for the Holy Spirit. Doves are also a symbol of Hope as in the story of the Flood, and a symbol of peace. Pure. Pure of heart. Above reproach.

Apostle James and Soren Kierkegaard remind us that “Purity of Heart is To Will One Thing.” Be single minded about your task to herald  the Kingdom of Heaven and be pure. So…when you go out, Don’t go out looking for trouble.

Jesus seems to be saying…

“Be shrewd as serpents… beware of men.” Don’t go out and conduct yourselves in such a way that no one would ever know that I warned you about what men will do to you. You may be sheep among wolves, but you are not to be naïve and gullible. As one commentator says, “The first wisdom of serpents is simply the prudent realization that they are amid wolves.”

So be shrewd… for the sake of the Gospel. It fascinates me when I consider how Jesus, the Great Storyteller combines these two things. To be shrewd for your self is Evil, and to be innocent is to be Foolish, or Gullible, but it is the combining of the two that makes you a suitable warrior, when you are taking the Word out amidst the wolves.

And how will you measure success? Well,  Jesus tells them, men will drag you into court, and you will be beaten. You will be placed in front of angry and anxious rulers and you will need to defend yourself.

There is not a lot of ambiguity in this new lifestyle. Jesus is giving them the grimmest outlook possible. But he also reassures them. Consider the idea of being place in front of the Governor and told to explain yourself. “What’s with all this healing and raising of the dead?” And tell me more about the “Kingdom of Heaven.” I thought what had a Kingdom going here already. You know…Caesar and all. This is a perfect opportunity to begin waffling. Think about knowing that the rest of your life is likely to be defined by your response.

I am reminded of a quote that floated around in the seventies. “If you were charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict?”

Here comes the grace…Don’t worry about it. Our Father will put His words into your mouth.

And who is going to bringing you up on charges when you are out preaching and healing? Everybody. Not just the people in town, everybody is a candidate. Parents, siblings, children.

And how long do you have to do this? It’s made pretty clear that you will be betrayed to the death. At the very least…you will be hated. But the one who stands firm to the end…will be saved. You have to stick with this while you are being hated…and up until the moment of death. Salvation is given to those who endure… no matter what  comes.

Is this a Metaphor, or clear language? (As I am fond of saying…since I don’t really understand, I’ll try to explain it to you.)

I struggle here, I don’t want to be suspicious of everybody…or anybody. I still struggle with something that was said to me by a friend years ago. “You know what your problem is Dennis…you like too many people.”

For me…step one is understanding what the Gospel says and means. The second step is to see how it speaks to me, right now, today. Isn’t that the point…the timeless truth of the Gospel? So how do I see myself in the metaphor?

I first believe that I am called out, as we all are, to spread the news of the Kingdom of Heaven. I don’t feel called to raise the dead and heal the crippled. So this is easy going for me. I have no fear of being whipped, or beaten or put to jail.

Where are the wolves who need to hear the Word, but will hate and kill me for bringing it to them? Who are the wolves that I need to be wary of?

The apostles are sent out as sheep, to find the Lost Sheep. They all look alike. It is the sheep that will reject them, and the wolves that will attack them. And sometimes the lost sheep act like the wolves.

When I am out in the World, I often, but not always, get a pretty good sense of who I suspect of Wolfiness. It is the sheep that fool me. Sometimes it is clear who the Lost Sheep are. I see them in my work with the hungry and the homeless. They look just like me…but we have different circumstances.

Perhaps the wolves are closer than we think…and just as sneaky as always.

Church and family share a common characteristic. They are hard to rip apart from the outside. When someone attacks my brother or sister of the flesh, or my brother or sister in Christ, I defend them…we all do. We circle together and form a unit and keep the bad guys out. No…to destroy a family or a church community you have to do it from the inside. It is that insidious and hateful work that sneaks up on us, draws us and and we don’t recognize that we have become a part of it. It’s called Judgement…or to use the vile word that my mother taught me was the one thing I was allowed to hate…Gossip.

Little factions spring up until we find ourselves focusing on ways that we can be better or smarter or holier than someone else until we lose track of the fact we are connected through the saving Grace of God. I need to be cautious of the wolves there. They often start by impeding any progress or new thinking with the simple words. “That’s not how we used to do things here.”

I consider also the timeless call to be as innocent as doves. To be single-minded, and to know that it is not my will or words or skills that I need to worry about, it is the reminder that the words will be put into my mouth, as long as I know when to shut-up.

One final reflection about these wolves that I need to fear. This is perhaps the one I fear the most.

I was discussing the serpent and the dove with my wife at dinner. What are their characteristics? How do we know them? We talked about how the Serpent needed to hide himself, and be cautious of going out into the open.The wolves were not on my mind at that time. In my mind, in the world of that metaphor, I am a sheep.

A few minutes later the conversation changed, and she thanked me for picking up the Organic Lettuce. I had told her earlier in the day that I would be going to the grocery store, and if she needed anything, she should text me by a certain time.

When I arrived at the store I checked my phone on the way in. Nothing. So I picked up a few things, and checked out. As I was putting the bag into the car, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I got in the car, started up, and checked my phone. There was the text. Please pick up Organic Lettuce. I was already done. She had missed the deadline, I didn’t feel like going back in. I put the car in reverse and went about four feet before I stopped and thought, parked and went back into the store.

“You know I almost didn’t get it.” I said, and told her the story. “What I wanted to do was tell you that I was already driving home (which was kinda true.) “I know that you would have understood if I told you that.”

“Something like that just happened to me too.” She said. “I was in the grocery store last Sunday on the way home from Church, getting a few things for dinner.”

Now my wife always remembers, unlike me, to take her own “Save The Planet” cloth bags for shopping. “I had unloaded everything” she continued “ and had already paid. When I started to re-load, I saw an onion at the bottom of the bag that I had failed to unload and pay for. I stood there thinking…No one knows…there are people in line behind me….it’s only one lousy onion…everything is overpriced anyway…and I almost decided to steal it. But I stopped, and said ‘Hold on here” and pulled out the onion. The cashier rolled her teen-aged eyes, and she rung up one onion on a separate sale. Out comes the debit card again…

We both agreed that it is letting little things like this slide that lead us into greater problems.It’s the old slippery slope. Doing a little wrong gives permission for greater ones.

Reflecting on the story, I see myself as one of the sheep. That might be a bit pretentious, as this discussion was aimed at the Apostles, which I decidedly am not.

In a way, I am called to do as they did, but not exactly. We seem to be long past the time when believers went about raising the dead.

Am I to understand that in post-Apostolic times that all of the believers are to spread the Gospel, telling our own stories of how God moves and shapes our lives? Or, as St. Francis says….tell the Gospel with your deeds, as that will be the only sermon that some will hear.

Or do I need to only see myself as one of the Lost Sheep of Israel…waiting for the Word to be brought to me… helping me to understand.

Or a bit of both. I will leave it to you to decide what kind of sheep you are.

Still, I cannot, I should not, ignore the fact that I have to be mindful of the seemingly innocent lies. I have to be wary of accepting false prophets and watered down Gospels. Wary of believing that all of my Christian responsibilities are met, by showing up to Church once a week.

And although I don’t feel like a wolf , I know God wants me to consider it.

I’m Awake

I don’t want to bore you with my own life story (although I surely can), but in some ways I have been asleep since 1971. Before that I was a bit of a peace-mongering activist. Vietnam had that effect on me.

When Nixon was re-elected over the peace candidate McGovern, I was shocked. The fact that Nixon got 2/3 of the popular vote, and all of the electoral votes broke my heart. I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t accept it. So I shut down. I became an Amish-Quaker-Pacifist-Episcopalian that kept his nose out of every news source there  is. It is a way of hiding that suits me. I have been chastised and vilified for these views often enough to learn to keep them to myself. I have been called a lousy American, which I tend to agree with.

Still, I have always had a sense that I need to do my bit for others, in service to The Creator. I have looked for ways to do my part, and sometimes I actually have.

However, the belief that has kept me holding on to my old views is the the abiding sense that not only am I unable to make a difference, but that I am also unable to see the wisdom in the opposite viewpoint.

I mean Nixon by a landslide…really? I stood convinced that if you try hard and then lose so profoundly, then it’s best to just give up.

Last week I was in El Salvador. It has been since the 1980′s that I have even thought about Liberation Theology. But thanks to the organization Cristosal, and particularly to it’s Executive Director Noah Bullock, I have been kicked awake by the discovery that there just might be something I can do.

I am not saying that I have been fully extracted from my long-held beliefs, however I can state that I am no longer afraid to be made aware of the facts of injustice. I am discovering a way to to willingly contribute to working, with the belief that it just might be, in some tiny way, worthwhile.

Here is why, these words are taken directly from the website http://cristosal.org/

“A human rights-based approach understands poverty not as an accidental condition but rather, the product of a social structures in which the poor and marginalized live partially or completely outside the protection of human rights.”

And even more clearly:

“Foundation Cristosal takes a human rights-based approach to community development and poverty reduction that recognizes at its core the inherent dignity, equality and inalienable rights of every human being. This principle re-positions the poor in the development enterprise from beneficiaries of charity to citizen partners, architects and owners of their own development process.”

You can apply your own definitions to who you see as poor or marginalized. You can apply this to class poverty or to an individual.

Here are some other words, as said by Noah to me and others in a group. I will quote him as carefully as I can.

“If you try to engage with people in order to help them, without investing in their particular history, then all that you are really doing is intervening.”

Perhaps you don’t share in my big discovery. But then again maybe you are one of the many people that I know that have the sense that they would be happy to do more, or offer more, if there was some way to feel as though it would be worthwhile. Something beyond writing a check and wiping your hands.

Perhaps you feel called to missionary work that means that you need to go somewhere and build homes or a water filtration system. Or like me, you latch onto the wisdom of asking people if they are worthy of clean water in their home, and if so, how can they go about the work and process of getting it. After that you can help them in their own efforts, and stand in solidarity with them in their belief that, by virtue of their humanity, they are indeed worthy.

Walter Orantes of Cristosal asked the question, “How do you tell people that are severely marginalized that God loves and cares about them?” It is a tricky question, because you first have to have the courage to ask it. You have to believe, against all evidence, that God does indeed care for them. Then you have to feel as though that there are words that you can put together so that they will actually believe you.

I have woken up to the belief that if I, through the example of Jesus Christ, hold them as equal to all others, and if I can support their own work and efforts rather than telling them what they should do,( or worse yet, do it for them), that they will ultimately stand up for themselves in taking what they have always deserved.

In some ways it is very little different that asking a woman that has been knocked around by her husband for years, if this is what she deserves, in the eyes of God. If she re-discovers her own sense of worth and dignity, she will begin to re-claim it. Perhaps I can help her to do that.

Asking a teenager how his continued use of Oxycodone is going to help him to realize those dreams that we all have for ourselves…can be a kind of Liberation.

And that, I am learning, is doing something.

Eve and The Serpent-A Prequel.

As told by

d.ennis

Poor old Eve. The way the story is often told, it seems as though the snake says…

“Hey Eve, you want some forbidden fruit?” And Eve says, “Sure!” And from that one act of weakness, mankind fell.

Of course, Adam does his best to get himself off the hook with the old “But it wasn’t my idea” defense.

After they were busted, the sentence was passed. Men work by the sweat of their brow, babies now come with pain, snakes no longer can sit up, and all of the blame falls to Eve.

Recently, some documents have turned up that suggest that maybe a few males did a bit of creative editing, to improve their image in the story. Of course, this was at the expense of Eve, and therefore, all women.

Read on. Perhaps Eve was far stronger than we knew.

Of course The Serpent was a crafty and powerful opponent.

 

And still is…

   Eve and The Serpent. The Prequel

In a beautiful and tranquil garden, The Serpent leans casually against a tree. The woman, only a few feet away. is completely unaware of him, as she ambles along with ease, absorbing all of the beauty of the world around her. The Serpent watches her closely, as she experiences all the smells and sounds that the earth offers. The Serpent is fascinated by this apparent waste of time. So, he decides to engage this creature in conversation.

PSST. .”Hey. What are you?”

The Woman looks around. “Me? I’m a little hungry, what are you?”

“No..I mean what are you?”

“Well, I guess I’m a little tired too. I walk around here a lot. There’s not a lot else to do.”

The Serpent rolls his eyes. “No,…I mean WHAT are you? You know, like I’m a serpent, and that thing on your face is a mosquito.”

The Woman swats the mosquito away. “I think that it likes me. It always seems to be around. But, I do enjoy the company. It doesn’t say much though. Kind of like Adam.”

“Adam? What is an Adam?”

“He is my owner….or something like that. He was here before I was anyway. He tells me that all the time. He says that before i got here there wasn’t a lot of chit chat.”

“What is a chit chat?”

“I’m not sure really, but I think they got here the same time that I did.”

“So you have two bosses?”

“I think so. The Maker and Adam. The Maker isn’t bossy like Adam though.”

“How so?”

“I don’t see The Maker very much. When I do, he just smiles a lot. But Adam always makes me do things. Labor, he calls it.”

“Like what?”

“You know, bossy stuff like, ‘peel this banana’, or ‘cover my poop’. Sometimes it’s messier like ‘butcher this Yak’. It’s usually pretty easy stuff, but he makes me do it. He says that The Maker wants it that way. Before i came, he had to do all that stuff by himself. So, he got a helper, which is me.”

“So, is Adam that big dude that only walks on two legs?”

“Yeah. You must have seen him. He’s kinda hunky. I don’t get the hair thing though. All the other creatures I see around here have hair either everywhere or nowhere. He just has patches of it. Except for his back, which is covered like his face.”

The Serpent tries anew. “So anyway, what are you?”

“I’m a little hungry, I guess.”

The Serpent sighs….”No! WHAT are you?”

“Now you sound like Adam. I can hear you just fine without hollering.”

The Serpent tries a new tactic. “Look…I am a Serpent. What are you?”

Silence….followed by…

“I’m a little tired I guess, we usually nap around this time. You know, the cool of the day. See you later Serpent.”

Eve begins to walk off, but looks down to see The Serpent sidling next to her.

“Let me try this again, it seems as though we got off to a bad start.”

The Serpent clears his throat. “I haven’t seen you around the garden before. I have seen lots of other creatures, but none so beautiful as you. What kind of a creature are you? I am a Serpent. You are a…?”

Eve is thoughtful. “Oh I get it. Sorry, I was having a blonde moment. I am a chit chat. Or maybe I am a Helper. Anyway, that’s what Adam says.”

The Serpent sighs, then lights up when a new idea occurs. “What is Adam…what kind of creature is he?”

“A Serpent?”

“No….I’m a serpent, does he look like me?”

“No. He looks more like me than you do, except in a few spots, which he refers to as my hubba-hubbas.”

OK…what does The Maker call him?

“Adam…you know like ‘Man’.”

“And what does he call you?”

“Well, sometimes precious, or sweetie. I get darling a lot, but then again I have only been here for about eleven sunsets.”

“So Adam is a man and you are a precious?”

“No silly, I am a wo-man. You know, since I came out of a man.”

“Out of?”

“When did you get here Serpent? The Maker made the garden, then he made all you guys, then he made Adam, then me. I’m the newest around here. Adam told me all this. For a guy with a protruding forehead, he sure seems to know a lot.”

“How did you come out of him?”

“Oh yeah. Adam went to sleep; He pulled out one of his bones, and made me out of it.”

“You buying that story?”

“What story?”

“Since Adam got here first, then he gets to make all the decisions, like what you eat and who covers the poop?”

“Well, I’m kinda new around here, but it makes sense to me. I’m fine with it.”

The Serpent, not getting the reaction that he hoped for, says, “Maybe we should talk about this some more.”

“OK. I’ll ask Adam about it, and then you and I can talk.”

“You and me.”

“Oh…sorry, this language thing can be persplecting.”

The Serpent sighs.

“Hey, how come you talk so good? None of the other creatures talk to me at all, and I have tried, I’ll tell you.”

“Let’s just say…I have a friend that is interested in my um…communication skills. Anyway, do me a favor wo-man. Don’t talk to Adam about you and me just yet. Let’s see what we can figure out on our own. And by the way, I love how you chit-chat. Let’s do this again. say…tomorrow?”

“OK. If I’m not busy helping.”

As Eve disappears into the garden The Serpent smiles slyly, but then mutters to himself. “This might be harder than I thought.”

And the very next day…

“Hellooo there Chit Chat.”

“Oh, Hello! Hey, I checked with Adam. My name is Eve, and I am a human.”

“You didn’t tell him about us did you?”

“Nah, he barely listens anyway. I just told him I was curious. He said The Maker named me the mother of all life, but I am not getting what that means exactly.”

“He didn’t tell you about, you know, sex?”

“Not that I recall. Sex?”

The Serpent smiles slyly and turns away. “I gotta run, but we can talk about it tomorrow.”

The Serpent slithers away, his head held as high as he can manage. As he leaves, he can hear Eve muttering something about men never wanting to talk to her.

The next day, Eve, is walking around their regular meeting spot, where the cool breeze comes off of the brook. She is humming a tune which will one day be known as “Oh Susanna.”

After a while, she spies The Serpent, head up, leaning against a rock, with a fashionably shaped scarf around his neck, fashioned from passion flower vines. He has rolled up some leaves which will one day be known as tobacco. It is his cough as he exhales that gets her attention.

“Hey gorgeous.” says the very cool looking serpent.

“Oh hi! Guess what? Adam brought up sex last night. He used some other name for it.”

“What was that?”

“Wifely duty, he calls it”

“Didn’t he talk about the fun, the big wow of it?”

“What fun?”

“Fun for you doll. Big fun indeed.”

“I guess I missed that.”

“Men”, says The Serpent in mock disgust. The subtlety is lost on Eve.

“Aren’t you a man sort of, you know, like Adam?”

“You know it baby. All man. Well, male actually.”

“You know, you told me what you are, but you never told me your name.”

“Oh, I have many names,” says The Serpent, sidling up to Eve, grazing against one of her upper hubba-hubbas. “But what I like to say is, ‘Pleased to meet you, won’t you guess my name.’” That will be big one day, really big, he tells her. “Sex is fun Eve my lovely, and I would be happy to show you how.”

Eve looks The Serpent up and down, and says, “I’m not sure how that would work for you and me…except for the obvious, which is disgusting.” She moves away slightly.

The Serpent is disappointed that he hadn’t thought the obvious anatomy differences through further. He had focused too much on his “bad boy” look.

“I think that ‘wifely duty’ means that it supposed to be between just me and Adam anyway.”

“Adam and me.”

“Whatever.”

“Why is that, does he own you? Have you no life of your own? No independent spirit? No adventure? I could take you places that he never dreamed of. And why shouldn’t you enjoy all that there is?”

“Well, The Maker says….”

“The Serpent interrupts. The Maker? Are you telling me that The Maker denies you a good time? What else is he keeping from you?”

“Just a few things, he says it’s for my own good.”

The Serpent chuckles. “You buying that?”

“Well, he really is very sweet. Plus he says that he never lies. I didn’t know what lies were until he explained that I might meet a guy that makes all the bad stuff sound good, and that he is a trickster and that I should be careful who I…”

The Serpent interrupts, “That Maker, he promises everything, but then he squeezes the fun out of things.”

“No really, do you know him? He is super-nice. He says it’s all for I and Adam…”

“Adam and me.”

“Whatever. He says it’s all for us, and there are just a few little things that could make trouble for us.”

“What, the fun things?”

The Serpent slithers back to Eve, trailing up her back and around her arm. She makes a small cooing sound as he does so.

“I better not.” She can feel hot breath on her neck as she says it.

Eve pulls away.

“I remember why. He says we are one flesh, and I am supposed to cleave. That’s it! Plus it would hurt Adam’s feelings if he knew.”

“I’m not going to tell him….”

“No, but thanks anyway,” says Eve as she bites into a succulent peach that suddenly  appears and is hanging before her face. Mmmmm I love these.

Off goes The Serpent, into the forest, muttering “This is going to be harder than I thought.” as he goes.

“See you tomorrow?” calls Eve. She cannot see The Serpent, but sees the long grass shaking in his trail.

“Maybe.” he says. “I might need a few days to work on some things.”

“Okay,” says Eve sweetly. She picks a peach for Adam as she heads back to their hut.

A few days later…

The Serpent looks dejected, sitting on the shaded section of a flat rock. Eve walks cheerily into the garden.

“Well hello there Serpent! It’s been six sunrises since I have seen you. Is everything OK?”

“I’ve been doing a lot of plotting…er, I mean thinking.”

“Are you troubled, vexed?”

“A bit. Some things are harder than they should be.”

“You know what I do when I’m a little troubled? I talk to Adam; and sometimes to The Maker. He always has good suggestions. And he’s so nice!”

The Serpent groans quietly. An idea comes to The Serpent… he sits up.

“Why do you go to them when you have questions?”

“Well The Maker seems to know everything; and Adam was here before me, so he must know things that I don’t.”

“Well, maybe he does.”

“Plus, I don’t like to do anything without consulting Adam. He’s the man of the hut.”

“Does that mean he knows more than you?”

“He seems to. He is the man after all.”

“Okay I get it; he’s the man of the house. But it doesn’t seem fair to me”

“What do you mean by fair?”

“Well, you came from him you say, so you must be the same as him. But he bosses you around, gives you chores, and tells you what to do.”

The Serpent pauses, watching Eve to see if she is catching on.

“And…is that fair?” He finally asks her.

“What do you mean by fair?”

“Aren’t you two equal? Or is he better?”

“I wouldn’t say better.”

“Then why is he in charge?”

“Cause he’s the man….and that’s the way it has been always.”

“For how long?”

“Many sunrises.”

“So that means that you will be the boss of whoever comes next?”

“Who is coming?”

“Geez. Think hypothetically! If Adam is in charge of you, then you should be in charge of the person that comes next. Right?”

“I don’t think that’s what The Maker had in mind.”

“Who told you that?”

“Adam.”

“Hmmm…”

“Hmmm what? “

“Maybe Adam and The Maker made a deal, to keep you doing the chores.”

“I don’t mind the chores…so much.”

“Does Adam do chores?”

“Oh yes, he kills the food. After that he always tells me what he named it, and then leaves it there for me to take care of.”

“Take care of?”

“You know, get rid of the innards, cut it up, cook it, feed Adam, and clean up.”

“Maybe Adam could do that once in a while.”

“He says that he doesn’t do women’s work.”

“And who said it was women’s work?”

“I told you, Adam and The Maker.”

“Do you like to kill the food?”

“I wouldn’t mind, but he won’t show me how. But I do like picking the fruit and carrying it home.”

“Adam doesn’t help with that? Oh…I forgot, women’s work. Eve my dear, I think that you are sweet, and beautiful; but perhaps a little naive. Don’t you see my dear? Adam won’t teach you how to kill, because when you figure out that he is taking advantage of you as a helper, you might kill him. That’s because if you killed him, The Maker would put you in charge, and make a helper for you.”

“I would never kill Adam. That would be mean, and wrong.”

“Well then, just go and tell him that you deserve to be in charge, at least half the time.”

“He’d kill me!”

“That’s my point sweetlips.”

“No, no he wouldn’t really kill me…would he?”

“You never know with men.”

“You know Serpent; you have made me think about this differently. You certainly are a clever one.”

The Serpent looks away and smiles broadly. “Progress” he says, as he and Eve go their separate ways.

The very next day…

“There you are!” says Eve.

The Serpent smiles a sly smile of apprehension.

“You know…I would never kill Adam! He’s a cutie.”

“But…does he have your best interest at heart?”

“He does, he says that we are equal, we just have different roles.”

“You didn’t tell him that we have been chatting did you?”

“No…but he suspects. He says that I seem to have different notions.”

“What does that have to do with me…with us?”

“Well, the Maker says that I should listen to your words carefully.”

“The Maker? You told The Maker about us.”

“Not exactly, but he seemed to know. He’s pretty sharp, Serpent.”

“Don’t I know it.”

“Look. Things are perfect here. We have everything we need…and it’s all just handed to us. Why would I disturb that and do something silly like wasting Adam?”

“Wasting?”

“That’s Adam’s word. He says it will be big one day. Look Serpent, Adam reminded me that we only kill what we need to eat. Anything else is wrong.”

“Well, as long as you’re happy with The Maker calling all the shots, then go right ahead with that kind of thinking.”

“But we have everything we want. All we have to do is be kind, and to avoid one little tree”

“One little tree?”

“Yeah…you know the one.”

“I don’t know that one. Tell me about it.”

“The tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

“That doesn’t sound little to me. That sounds like a biggie.”

“Does it?”

“Well Eve, let’s think about it. You tell me that everything is perfect here, except that you are to take orders from both The Maker and Adam. Also, Adam seems to give you all of the heavy lifting to do, just by calling it “women’s work.”

Then there is your friend The Maker. He tells you that he made everything just for you, and now you are telling me that there is one tree that he keeps all to himself. And more importantly, you seem to be falling for his nice guy act, and that’s why you miss the point.”

“What point?”

The Serpent pauses to concentrate. Hey senses victory, finally.

“What did you say the tree was called again?”

“Um….the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

“And that’s the one that is forbidden?”

“Yep. But that’s the only one….all of the other trees and their fruit are…”

“Wise up Eve.”

“What?”

“Look, you are as smart as Adam, maybe smarter, and The Maker knows it. As long as he keeps you away from his special tree, he gets to keep you in second place. “

“But Serpent, really. Look how beautiful all of this is. Look at all of the beautiful fruits and flowers!”

“Eye candy. That’s all it is Eve. Wake up to the fact that he is treating you like a child, and Adam seems to be in on it.”

“I have it all…except for one teeny thing.”

“The one thing you say. The one thing indeed. You have it all…except for the most important thing. Wisdom. Wisdom unlocks all of the doors Eve. I hate to be the one that ruins things for you, but I just can’t keep the truth from a friend. “

“I don’t know Serpent, I really don’t.”

“You’re not scared are you?”

“A little.”

I thought so, The Maker is counting on you being afraid is my guess.

“Can I ask you something Serpent?”

“Sure, luv.”

“Why don’t you eat the fruit of that tree?”

“I guess I could, but it’s no big deal for me…and the rest of the creatures. It was only forbidden for you and Adam, right?”

“That’s what I understand.”

“One more thing Eve. The Maker, does he like you to have adventures?”

“Yeah, I believe he does.”

“And he gave you the whole garden to roam around in?”

“The whole thing?”

“All of it.”

“Except for one tree.”

“Do you think maybe that The Maker is challenging you? Inspiring you to have it all, to be just like him….but you have to earn it?”

“I think so! I am going to go find Adam and discuss all of this with him.”

“I wouldn’t bother. I don’t think that he would get it. I think that this is a place where you claim leadership, because you’re just a little smarter about these things.”

“You really think so Serpent?”

“It’s obvious to me.”

“I’ll tell you what. Meet me by The Tree tomorrow. Tonight, keep it to yourself and think about how great all of the rest of your days will be, when you have all knowledge and wisdom.”

“But I want to be a kind ruler Serpent. I don’t want to leave Adam behind.”

“You are so sweet and thoughtful Eve. Okay, meet me after another sunrise, and bring Adam if you want to.”

“I will! This is going to be exciting!”

“You can’t possibly imagine Eve.”

“Bye Serpent!”

As The Serpent slithered through the grass, a faint and wicked laugh flowed from his lips, followed by the words…”You can’t possibly imagine, Eve.”

All in all, it was much harder than The Serpent imagined. As he slunk along, he thought to himself that the truly good people were going to be lot harder to turn…but worth it.

Of Confederate Flags and Hardened Hearts.

The sermon was about the power, and the impact of a once-hardened heart… now melted. The model for this is good old Paul, formerly of Tarsus, formerly named Saul.

Saul was a Super-Jew and an enemy of those folks that were following the new notion of a risen Jesus. They called themselves “The Way”

To refresh you, Saul was walking down the road to Damascus, minding everybody else’s business, when the risen Lord came to him in a vision, with a question. The question, in modern vernacular was, “Why are you messing with me?”

After a few days of Jesus-imposed blindness, Saul’s eyes were reopened; to see the power of our risen Lord. Saul became Paul, and he immediately knocked off the persecution of Christians, and became the guy that brought the Good News to the whole world outside of Jerusalem.

It was the power of this hardened heart…now melted, that founded a church.

This message of how absolute forgiveness can inspire us to march in His name reminded me of my own life and struggles. But as I listened, my thoughts went to a young friend of mine.

He is only fifteen. A nice young man, and is surrounded by loving family. I have gotten to know him because there is a hole in his life where a father should be; he lost his dad at age four. He is thoughtful and kind and very open. And he wears a confederate belt buckle.

I personally have nothing against yearning for the Old South, but that is not why a fifteen year old white suburban kid sports the confederate flag on his person. It is a statement, and it is born in bigotry and hate. It is not subtle.

“Why do you wear a confederate flag belt buckle?” I asked him.

“I just like it.” he replied sheepishly.

“Bullshit.” I said, un-sheepishly.

We talked about this for a while, and he explained how he had every right to wear it, because of the black kids that picked on him. As you may recall, telling adolescent people what they should believe in is a fools errand, ripe for rebellion. Still, he was willing to discuss it.

I suggested that he consider Brother Martin’s words that we judge others by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. I hoped that he could see that the actions of a few don’t fairly apply to all.

“Who made you?” I inquired.

“God.” he said.

“Who made those kids?”

“God.” he replied, with a slight hesitation.

“Then if God made you both, aren’t you brothers, in a way?”

No response.

I was thinking more about him and his belt buckle as the sermon ended and my week began. I worried about the effect on him as man, if his heart had become so hardened by age fifteen.

A day passed. We sat in my living room, and I put on the movie American History X. If you don’t know it, it is a modern story about little American minds hating other Americans. It is also a powerful story about a once-hardened heart…now melted. The strongest message though, is that when we hate, we teach others to hate, and the residue can be devastating.

I asked him to watch it with me, and to consider his belt buckle as he did so.

I watched him cringe and move uncomfortably at all of the right scenes. We didn’t discuss it afterward; I was just hoping that he would consider the message.

On the drive home, I noticed that the belt was now rolled up in his hand. As we said goodnight, I asked him why he took it off.

“It’s not right.” he said, and there was sorrow in his voice.

There is nothing more powerful than a once hardened heart…now melted. Watching one melt is enough to make a grown man cry.

p.s. Hey Fr. Hyatt, thanks for the message.

Doubting Thomas Indeed

It’s just not fair when a person’s whole life is summed up by one thing that they said or did. It’s particularly unfair when that one thing gets twisted around. So it is with “Doubting” Thomas.

His call to follow Jesus is not recorded in any specific, or interesting, way. We know that he was called Didymas, which means “the twin”, but we don’t know anything about the sibling.

The famous story, the one for which he got his nickname, goes like this, in short.

Jesus was resurrected, and Thomas wasn’t around to get the news. Apparently the rest of the gang was all there when Jesus came to visit. Note also that Jesus didn’t bother opening any doors to get into the room where they were locked away in hiding.  He was just suddenly there in the midst of them. That would prompt me to accept the resurrection.

As John tells the story, when Thomas returns, the disciples tell him, “We have seen The Master”.   Now pause for this thought…What would you have said? How might you have reacted if you knew that Jesus had been killed, and now your buddies tell you that they have seen Him? Here are some possibilities:

-Shut up.

-That’s not funny.

-Did he ask for me?

-Pull the other leg.

That’s impossible!

Unless I see the marks of the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the marks, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.

Of course, we know what Thomas said, but all of the other suggestions make sense to me also. It seems to me that Thomas wanted to believe, but how could this be possible? Up until that point in history, almost everyone that had died had stayed dead.

To me, this is a story of hopeful hope, and Thomas had reason to believe that it just might be possible. Here is another story that John tells us, a little earlier in his Gospel.

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”

After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

 

There is no mention here that Thomas doubted anything at all. Jesus said that he was going to go raise a guy from the dead. The only concern seemed to be where he was going to do it, because the Jews might try to stone Him…again. So what does Thomas have to say now?

C’mon fellas, let’s all go to Judea with Him, and we can all die! Not too much doubt in that statement is there?

Thomas is one of the few apostles where we get learn something about their personality. Those two examples seem to suggest a matter-of-fact guy and an all-out believer.

Regardless of the obvious belief in his master to raise the dead, and a loyalty far beyond my personal abilities and courage, the news may be just too good to be true. It is my view that John gives us this story, not to poke fun at Thomas, but as a way that all of the rest of us should be able to understand.

After Jesus conceded to Thomas wish to examine the wounds, He says:

“Is it because you have seen me that you have believed?” said Jesus. “Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed!”

John is talking to all of the rest of us, because that’s what we have chosen to do. Believed without seeing.

If you have any doubts about the extent to which Thomas believed, here is a little bit more of his story.

He walked at least as far as India, spreading the word and building churches and believers. That’s over 3000 miles away. Some say that in the 30 plus years that he evangelized, he may have made it all the way to China. Do doubting people do this? I doubt it.

We know that he was serious enough about his work that he died a martyr’s death for it; a gruesome spearing. What would compel Thomas to give over his whole life building churches in the name of Jesus?

Here is a clue.When he recognizes the risen Lord, Thomas responds:  “My Lord and my God.”

I believe that this is the first time that Jesus was addressed in this way. Think of what they called Him before, and what he called himself. Son of Man, Master, Rabbi, Teacher.

Thomas was the first to get it. Some saw Jesus, raised from the dead. Thomas sees that his Master is God.

Without a doubt.

 

Life Abundant

” I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10.

It is Saturday night, the Great Vigil of Easter. As the sun sets, the new fires are lit, and hope returns to the world. The curse of the tomb is gone, because the tomb is empty. Easter. He Lives. Resurrection.

The preacher, Fr. David Hyatt is an intellectual. He is warm and wise in ways that many intellectual types leave me cold.  They seem to know, but they don’t believe.  The passionless intelligentsia I call them; you know the type.

Fr. Hyatt is my friend, and I look forward to his sermons, because he teaches while challenging me to think it through for myself.

As he begins, I wonder how difficult it must be to develop a fresh thought for this Easter, as he has preached for many, many Easters. David talks about the challenge of believing, using Thomas’ doubts as the springboard. He talks about the promise of life of abundance.

I am thinking now, drawn in. This abundance is a promise that we have to participate in. We have to take the risk of claiming our own greatness. Muhammad Ali is introduced to the sermon as claiming his own greatness, before he had realized it. It was the accepting and claiming and believing that propelled him, Fr. Hyatt is telling us.

Well, I am no Muhammad Ali, you can ask anybody. Still, he has me wondering, what do I have, where is my abundance? I can make a mental note of some things as David speaks. I have abundance in family and friends. Abundantly good fortune in other things, but yet I am still so very far from accomplishing things that are of great importance to me. So far indeed; so far that I fight off the belief that I am a mere dreamer, and not the heavyweight champ.

That’s what I was thinking, as I shook my head to clear it, and  return to listening. This is good stuff, and I don’t want to miss what Fr. Hyatt says just because I am entangled in my own shortcomings.

A quote is read to us, the author is unknown to me.  It is prose, but the way that David reads it makes it poetry.

It follows, by Marianne Williamson.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Wow. Discovering this is as surprising to me as I imagine that Peter was surprised, as he leaned down to peak into an empty tomb.

This is too good not to share; it is my Easter surprise. I thank Marianne for writing it, and Fr. Hyatt for bringing it to me, and turning it  up to 10.

In a world capable of blight or abundance, I stand in the warmth and light of the risen Lord. Maybe even a wretch like me, or you, can manifest the glory of God that is within us.

I am thinking that maybe I can, if I shrug off the comfort of being a wretch, for the dangerous notion of having greatness in me, waiting to be claimed.

Oh yeah, and to be claimed for His glory, not mine. I aim to stop being ashamed of what I have not become.

Why I Hate Easter.

I used to say that I hate Easter all the time, but I am beginning to get over it.

My grandmother died on Easter. That was pretty bad, but the kind of thing that you can get past.

My mother died on Easter. That, for some time, has been impossible to get over.

Easter, the queen of Christian holidays, became overshadowed by the death of my mom. It wasn’t a surprise, she was sick. On Good Friday, appropriately enough, we gathered around for last rites, and goodbye. She wasn’t really with us, if you know what I mean.

Then, on Easter morning, just around sunrise, the phone awakened me. I knew what it was. Before I could get to the phone, I heard my dad’s voice on the answering machine telling me to give him a call. His voice was shaky. His voice was never shaky. I know that I called him back and had him tell me the news, although I can’t really recall it.

What I do recall, is losing my mind for a few moments. Here is what I said, to everyone and no one.

“Oh this is great….they got to the tomb where Jesus was, and Jesus wasn’t there. You knew who was there? My mother!” Odd, I know. Understand that it was said loudly, angrily. I lost a bit of myself that day, and it is taking a long time to get it all back. I am aware that I have been holding onto the bitterness, as a foolish way of keeping her present with me.

I don’t think of the date when I remember the day she died. She died on Easter.

Some years later, I lost my dad. I know the date for this, March 31. The day of his memorial service was the anniversary date of my mom’s death, it was not on Easter.

Today, I am thinking forward about their passing; Easter is right around the corner.

That’s when I discovered how “special” this year will be. March 31 is Easter. The day I lost them both. The day my three brothers and three sisters lost them both, and gave up a little too much of the glue that held us together. I am ashamed of my part in this; we were raised to be there for each other.

 I am bracing myself for another sad Easter Sunday. Double barreled. Both Mom and dad.

Something else is happening though, and I can feel it. As I begin to try to brace myself for a dose of pending desperation, I am aware that I need help…and I can feel hope slipping in, to the extent that I allow it.

Long ago, they referred to the early Christians as “The Easter People”. The empty tomb is the thing that defines Christians. The resurrection of Jesus; which for us is the hope of life eternal.

Perhaps it is the passage of time that is helping. More likely it is the fact that I am reaching out for help, to the only source that can provide it. I find that I cannot hold onto the anger, and sense of loss, as the hope trickles in. It’s like there is only so much room for feelings, and I am letting the good force the bad out.

On Good Friday, at the foot of the cross, they must have all felt the way that I have for so long. Lost, angry orphaned. But then…Easter! He is not dead, He is risen.

And so are they, mom and dad; and on this Easter I will imagine them together in a special way.

This hopeful promise has always been there for me, and I turned my back to it.

This year, I am going to focus on thanks. Thanks to my parents and thanks to the risen Lord that gives me hope.

As I finish these words, my thoughts go to the words of one of my mothers favorite hymns. It’s called O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,

For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?

O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,

Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

Thank you.

Of Promises, Foolish and Otherwise.

Apparently, Jephthah was something of a badass.

He had a rough start in life, what with his mom being a whore and all. That kind of thing often comes up in the village. Cruel stuff, the kind of stuff that can harden a person through shame. Even worse is when your dad’s other kids kick you out of the family. It’s not that surprising that this kind of start can lead to a life of crime.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, the Israelites are being invaded by some Ammonites. The Israelites and the Ammonites were long time enemies, the Israelites calling particular attention to them as someone that they shouldn’t be coupling with. The Mishnah (oral Torah) even talks about excluding the Ammonite men entirely.

The Israelite s had plenty of their own problems though. That old problem that seemed to keep cropping up; some of their people were worshiping false gods. That was why, they reasoned, they were getting beat up by the Ammonites. This was particularly in the region of Gilead, which included two of the Israelite tribes.

They needed a warrior to lead them, and the person willing to do so could become their leader. So, Jephthah, the baddest dude around, was a candidate. It doesn’t sound like he was all bad, because he recognized that he would need God on his side. This is from Judges, chapter 11:

And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD, and said, “If thou wilt give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes forth from the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer him up for a burnt offering.”

I have made these kind of foolish promises myself…If you will do this for me Lord, then I will do that. I have also failed to hold up my end.

I am not significant enough to ask God to help me in battle; I have also not gone so far as to offer a human sacrifice.

The contemporaries of Jephthah knew that this was a no-no. The story of Isaac seemed to settle it. Why would Jephthah offer it? I can only guess that it was a big offer to match his big request.

How wrong was Jephthah? At this point in the story…I’m not sure. Others have made promises like this. Danny Thomas has done wonders for thousands of sick kids, making good on his promise to God to do so, if God would help him out.

Back to Jephthah and the boys…off to battle they go, and the Israelites, led by Jephthah, are victors.

What happens next makes me believe that this son of a harlot, family outcast and former head of a group of bandits had a true sense of duty to his Lord, and to his word. Maybe misguided, but true.

Here is the next part of the story:

 [34] Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah; and behold his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances; she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.[35] And when he saw her, he rent his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me; for I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.”

His daughter, apparently in celebration of the victory and homecoming, comes out the door to greet her dad. For this, she has to die, although she doesn’t know it just yet. Her father had said that he cannot take back his vow, even if she is his only child, and the end of his bloodline.

I will freely admit that my next move would have been to take back the vow and take my chances. I am certain that much whining and pleading would have been involved.

Some scholarship argues that he didn’t really kill her, but the text seems pretty clear to me. Also, I am guessing that Jephthah was familiar with the words in Deuteronomy that forbid child sacrifice.

The sweet daughter also accepts the vow, and rather than asking for mercy, she just asks for a little time.I think that this may well be the supreme “Between a rock and a hard place” story.

The author of Judges seems to want me to see the foolishness of making a rash vow, and I do. But Jephthah and me are not the only two people to make rash vows.

Jephthah gave his word to God and kept it and I am guessing that he was wrong to do so. Can breaking your word to God ever be the right thing? Does that mean that I was correct when I didn’t keep my vow? I am certain that I was wrong. I can feel it, regardless of the juicy rationalizations that I suggest.

If both things are wrong, then I come to this conclusion. Don’t barter with God. He is not a game show host. We shame ourselves by thinking that we can offer a sweet enough deal to get what we want. We belittle His magnificence.

The purity of the asking makes the difference between Thee and He apparent. By taking our requests to God, we are saying that we need something that we cannot provide for ourselves, and we know that He can, if He will. We are recognizing that the Creator of the Universe certainly has the ability to do anything that I would want him to do. No job is too large. And even though it’s OK for me to make any request, I also have to be willing to settle for the answers “No” or “Not Now”. When the answer is Yes, I am called to further gratitude and obedience.

There is no other payment due. It was always so; from the beginning, and to the time of Jephthah. And just to make it absolutely clear, for ever ever and ever, that no payment is due for God’s grace; just consider Calvary.

 

The Illusion of Contemplation

I wish that I could forever remember all that I have ever learned. If so, it would bring me a sweet economy of time whereby I wouldn’t have to constantly re-learn or re-discover things. I’m not talking about small things, memory items, like phone numbers or quotations. I mean big things.
I need to remember that the time I spend being contemplative is useful to me, and to me alone. And of what importance am I? I mean really now, what good is discovering something if you don’t do anything with it except to contemplate it even further.

I am in no way minimizing the importance of tending to my own salvation, and to be constantly connected with the author of it.

In my contemplative times, regardless of the amount of distraction I need to fight off; and regardless of the depth of it, a singular message is always present. Sometimes it screams, sometimes it whispers, sometimes it haunts; but it is always there. I am called to serve.
What varies is whom, or how, and by what means, I serve. To serve is the core.

I am no leader of men, I am not called to be the top man, the person in charge. I have always known that I am to serve a master. Perhaps that is why the difference between me and God is so easy for me to accept. I know what I am not. In spades.

Why can’t I be the top man? Simply because I get no joy from it. My happiness, and fulfillment come from understanding the message and direction from Number One, and helping to fulfill that vision. Along with that, I know that my support will not come from praise, but by serving. Obedience, if you will.

This does not make me weak; whom I serve is incredibly important. It has to be someone with whom I can jump in totally, even if the “jumping in” contains the hard work of questioning, arguing and understanding until I know what to believe.

Through contemplation, I can discern. I wrestle with myself and God. I figure out, I understand; better yet, I comprehend. All this, until there is clarity of purpose. I can always sense the clarity because with it comes energy to move forward.

Today I am remembering, and re-discovering that through contemplation, I can get to work, full with the knowledge that there is a path and purpose. I will lead a little, and be lead even more.

I pray to know what I am called to do. That is divine.

Then I’ve got to get up off my butt and get to work doing it. That is human.

In A Tongue Not Understanded By The People

John Wycliffe, William Tyndale and Thomas Cranmer shared a common viewpoint.

There were others as well, Erasmus and Martin Luther come to mind. As I consider the viewpoint, with gratitude, of Wycliffe, Tyndale, and Cranmer, I have a hunch that they all shared the same question.
“Why won’t they let us read the Bible?”
“They” is the Roman Church. Or the primitive Church if you prefer. “Us” is…anyone that cannot read Latin. Interesting…
First off, we have to recognize that this was not a problem for The Three. They were all scholars, and so certainly they could read the Bible in Latin. It is said that Tyndale could speak in virtually every language. Most likely the problem for them personally was that the Bible had been rewritten in parts, for the benefit of the Church. The benefit was to gain power over the people, and it was power that was used in the everyday life of the Christians in Europe. Keep in mind that church attendance was mandatory in those dark ages.
That was what was at the heart of it all. The Bible was “wrong” and so the work was to correct it, and  to correct it by going back to previous versions.

The Bible has always, and please forgive this word for the lack of a better one, “suffered” from the personal mixed in with the divine. When we read “And God spoke to me these words,” we believe that this is the way that the profits understood it. We also accept that some parts of the Bible are inspirational stories that are borne from a tradition of trying to explain how we got here. Others, like Job, help us to deal with life questions of ethics and morality. Some of it is history, which is always told as fact coupled with experience, and others as seemingly direct quotes from the mouth of Jesus, which vary only slightly from one Gospel writer to another.
It has become my position that I cannot know precisely what was said, but that I can clearly get the point.
And that is the point, the writer, inspired as he was, wanted me to get “the point”.

When the reformers, or protesters, understood that “the point” was rewritten toward the power of the Church, they wanted to fix it back. Still, they wanted to make their own point. In a translation by Tyndale where we often hear “Upon this rock I will build my Church,” he says “Upon this rock I will build my congregation”. Consider that this is a quote from Jesus. There is no Hebrew word for church.

Without belaboring my own point of view, it seems to me that God speaks to us in various ways. For some, God inspires them to communicate His words, and does that though the human vessel that he created, and has chosen to use. The vessel is human, it is not pure, and it has experience.
But for others, these inspired words are supplanted by words that fit their own particular agenda.

That is what Wycliffe, Tyndale and Cranmer learned. By examining earlier documents, the words had been changed. And who would know? The Church held the Bible tightly against their chest, in a language that people didn’t understand.
The Mass also was in a language that they didn’t understand. I feel fairly certain that if I went to church in Germany next week, it might find it moving in some way, but I couldn’t understand much.
For The Three, they posed it as an obvious thing to do. So, they went about the work of translating the Bible into English, and using trusted earlier manuscripts.

The Church’s reaction  was immediate anger. The Three were chased, and some arrested. They were named heretics. Since Wycliffe had the bad manners to die from a stroke before the church could finish him off, they dug up his body, burned it, and scattered the ashes. Tyndale was imprisoned for 500 days before he was choked to death while he was tied to the stake. Then they burned his body. Cranmer was also burned alive, after going back on his promise to recant.
These were not the only martyrs. Anyone caught with a copy of the Bible in English was burned as a heretic.

These were dark days for the church indeed.

Today the Bible appears in nearly four hundred languages, each so that these timeless and inspired words can be read, and understood, by all who wish it.

The transition from Latin to English was not entirely smooth. The first attempts to translate word for word read like an early primer. It was clunky. Tyndale, although true enough to the original words, adds simplicity and beautiful poetry. Some of the phrases that he added are quite well known to us. Here are a few:

  • lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
  • knock and it shall be opened unto you
  • twinkling of an eye
  • a moment in time
  • seek and you shall find
  • ask and it shall be given you
  • judge not that you not be judged
  • let there be light
  • the powers that be
  • my brother’s keeper
  • the salt of the earth
  • it came to pass
  • gave up the ghost
  • the signs of the times
  • the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak
  • fight the good fight


Today, there are over fifty versions, or, more accurately, translations of the Bible in English. They don’t vary a great deal. There seems to have been great care taken to use the ancient manuscripts that are trusted, and translated so that we “get the point.”

“The point,” is the one that God chooses to make,to the person that he inspired; not the point of the translator.

Sad indeed is the knowledge that at core of nearly every war, there is some difference in faith, and how we have chosen to believe in God.

Far too many people were murdered in order that the worlds greatest book could come to me, in simple and beautiful verse.. Sad indeed is the fact that the murderers were the people of the Church.

It seems to me that Wycliffe, Tyndale and Cranmer read it, understood” the point”, and were inspired to correct the human indiscretions, and to translate it into my language, for me. Brave stuff.

Thank you.

The Teacher’s Teacher

If you know Hillel…

If you know Aristotle, you know Plato. If you know Thomas Jefferson, you know John Locke.

How do you know them? Because Plato and John Locke were the teachers, you might even call them Masters. When you read the words of the student, you can hear the masters voice.

As I often do, I was wondering about things. I began to wonder…who was Jesus teacher? When we read about Jesus, he is referred to,and thought of as, the teacher. They called him Master, and Rabbi.

Now before you criticize me for not giving all of the credit for what Jesus thought and said to his Father, and to divine inspiration, hold on a second. I am referring to that human side, the one that was “famished” when he fasted in the desert. The one that I believe was hungry to learn.

If you know Jesus, you know Hillel.

Often, too often in my view, we disregard that Jesus was a Jew, raised as a Jew, by Jews and with Jews. He was never a Christian, always a Jew.

I don’t believe that there is any certain evidence of Jesus being a student of Hillel. In fact, his death is recorded as being in the year 10, which would make Jesus an unlikely student. However, Hillel had established what was called the House of Hillel.  It was an Academy that outlived the founder.
At that time there were two dominant traditions. There was the House of Shammai, which was rigid and conservative in it’s teachings, focusing on strict adherence to religious law. The House of Hillel was far more liberal, emphasizing openheartedness to all; including women. While the Shammai school were about the law, Hillel was about philosophy.
We know that Hillel lived in Jerusalem during the time of King Herod and the Roman Emperor Augustus. He was a constant student, even at the time of being viewed as the premier sage and scholar in Jerusalem. It is said that he spent half of the day cutting wood, to earn enough so that he could study the other half.
We know that Jesus was inclined more to peace, and to understanding others than he was drawn to the strict following of the law. In fact, it was his dismissal of the law for greater good that often got him in trouble.

Consider some of these parallels:

  • Hillel said: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah.”
  • Jesus said: “Do unto to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

 

  • Hillel said: “Pass not judgment upon thy neighbor until thou hast put thyself in his place.”
  • Jesus said, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.” (Luke 6:37)

 

  • Hillel said: “Whoever would make a name loses the name… whoever makes use of the crown perishes.”
  • Jesus said: Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 32:33)

These are  considered to be the most famous words of Hillel:If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” Like any worthwhile philosopher, he asks the questions, the ones that lead us to the introspective answers. Jesus was always asking also. His words to us are loaded with question marks.Once, when the two rival leaders stood together, they were asked if they could sum up the Torah while standing on one foot. In other words, were they capable of brevity. Shammai got mad and left, Hillel said:”That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation. Now go and learn.”

I can see why Jesus would have been drawn to such thinking. I am, and I am grateful that he was. The Jews were the first culture to believe and teach this revolutionary thought about their relationship with their God. Most cultures spent all of their time trying to do things for their God, so that he would have favor on them.This Yahweh God was saying that he would find favor with his people, if they would only be kind to each other. This is how you get a quirky commandment, unknown to any other religion.

Love one another, as I have loved you.
 

Listening For The Messiah

About one hundred years after the death of Jesus, the Jews living in Jerusalem made their final stand against those who would occupy their holy city. This time it was the Romans.
At first, there was a mere movement, led by Simon bar Kokhba, a militant Jew that refused to fall under the heel of the evil empire.
Reportedly charismatic, undoubtedly devout, and wise in the ways of war, the bar Kokhba led a rebellion that steadily grew. In the year 132, when the most prominent rabbi in Judea proclaimed that Simon bar Kokhba was the long awaited Messiah, the ranks of the rebels grew more quickly.
They had good reasons.The Romans had destroyed the Temple again., For Jews this was not just a building that had been knocked down. It was the destruction of the only place on earth where they could worship Yahweh God.
We know that for the Jews in Jerusalem one hundred years earlier, the great hope was that when the Messiah came, he would lead them with the sword. He would turn the Romans out of Jerusalem, and would be known for His might.
This is why so many of the Jews missed it, when the Messiah did indeed ride into Jerusalem. There was no white steed, standing up on it’s back legs, front legs churning, while his rider brandished a sword of might, and a crown of gold. No, he came simply, and rode a donkey.
And so he was missed, by many men and women. Good people, devout Jews who only wanted their city back, and to rebuild their temple so that they could worship their God.
They had rejected Jesus as the Messiah and accepted bar Kokhba for the similar reasons. Military might, the restoration of their beloved temple, and a land of their own should not be too much to ask from the God that you love, and remain faithful to.
They wished to shake loose of their foes and the shame of living beneath under culture…again. The Romans had even renamed their country. Judea was now Palestine. Removing the history of a people cuts deeply into their dignity.

And so the faithful Jews made their move, and drove the Romans out. For a while; two years or so. No doubt their victory was a source of great pride and celebration.
Tens of thousands of roman soldiers were killed. bar Kokhba reclaimed Judea as an independent nation. Life was good again.
But Hadrian and his army returned. They were led by their best general, and four times more soldiers than would be needed to decimate the Jews..
Six hundred thousand Jews were killed. All of the remaining Jews were kicked out of Jerusalem, and the name of the city was changed to Aelia, which was Hadrian’s middle name. The city was plowed under, and a pig was carved into the gate. Any Jew caught in Jerusalem was crucified immediately.

Simon bar Kokhba was not an evil man, nor was he a fool. He set out to save the city that in the end he helped to destroy. He wished to return Jerusalem to the Jews, not have them murdered by the hundreds of thousands and the remaining cast out.

Those good people that did not see the true Messiah when he came to Jerusalem were not godless fools.
They were devout believers. They were caught up more in their own hopes and desires and beliefs, than they were about the wishes and plans of God.

One hundred years later, others followed one who was not the Messiah, full of the belief that they could destroy their enemies, and God would bless them for it.

For each, by stubbornly holding onto their own beliefs of what the Messiah would do, they missed him.

I hate when I do that, don’t you?

My decisions about the Messiah and His will for me will not affect an entire people. But my willingness to go about the work of struggling to discern who He is, and who I am, will make all of the difference for me…for ever and ever.

3 responses to “Thoughts and Meditations

  1. Dennis! A very thoughtful, insightful look at Jesus from a fresh perspective. Good insight from a fresh perspective. Keep thinking and writing. Your insights are refreshing and well written.

  2. Dennis, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Your writings are thought provoking and interesting. My hope is that you will consider how your service to our lord can be leveraged through assuming leadership roles when appropriate. Gary

  3. Dennis, I enjoy reading your style of writing, abundantly rich in thoughts and wisdom. Please continue writing so that in our reading of it we may become richer in life and wiser in living. Thanks, Koshy

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