Saturday, November 30, 2013
Throw away all your begging bowls at God’s door,
for I have heard the Beloved prefers sweet, threatening shouts,
something on the order of,
“Hey Beloved, my soul is a raging volcano of love for you!
You better start kissing me – or else!
Hafiz (Trans. Daniel Ladinsky)
Faith means trust in God, the one who represents love, understanding
Dignity and truth.
Thich Nhat, Hanh (Living Buddha, Living Christ, p.12)
how often do I come to you
begging bowl in hand
focused on all my emptiness
all my need
tentatively holding out
not quite trusting that
my begging cup will ever be filled
how often do I come to you
looking furtively back across my shoulder
who or what is lurking there to rob me of my happiness?
how often do I come
prepared to push people away
filled with the anger and fear of unfaith?
faith means trusting
trusting that you are big enough
trusting that you are love enough
faith means grabbing hold of your hands
and with abandon
dancing a little jig
Friday, November 29, 2013
When a preacher stoops to scare tactics
It is often wise to stand aloof,
For some gods may lose their patience
And start to throw their shoes at him
In a world run by fear
Dominated by fear
In world where fear is used to manipulate
and is a power source for those
who would make us over in their own image
and its constant companions
how dare we feed fear
in the name of One
who IS love?
This day Lord
may I see with the eyes of love
may my words
may my hands hold love
may those I meet know
because of your love
flowing through me, that fear is not the only option
Thursday, November 28, 2013
It has been decreed. History impels us! Tradition demands it! The merchants insist! We have no choice! Count your blessings
Rejoice in your affluence
Eat ‘till you founder,
Than go out and shop till you drop and buy till you die….
It’s Thanksgiving…. American style
But wait a minute! What if you don’t feel thankful? What if your life isn’t all that great?
I remember a Peanuts cartoon where the crew has entered the dining hall at camp and breakfast is on the table. Lucy digs in. Peppermint Patty says, “Wait a minute! We are supposed to pray first. We have to give thanks for what we are about to receive!” Lucy, with a distressed look on her face answers… “Well I’ve already received it, and I’m not thankful.”
It happens, doesn’t it?! There are times when we just don’t feel thankful. Instead we feel discouraged, beaten, or frustrated. How do we, when our day, or week, our month, our years has gone poorly, give thanks? To use the words of the Psalmist, how can we “Sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land.”
I think we have a warped view about what it means to be “full”, “blessed”
I think we have a warped view about abundance, and thus
A warped view about thankfulness.
So often we imagine being blessed, that experiencing abundance has to do with plentitude. Think about the thanksgiving symbols… The cornucopia. The table laden with food. The smiling happy family, all dressed in great clothes, living in a wonderful house. Three generations! All getting along! No dysfunctions anywhere.
The biblical context of blessedness and thanksgiving is often quite different. One of my favorite prophets is Habakkuk! Habakkuk was not a person we would say, from a human perspective had experienced blessing, or abundance. He had watched as the Egyptians killed good King Josiah. He had stood by helplessly as the hordes of Babylon had poured through the land of Judah, conquering city after city. He had seen Jerusalem itself fall under siege. He had experienced famine, injustice, treachery, death and defeat. But somehow he found it in him to write these words…..
Though the fig tree does not bud
And there are no grapes on the vines
Though the olive crop fails
And the fields produce no food
Though there are no sheep in the pen
And no cattle in the stalls,
Yet… I will rejoice in the Lord
I will be joyful in God my savior.
Can you imagine writing such words? Lets bring it up to date!
Though my business stagger
And the Dow Jones plummet
Though the bills pile up
And the car break down
Though success pass me by and
And my blood pressure rise
Though social security goes bankrupt
(you can fill in your own issues….. this is a time for lament r us)
Yet, I will rejoice in the Lord!
Habakkuk understood that there is no direct connection between outward success, comfort, ease, and blessing. God for him was present. That was the critical thing.
And so he understood that thanksgiving depended on something other than all that outward stuff
So if thanksgiving, at least a very deep critical kind of thanksgiving is not about, affluence, comfort, power, “happy family”, all the stuff we normally think of, what is it about? I would suggest that Habakkuk suggests it has something to do with divine presence. I think Isaiah confirms it. Chapter 55 of Isaiah begins with words many of has heard all of our lives.
Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord
And then he talks about the amazing things that will happen if we do.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.
I have to say. If I lived in a world with war, and dispute, where people walked in the light, I would be thankful
But that is not the world we have is it? The problem according to Isaiah is that we have the wrong idea about what creates thankfulness, and we live out our thinking error. And so he challenges us.
“Why” he says, “spend money on what is not bread?”
“Why work yourself to death, for what does not satisfy?”
It seems to me that we are in the presence of a very crucial message here. There is no direct connection between deep joy, deep thankfulness, and things such as affluence and power. What Isaiah seems to be tell us is that we can be rich and powerful, we can have it all, and not be satisfied. Conversely life can be, from a worldly perspective, pretty much a zero… perhaps even a negative… and yet we can have deep, authentic thankfulness.
They key is understanding what it is that satisfies! Let us return to Isaiah 55:6-13
Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. 8 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. 9 "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. 12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the LORD's renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed."
What is the source of thankfulness? Well, according to Isaiah, the source is God, and God’s presence, abiding presence, in our lives. Now at that statement some of you may protest… that’s simplistic. That’s pious crap! That’s unrealistic.
Yes, it does sound kind of simplistic or naïve in some ways…But remember Habakkuk,
And remember Isaiah. These are not people who had it easy. These words aren’t coming from affluent, protected evangelical Christians living in relative security some place in America. These are people surrounded by hunger, danger, disintegration, and death.
Yet in the midst of it all they had a powerful sense of God’s presence and action in their lives. They realized that when all was wrong, something was still profoundly right. That at the deepest level, the level of the heart, the soul, good was still alive.
Because God was present. At the center of their souls, their lives. They knew God. God was not a theological concept, a cultural construct. God was. Just was. And they could experience God as real, loving, powerful, present.
What is impressive here is that these people weren’t controlled by what they didn’t have. They weren’t dominated by fear. They didn’t feel the need to grasp, or horde, or exclude, or hate. They didn’t see struggle as evidence that God was distance, absent, or even unreal
Instead of focusing on the darkness, the difficult aspects of life, the hurt, the illness, they focused on the Presence. Instead of going “outward” and seeking to find their sense of fullness in thing “out there”, they went inward, and sought the presence of God
And they saw this presence of the sacred in their lives, as something so powerful, so pervasive, that it trumped everything else.
That is the difference God makes
When God is part of the process thanksgiving is always a possibility.
Because in times of struggle God can take as from where we are, to a new place
God can transform the time of darkness into a time of growing, emerging, and defining.
God can transform the darkness that doesn’t move away with the light of sacred presence.
How far can we go with this? Remember that God, that Sacred Presence can transform even death!
Now I’m not saying it will be easy, or fun, or quick.
But it can happen. Habakkuk knew it…. so did Isaiah… I’m trying to learn!
I admit it…. for the most part I so want my thanksgiving to emerge out of bounty!
I want to stand at the head of the table, butterball turkey in place, family present, ready to be thankful because of all the wonderful things that have come my way this past year….
And it is not wrong, or bad, if that is the way it is.
But I want to be able to grab hold of the fact that thanksgiving can arise out of dark times…out of struggle and difficulty. And that when it does, the words of thanks may resonate with a power and a depth that is uniquely powerful.
The only way thanksgiving can arise, in both the times of bounty (for at times those times can be miserable as well) and out of the times of trial, is when it is based on our knowing God, and experiencing the presence, and love, and power of God, at the center of who we are.
Many years ago, during the 30 years war, which was a bloody and brutal conflict that occurred in the 1600’s, a small town in Saxony suffered greatly. It was sacked by both the Austrians and the Swedes…It was hit by the plague four times in 28 years. Famine was a frequent visitor. At one point the village was experiencing 50 funerals a day. At the end of the war the ruler of Saxony ordered that services be held and that all the preachers preach from Ecclesiastes 50:22. Now bless yet the God of all who everywhere doeth great things, Who exalteth our days from the womb…”
Martin Rinkart, who was the sole surviving priest in this village, was powerfully struck by these words…and as he reflected on them he was moved to write these words. “Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices. Who wondrous things hath done, in whom this world rejoices. Who from our mother’s arms, hath blessed us on our way, without countless gifts of love, and still is ours today”
This thanksgiving we will gather together to give thanks. For some of us that words of thanks will come easily. We will join together with happy families around table laden with food. For others thanks giving will come less easily. There will be fear, loneliness, bitterness, anger… in some cases, pure, physical need.
And yet, out of these very things….Thanksgiving can come…