Category Archives: Philosophy/Theology

Have Yourself a Justice Little Christmas

 

img_9085The Word of God became flesh.

John 1: the Logos got a body and moved into town with a specific agenda.

Okay, it’s not as romantic as the nativity creche and singing Silent Night. Not as fun as family around the fireplace, or as click-bait as retail sales. But give it a chance:

What’s crystallized in Jesus Christ is justice.

Throughout the Older Testament, the prophets and psalmists sing of God’s primary concern for the world: setting things right for those most vulnerable in society. These particular groups are named: orphans, widows, immigrants, the poor– those of us suffering because of institutional systems (including ways of thinking) that others of us benefit from.

Advent enacts our longing for God’s justice and compassion.
Christmas celebrates this dream embodied on earth in Jesus Christ.
Epiphany calls for the church’s enactment of this holy agenda.

The Word of God Fleshed: new song! Watch lyric video now.

Fast forward to Simeon. In a few weeks we’ll catch him at Jesus’ dedication. Holding baby Jesus in his arms, Simeon beholds him and whispers with a smile too deep for a face to hold, “I can die now.” The text tells that he had been waiting for the consolation of Israel.

Some of us are longing for such consolation– a sign or signal that things are going to be okay. That the long, heartbreaking arc is bending.

Among the trees and lights and nativity scenes, it might be good to ask God and one another: How’s that Peace on Earth, Good Will To All thing going?

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“Darkening Sky” Spirituality

old bridge (deposit photos).jpgChange. Say it soft and it’s almost like puking.

I used to dread Autumn.

About thirty years ago (college era) Seasonal Affective Disorder dawned in me. My love for distinctive Midwestern seasons got complicated.

Since then, good support and meds have helped attune me to my holistic health, but I’d be lying if I said the 4th quarter was easy.

I trust I’m not alone with clinical depression and a sense of guarding my emotional health when the weather turns cold and dark.

In the Midwestern USA where I’m from, there is no more intense earth season than fall to enact the disruptive, beautiful prospect of transformative change.

All through autumn we hear a double voice:
one says everything is ripe;
the other says everything is dying.
The paradox is exquisite.

Gretel Ehrlich

In the psalms, life comes naturally in waves, and each one is faithful unto itself. Right now, you may be in a season of great joy. Enjoy it; it will pass. You may be in the midst of freaked-out fear. Hang on; something different is on its way.

In 12 days, I’m hosting a free/tip call-in class called Deep Change and the Psalms: Navigating the Intensity of Harvest Time, and you’re all invited.

Is it possible to accept a life that includes melancholia? Can we prepare for seasons of disruptive change and frame them as good? Or at least understand them so we can make the best of them?

What I’m calling “Darkening Sky” spirituality is a psalm-centered faith. This is theology that honors our most intense moments of transition, acknowledging God smack in the middle of whatever slow-mo rotating stage we’re on.

The parts of life we judge as intolerably dire straits the psalms name holy. As my psalmentor Rev. Dr. Clint McCann says, these moments of honest suffering are not good, but normal. See also Ecclesiastes 3 and Jesus’ mystical ministry of disrupting pretty much every life he encountered.

Need some courage? Here are a few psalm-songs that might be good company for your holy life that might feel like it’s unraveling: (Note: these are NOT cheer-up songs, but psalm-honest cries for what’s happening in you).

As summer moves into autumn, we know earth seasons will turn as they always have. It’s something we know, but sometimes do not wish to allow.

Here’s to allowing change to ripen what’s in our heart-gardens, that Gretel Ehrlich’s exquisite season would bring us to fullness before moving into the next.

Register now for Deep Change and the Psalms: Navigating the Intensity of Harvest Time.


Midrash Jesus II

laughing jesusAnd it came to pass on the day following the Sabbath that Jesus pinched a nerve in his back while painting a neighbor’s house. For his day job was carpentry.

Flat on his back in terrible pain, he prayed many psalms of lament, including Psalm 6 in moments of greatest suffering.

Monday at the third hour, just as the Lord was groaning, “OMG, I am weary from my groaning and my eye grows dark due to vexation*,” Mary knocked and entered, carrying a young, fresh puppy. This was Mary— no, not the one you’re thinking of. The other one. See, there’s Jesus’ mother, there’s Martha’s and Lazarus’s sister, then there’s… It’s confusing. Anyway: Mary.

Mocking him good-naturedly, she sing-song asked him, “Hmm. Which is easier, to forgive someone’s sins or to heal his body?”

And, setting the puppy down, it ran straight for the Rabbi, tromping on his chest and licking his face. And behold, the Lord became mirthful– at first a slightly painful sputter which quickly turned to delighted giggles.

Jesus laughed.

“This puppy can eat crumbs from my table anytime!” giggled Jesus. “Blessed are you, little dog, for you have made me forget myself and remember love.”

And Mary laughed too, partly because she loved Jesus so dearly, partly because some people thought the Lord could not get hurt or ill because he was somehow less than fully human (for she herself preferred the synoptics), but mostly because healing is a beautiful mystery that can come from unexpected places– even from a different species.

And after a few moments, the Lord dismissed the puppy and said to Mary in a grateful sigh, “Mary, be a servant and bring my ibuprofen, would you?” for though he had experienced great healing, the inflammation in his upper back region yet was great. “And something to eat,” he added, for he knew it was bad to take on an empty stomach.

*Yes, from Psalm 6.


Midrash Jesus I

Sculpture Relief Depicting Christ Healing the Blind Man

And after the weekend, verily, Jesus retired to a lonely place, cracked open an adult beverage and checked his Facebook feed on his laptop. And great was the *sigh* that he uttered– so great that the twelve, reclining in the next room, did inquire of the Master, “Master, why sighest thou in such an incredulous manner?”

And Jesus did stare at his screen with dismay, shake his head and mutter, ‘They know not what they do.” And his voice was great with irritation, for he knew it would not be the last time he would say this.

For a new “Friend” had posted something ignorant about Islam, naming the great tradition a tribe of haters.

And Jesus summoned the twelve and began to preach to them, saying, “You know that’s messed up, right? That my sheep are all over, some not of this fold? That anyone not against me I consider on our side? That my yoke is exceedingly easy but it will bust your ego and blow your mind? That I’m talking about a new world. You know this, Right? *Sigh* Okay, look. Now THIS is happening.”

And the Lord did click. And clicketh he did.

And poised to Comment on the ignorant child of God’s post, he did lovingly type on his device, “I disagree. I have Muslim friends– devout ones. They are truly about peace and goodness in the world. Sorry your experience has been different.”

And the Lord did post his comment.

And full of the Holy Spirit, he waited and watched in hope of a reply, a dialogue, some evidence of enlightenment.

After a minute’s time, the Lord did refresh his screen.

Behold, it went blank, for at that very hour he had been Unfriended.

Then the Lord dropped his jaw, closed it again, and then chuckled incredulously saying, “Really?”

And the twelve waited with bated breath on the Rabbi’s next move as the Master considered what manner of assholery this was, for he was pissed. And disappointed. And also full of compassion for his lost “Friend” whom had closed down their online relationship.

And the irony of the Prince of Peace being perceived as a threat to the former “Friend” was not lost on them. For this kind of thing happened, like, every day, especially with religious people. And, verily, it was getting old.

Then in the silent tension did Jesus gaze about the room at the faces of his chosen partners in ministry. And Jesus stood up abruptly, saying, “Well. Who feels like barbecue?” for he was quick to move on.


A Comma for All Saints Day

IMG_7116In confirmation class back in 1980, we were deep into the Third Article of the Apostles Creed (your favorite topic). Pastor Yunker, training us in the jedi ways of Lutheran doctrine, said this weird thing:

“Pay attention to the comma.”

Okay. What young teen isn’t riveted when invited to behold punctuation.

Here’s how my thirteen-year-old self memorized the Third Article from Luther’s Small Catechism:

I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy Christian church,
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting. Amen

You’ll note a number of phrases here separated by semicolons. The only comma is between “the holy Christian church” and “the communion of saints,” not setting them apart like the other petitions, but identifying them with each other.

As I understand it, the 1941 LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) catechism and hymnal used that comma amid semicolons. Most every version I see these days has all commas.

A comma might matter on All Saints Day.

With it, we honor the holy Christian church being the communion of saints. Or at least the one being folded into the other as the Body of Christ beyond space and time.

Without it, we make a distinction between them. Not a bad thing, and theologically there may be good reasons to do so.

But in this moment of the liturgical year, we are re-membering who we are: All Saints. With the comma, we understand that the single, global church, having evolved over generations and sprawled across our planet is comprised of saints in communion. In other words, people embodying the Christ as they live in harmony, unity.

Sound like us?

Sure is. You with the barbecue drippings on your sweatshirt, her with the foul mouth, him oblivious to his rudeness, people theologically inferior to you– all of us forgiven sinners, all of us stumbling saints.

On All Saints, we re-gather, re-member, re-claim one another around the bombastic notion that Christ’s single, living Presence is made up of no one else.

We’re invited to live into God’s claim on us.

We’re challenged in our vocation to– depending on your favorite gospel of epistle– follow, obey, nurture friendship with and/or embody the Christ.

I like that comma.


Deliver Us From Evil: #ICantBreathe

despair by Catalina Gonz�lezCarrascoWeek after week, year after year, when church folks pray, “Deliver us from evil” in the Lord’s Prayer, what do we mean?

Post-9/11, post-Ferguson, post-Eric Garner’s death and recent jury decision, and in the midst of NFL diminishment of violence against women, it’s a damn good question. #LordsPrayerHack

And you’re adding to that list your own experiences of outrage for the issues important to you. Good.

Now. When we pray, “Deliver us from evil,” what do we think we’re doing?

Among the possibilities, I hope we open to:

  • Noticing what evil looks like in the world.
  • Recognizing that some hatred is systematized in social and hierarchical ways.
  • Coming clean that by design some of us are privileged to benefit from these systems while others suffer.
  • Understanding the ways most of us reading this directly allow, sustain and nurture these corrupt systems.
  • Begging for the courage to face our addiction to power and to understand it.
  • Developing an imagination for the experience of the other that grows empathy and naturally shapes lives of compassion.
  • Committing to resist and/or destroy these unfair systems.
  • Confessing our failure to do this.
  • Praying for, watching for and making way for the holy upheaval of justice that will free us. All of us.

Psalm 58 is a fierce text we might lean into when we are angry and desperate for change. One loud musical interpretation:

Disarm the terrorists
Tear out the lion’s teeth
Uproot corruption even if it’s served us
Shut down the violence
Once again make us free
Against, away from systems that enslave us

Deliver us, deliver us
Bring on the holy upheaval and
Deliver us, deliver us from evil

We’ve been oblivious
We’ve fed the system beast
The bramble’s grown up to entangle all of us
Forgive our arrogance
The snake can’t hear or see
Deliver us where one of us needs justice.

There’s only one of us
Show us the holy way
Uproot corruption even if it’s served us
Renew our sense of life
Once again make us free
Against, away from systems that enslave us

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Thanks to Psalm scholar Clint McCann for a brilliant commentary on how Psalm 58 and other ancient laments poke our 21st-century world.

Pic: “Despair” by Catalina Gonzalez Carrasco


Pregnant with Holy

Ben Earwicker Garrison Photography, Boise, ID www.garrisonphoto.orgThe Christian liturgical year spins the same every year. Advent marks the beginning, so by now the Christian community has already flipped its calendar. Identical seasons as ever, but, being a species of continual re-newal, it’s a time of discovery. If we’re paying attention, wonder even.

In Advent, we hear stories of Mary and Elizabeth, and some of us are uncomfortable.

In this most “feminine” of seasons, we hear stories of pregnancy and all the natural wildness that is creation emerging into the world. If you’ve ever been pregnant– and I know I haven’t– that season was marked by transformation in mind, body and spirit. Evident to the whole wide world, something changed in your life forever.

For our family, as our son Sam was ripening, Trish experienced freak-out as well as hope. Peace as well as terror. Her somewhat snooty vegetarianism found her eating beef and chicken, and life was out of control.

She felt the summons to surrender everything.

This is not a XX chromosome thing; this is a human thing. So– heads up, pastors and worship leaders– if we’re not emphasizing the spirituality of women in Advent, we’re missing something essential.

One text I wish were part of Advent is Psalm 27. (No one asked me). It has several distinct chunks. In fact, some scholars say it was originally two or three separate songs.

The last line goes,

Wait for God; be strong and take heart.
And wait for God.

I think our midwife spoke those words years ago during our home birth.

In Hebrew, the word translated wait could just as aptly be hope. In Advent, we are invited to prepare, wait and look forward. Good practice for life in general, right?

So.

What is ripening in you right now?

How is your community swelling with new life?

Does it feel joyful? Solemn? Scary?

Any of that would be expected in a life-changing endeavor.

There’s something alive, growing in you. Ripening in its time. Welcome to Advent, the perfect season to practice this pivotal time as holy.

May we pay attention as G-d brings us to term.

Listen now to “Wait For God,” a Psalm 27 belly-softening song for Advent hope.

Pic by Ben Earwicker Garrison Photography. http://www.garrisonphoto.org