Tag Archives: J

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.

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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.


New Year’s, The Point of the Church, and Johnny Depp

After the Twelve Days of Christmas is Epiphany. It kicks off the most important season of the church year– better than Christmas, stronger than Easter, able to leap Pentecost in a single liturgical bound.

At this point in the post, I pause for a number of you to scoot to the edge of your seat in fascination, and the rest to politely excuse yourselves to do anything else you can think of.

Bob Webber called Advent-Christmas-Epiphany “The Cycle of Light,” (unrelated to Tron). If Advent is about longing and preparing for Christ’s presence and Christmas rejoices in the eternal breakthrough of God-With-Us, then Epiphany is about manifesting the Christ.

Which, in my humbly-justified, sinner-saintly opinion, is the Point of the church.

It’s too bad only 11 percent of church-goers know what Epiphany is about. (Okay, I actually made that stat up. But shocking, right?)

The church exists to reveal, proclaim and embody the Christ. If that seems like a funky new theology, note that the New Testament people of God are collectively called the Body of Christ (Romans 12; I Corinthians 12). That’s a metaphor for the physical manifestation of presence.

It’s the Incarnation kicked up a notch.

We hear some strong stories in the Epiphany season, among them:

  • The Magi pilgrimage with gifts: devotion made manifest.
  • Isaiah 60: “Arise, shine! Your light has come… and nations shall come to your light.” We occupy with our lives what’s otherwise 99% invisible.
  • Jesus is baptized by his cousin John, J’s anointing revealed publicly. (The Baptizer played by Johnny Depp.)
  • At the Cana wedding party J does water to wine, saying something about “his time” coming, the first of seven signs of transformation in John.
  • J calls and trains the disciples– gathering, equipping, sending.
  • The Transfiguration. Glory in the ordinary leaves us sputtering in awe.

To me, all these stories are images of transformation, inviting us to imagine what’s possible in a life. What a great way to begin a new calendar year.

In these Epiphany stories, God is up to something brilliantly earthy and mystically intuitive: Christ is to be found in the ordinary, even enacted in you and me with all our uniqueness, embodied in us together.

Look up “Christ, Body of” in the dictionary, and you see a family picture of all of us (that’s all) with J. Our Celtic brothers and sisters would not leave out the earth itself, insisting we honor God ‘s presence in all of creation.

Of course, there are other ways to put it:

  • My “conservative” Christian friends speak in terms of evangelism, proclaiming God’s love to all the world. Yes, that’s it.
  • For my “liberal” Christian friends it’s the call to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world, making a difference in creation. Absolutely.
  • My Buddhist friends work with radical compassion, recognizing that everything is impermanent– the world can change, and we can be part of it. Amen and gassho to that.
  • My New Age friends speak about manifesting divinity in our lives. Sure, that’s it, too.
  • My Muslim friends are clear about his call to serve the world, enriching human fitrah.
  • I don’t have any close Jewish friends these days, but I am thinking how beautifully Hebrew Covenant is embodied in family, politics, religion, meal, prayer, story and song. Yes!
  • My pagan friends are committed to actively honoring the holy in each and every piece of creation.
  • For my atheist-leaning friends, there’s transcendent purpose in doing good on behalf of ourselves and the world.
  • Mr. Rogers taught me it’s good to share who you are and what you have. Our eleven-year-old knows it.

As the New Year turns, we take stock of last year and let it go. Then we turn, taking a deep breath with some hope and some trembling as we face another year. Our call as humanity has never been clearer: we are important to one another. We are designed– mind, body, soul and strength– to be of influence and to work/play together to be of even greater influence. This is the metaphoric Light of Isaiah and of the gospels. Didn’t J say not only, “I am the light of the world” but also, “You are the light of the world?”

In Epiphany, this is a moment to celebrate this is how the universe works. We might also meditate on the poignancy of just how connected we all are.

How might this Epiphany be a time of renewal for your local church? Time to celebrate your light that naturally shines, to consider how you are embodying the Christ, and how God is leading you more deeply in and in some cases farther out.

Here’s a short but juicy song for you and your community this Epiphany: “Your Light Has Come” crystallized from a great discussion with Marcia McFee‘s Worship Design Studio a couple of years ago.

The lyrics reflect a post-modern paraphrase of Isaiah 60:

Lift your head, raise your eyes, look around:
       Your light has come! your light has come!
Light the world, heal the earth, bear the Christ:
       Your light has come! your light has come!

Here’s to the New Year with a Eucharistic toast all together.

Download Your Light Has Come music resources from Worldmaking.net.


Where Else Would God Be?

I heard him say, “The scandal of the Christian story is not that God became incarnate as a human. It’s that God is incarnate in every particle of creation. I mean… [dramatic pause] where else would God be?”

My Constructive Theology professor Dr. Eleazar Fernandez may never know how that woke me up.

“Where else would God be?”

The name Emmanuel means God With Us. The Incarnation we celebrate at Christmas is a recognition of God’s presence spun through creation. Now when church people talk about a particular day or season, it doesn’t mean it’s not real all the time. In this case, the Story of Christmas is that Holy breaks into our lives all the time, not just in late December.

But it’s good we have liturgical seasons to help us practice these kinds of things. Otherwise– for me, at least– all the rich bewilderment and awe of life would be hard to take in.

Most of us resist mystery to some extent. We gravitate toward literalism to help us bear the complexities of everyday life. Thank God for the artists, intuitives and mystics in our midst! If we’re not paying attention, our pet names for God tend to crystalize into an actual shape of God. Which most traditions call idolatry. (Sorry about that). In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis describes how the demons delight when their human patients come to revere an object representing the Holy-Beyond-Words instead of the Holy One.

A rich variety of language to describe the Divine Mystery primes our imagination for our own experience. Reminds us that G-d is greater than we can imagine, and will not be pigeon-holed. Poetry, art, music keeps us guessing, hungering, prying us away from literalism.

In the Biblical tradition, there are dozens of metaphors, images and models for G-d. Holding Scripture as revelation, we might notice the Holy One is likened to a Shepherd carefully guiding and protecting sheep. And also the breath and wind of the earth. A perfectly righteous judge. A nasty, crooked judge. Bread. Light. A wrestler who might take you down. A dread champion fighting for your life. A bird, a farmer, a song.

Jesus Christ!* There are tons of metaphors!  [*I enjoy a good non-blasphemous invocation, don’t you?]

It’s amazing to me that in all my years as a church-goer, I seldom have been invited into the wildly creative range we have access to.

I wonder why that is.

Sallie McFague suggests this model of God: the world.

Like a holy nest holding everything. Where nothing is left out and everything is sacred.

Take a moment to try that one on: G-d is the world, nothing more or less. A full incarnation here and now, nowhere where the Holy is not at work and at play.

– How would we treat the earth of we knew it to be Of God?

– How would we speak to one another if we considered each person a part of God’s very body?

– What if we knew God to have a full and universal presence, a continual and intimate influence?

– In this light, what would Christmas mean?

Fun to think about, huh? This brushes against what some theologians call Process Theology– God present in our seasons over time, God in the midst of change, God evolving and emerging as creation comes into our own.

Each icon has its limitations, but I offer you this one for this season of Advent when we know the Holy close. God in the manger. God in the cows. God within your wonderings and choices. God With Us here and now.

Where else would God be?

A song to celebrate and reflect:

The Body of God (click to listen with the lyrics)
From the CD Behold by The River’s Voice

i
God breaking through to our lives, but this is no great surprise
Babies and barns, green fields and farms
This is the body of God

A star in the dark sky we share, straw underfoot as we look up and stare
Each part of creation a perfect formation that lives as the body of God

Where else would God be but right here?
Inwithandthrough all we sense and we feel
God in the manger, God in the cows, God in the innkeeper’s mother’s eyebrows

ii
Sure was a marvelous night, the story of birth and new life
And the dreams and the fears of the new parents’ prayers were felt in the body of God

Just one more beautiful way God’s body blooms its array
Our Christmas story: one image of glory as we move in the body of God

Where else would God be but right here?
Transcendent and cosmic and at home in our tears
God in the common, God in the strange, God in Jesus’ very first diaper change

iii
These are unsettling times, and as I put my son down for the night
I can’t help but think how much kinder we’d be if we knew all of life, the world’s every plight
To be part of the body of God

Where else would God be but right here?
Under our noses and in the midst of our fears
God in our stories, God in the world, God in the pain and the Good News we’ve heard


On Men, Pregnancy and Advent

~ Act One ~

In Advent we track the stories of Mary and Elizabeth, divine Possibility ripening within their very bodies.

As a spiritual director, one of my favorite images for the spiritual life is being pregnant with Holy.

Meister Eckhart wrote that we are always pregnant with God, because God always wants to be born. I feel a Yes in me with that. Yet as imaginative as I might be, pregnancy– a basic mammalian fact of life–is something my XY-brothers and I will never fully understand.

That’s why men in particular need and long for the stories of women.

That’s one reason my favorite liturgical season is Advent.

The stereotype of men is that we are interested in fixing things (maybe because we break a lot of things), that we think we know it all (well, don’t we?), and that men don’t understand emotional intimacy (whatever).

Advent stories open up to men the validity and vitality of mystery, process and patient hope. These are central to any meaningful spiritual life, men and women alike. But maybe men need more practice.

Now, I tend to be a minimalist when it comes to gender differences. As different as men and women seem to be, we have common human experiences of life, just packaged and described in different ways. We grow in true humanity if we are ready to learn from one another instead of  treating the other gender as an interplanetary adversary.

So our ten-year-old son Sam knows exactly what happens in his mother’s body once a month. We’ve taught him– Trish and I together– because we want him to know what it means to be fully human. Trish’s moon cycle is a moment we acknowledge sensitivity and power that resonates with all gender identities. In the world-making endeavor that any parenting is, Trish and I are bent on creating a world where humans have respect for the feminine and masculine and everything else, too.

Men and boys are paying attention in Advent.

~ Act Two ~

There are literally dozens of models and metaphors for Divine Presence in what we call scripture. Yet in worship G-d is almost always portrayed in one way: a powerful, human, male authority figure. You’ve noticed this, right? The very premise of worship is built around this model. We may hear different kinds of texts on a Sunday morning and get the occasional gee-whiz non-“traditional” poetic, but on the whole, G-d is imagined as masculine (say, King, Lord, Father, Warrior or Judge). And the appropriate response to this kind of authority would naturally be worship and submissive obedience.

Now there are good and faithful reasons for this, most dear to me as a Psalmist being the ancient Hebrew reverence for G-d. If YHWH has a  name too sacred to be spoken, you get creative real fast about how to describe the mystery of covenant. You draw on the most accessible relationships of corporate goodness and power in current society, which for the most part, at least publicly, were male. That understanding is part of our heritage that some would say is inherently sexist. Either way, it’s here for us to work with.

For many American 21st-century Christians, in terms of God-talk, we eat what’s served. And what’s on our plate most every meal, even after all these years, is Big Man In The Sky. For many of us, though, even within the tight quarters of anthropomorphic images, that god is too small.

So I love Advent. Finally we get to hear about women, and the men who love them take a back seat. In these stories G-d has feminine patience and weaves stories of relationship like an auntie, like a matriarch. One that has no qualms about shutting a man up or sending an angel to open a can on him.

We are reminded in these four weeks that the essence of the Holy One of Israel is to seed, nurture, deliver, name, entrust, call and bless.

~ Act Three ~

Attention, worship leaders! Preachers, musicians, lectors, youth leaders!

This Advent, I implore you to deliver the feminine stories that are in our collective face. Be direct. In this season of the feminine, give the women the microphone.

  • As a call to worship, invite women who have been pregnant to describe what it’s like.
  • Show images of bodies bulging with child.
  • Invite your congregation to touch their own bellies during prayer, asking “What holy wonder is my life pregnant with?” and “How are we preparing for the Christ to be born in us today?”
  • Invite silent moments to watch and listen to a baby among you. Yep, right in worship.
  • Show ultrasound pics of a growing embryo on the screens each Sunday in Advent. How are we growing? Is our church Showing?
  • Invite moms and grandmothers to blog about their experiences of pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Initiate service projects serving women and babies
  • Living with the metaphor of pregnancy and birthing the Holy, invite the community to name the “baby: how do we describe what God is doing with our congregation, in our neighborhood, in our families, in our hearts. How would we name our calling?

You’re wondering if it’s too sexy.

Well, the Incarnation is about Emmanuel— God With Us–the scandalous Story that the divine would tabernacle among us.

So give it to us straight and real, and as human-body-earthy as it comes. The alternative would be to continue the strand of Christianity that is stoic and gnostic, separating heaven and earth, prying apart spirit and body, divorcing the Christ from creation. I say go with the disruption that pregnancy offers us in Advent. Let’s see what emerges at the end of term.

Penultimately, listen to a song for the season: Trish’s rendition of Amy Grant and Chris Eaton’s Breath of Heaven.

In closing, a seed of a song for you men and you women. I think it’ll be a waltz. Maybe the music will be married to it by next Advent.

chorus
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy

Some wonderful thing soon emerging
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy
Now all of the world hopes in waiting

verse i
Wave upon wave of some kind of promise
I stand in awe of this Life
Like the last seed on a desolate planet
A promise inside that has its own light

chorus
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy

Some wonderful thing soon emerging
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy
Now all of the world hopes in waiting

verse ii
So let it be with me just like all time
I give myself to this Life
Yes, I am here to give birth to the new Christ
Like everything else, bearing the Light

chorus
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy

Some wonderful thing soon emerging
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy
Now all of the world hopes in waiting

bridge
Bending so low to usher the hungry to the fantastic banquet of Life
This whole world is a mother in labor, her darkness relieved by one baby light

chorus
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy

Some wonderful thing soon emerging
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy
Now all of the world hopes in waiting


Legos and Losing My Religion

My young son opens the box and giggles with delight. This! This is what it’s all about. The familiar little plastic envelopes fly as each is emptied into a gladware cup awaiting assembly. The color glossy booklet, folded by robots at the Worldwide Lego HQ, is opened and spread out on the floor.

We’ve had the Mars Mission phase. We’ve done Power Miners. Now it’s all Star Wars.

Lego, from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means “play well.”

If my son had a flowchart for the creative lego-playing process he has arrived at, it would be:

  1. Follow assembly instructions carefully with bomb squad precision.
  2. Enjoy this lego creation for a period of 2 hours to 2 weeks.
  3. Mutate lego creation. With the imagination of gods, add, subtract, demolish and rebuild to heart’s content.
  4. Ditch original assembly instructions forever.

Kids and legos. Grown-ups and spirituality.

When you grow up immersed in any spiritual tradition (or no tradition), that’s your reality. The language, symbols and culture of your tradition is the truth your family offered you.

What else could there possibly be?

In a very real sense, every moment of your life is mapped in relation to the elements of this Reality Story. That’s a good thing, the first seeds of trust in a friendly universe, as Howard Thurman put it.

At some point, we each come to the edge of that given map.

That Story of Life, the Universe and Everything as we understood it begins to be tested. For some of us, it’s an intentional intellectual curiosity– like a scientist examines her hypotheses and allows the scientific method to show the Truth. For others, it’s some real-life experience– a break-up, cancer, a bad pastor– that does not comfortably fit that reality. Or sometimes the Story just starts to feel old and it kinda. Just. Fades form our consciousness. Maybe sleep in on Sunday mornings, or decide to change your Bible study to bowling night.

Holiday TV ads have begun.

So much of the Christmas pomp is geared to kids, that if you are around kids, you may find yourself pleasantly regressing to the old, old story that you have loved so long. At the same time you may notice that faith wants to grow up. You may feel the contrast.

That original instruction book is in a drawer somewhere. It’s not what’s important now.

In the gospels, Rabbi Jesus is irritatingly consistent in his teaching: “You’ve heard it said…” (insert a bit about murder, adultery, sin, hatred, etc.) he spoke, serious as a heart attack. And then- was that a wink?- he’d continue, “But I tell you…” (insert a disturbingly different theology about integrity of the heart). He unwaveringly claimed was not destroying his beloved Jewish tradition but fulfilling it, evolving it.

What can I make of my life now that the letter-of-the-law instructions are no longer the important thing?

What evolution is possible now that our obedience to  human-crafted institutional structure is wrecked, and we are now paying attention to the holy Spirit-wind-breath hidden in every cell of creation?

It’s a terrifying and wonder-full thing.

But my lego-fanatic son knows now all things are possible, and the fun is just beginning.


What You Believe is a Stepping Stone

When I was a kid, I did bedtime prayers. I remember folding my hands a certain way, closing my eyes with my parents and speaking words in a certain rhythm. It was perfect at the time.

Now that I’m 44, I use different words and I think of prayer differently.

Human beings at our best are all about adaptation. When something isn’t working for whatever reason, we can change. Right?

Say the Man’s Pledge with me from the Red Green Show (Women, please join in, too):

I’m a man.
I can change.
If I have to.
I guess.

Some churches could use this in worship with very little editing. (And I have spent way too much time deciding whether to put a smily face here or not.)

As with many of you, my theology has changed a lot since I was small, mostly activated by seasons of growth and/or emotional upheaval. Kind of recapitulates the story of Israel when you think about it. I guess at this point in my life I’m aware that relationship with the Holy One is alive and dynamic. As such, it is impossible to institutionalize; it is always evolving. When I hear a good sermon, when I am moved by a song, when I notice the movement of change in a relationship… these can be moments when boundaries are broken and new word-containers are birthed to ring more truly. As Martin Luther said of the wider church, we are always reforming. Continually being born again, again.

Alternatively, we could choose to frame our experience of life apart from the weather of Holy Revelation. We could tell ourselves that some ideas mustn’t change. Continue working with old wineskins. Keep using worn-out words if they work for folks in the pew next to you.

There’s a thin blue book on my shelf which I keep simply for the title: “Your God is Too Small.”

When we were children, we thought like children. As Paul’s mail to Corinth says, now it’s different. Our species is supposedly excellent at adapting, but we sure are attached to same old, same old. At least that’s what I see in myself as I see myself stretching.

We are meant to change our minds. Our lives work best when our ideas transform, so we’re best off holding them loosely. What you believe right now is merely a stepping stone to what you will evolve to know and be.

In terms of your beliefs, maybe you have one foot in the air right now, between This and That. That’s good. And you are good. You haven’t betrayed anyone or anything by noticing that your ideas are changing. In fact, that’s G-d in motion. Any time it happens, I think this is a vitally creative and often terrifying moment.

Feel the stretch?

This is a song about personal evolution, idolatry and the adventure of honest trust. It was debuted at a concert in Hawaii last month, along with the Lua Pele song.

Stepping Stone
by Richard

Verse 1
You think that if you change, you’ll betray yourself
But what if your soul asked you follow it off the map
What you used to believe has brought you here
What you believe now is gonna change

Chorus
It’s a stepping stone
       What you believe is a stepping stone
It’s a stepping stone
       What you think now is a stepping stone

Verse 2
You’re sorry to leave it, this comfy dead end
You’re smelling the fresh air, outgrown where you began
What you used to believe has brought you here
What you believe now has your foot in the air

Bridge
Rock solid convictions come alive and launch you like a trampoline
Upgrade to new wineskins to hold the holy stuff that’s ripening

Verse 3
Look at you evolving– you’re “born again” again
And you’ll keep transforming til you’re dead or you ascend
What you used to believe was perfect at the time
What you believe now is like a breath