from the place of privilege and power (and willful or unwilful ignorance)

If you faint in the day of adversity,
your strength being small;
if you hold back from rescuing those taken away to death,
those who go staggering to the slaughter;
if you say, “Look, we did not know this”—
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it?
And will he not repay all according to their deeds?

Proverbs 24:10-12

Today is the second year of the newest US federal holiday, Juneteenth. It commemorates the day when slaves in Texas at last realized that they were free, a freedom that had to be enforced. Unfortunately that freedom was not maintained over the decades following so that there was an ongoing need not only to resist the evil of white supremacy seen in lynchings of blacks, but also the necessity of the Civil Rights Movement to claim basic human rights and equality.

To think that all is much better now so that there’s a level playing field and that all is well and good is simply to be uninformed and ignorant of the problems from the past that are very much present. And it’s a continued refusal to listen and consider the cries of those who suffer not only a secondary status at best, but injustice simply because of their skin color or ethnicity. It is an ongoing problem here in the United States due to white supremacy and the support of that in Christian nationalism, which when looked at is found to be racist so that it really amounts to white Christian nationalism in keeping with its story of the founding of the United States. And with the insistence that history not be taught, for example how much of the US economy and US itself was actually built by slaves.

Juneteenth is celebration for those set free, but it should include the rest of us to consider what this means in the present time, and to lament over the wrong and injury suffered, as well as to lament and resist calls for renewed white supremacist rule thought to return the US to an imagined and fabricated greatness and glory of the past. Make no mistake about it, it seems clear that at least there are forces out there active to bring this all about. And a major part of Christianity here is deafly silent because of the complicity of many with this from its ranks, not to mention it doesn’t seem to have either a sufficient theology and understanding of the gospel along with the will to counter that and present a better alternative.

It is a challenging time. But we have to stand up to it in a peaceful way. Willing though not wanting to risk life and limb but preferring to be facilitators of more needed change. With eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts open to learn from others and from God. And to pray and act accordingly, especially from the lead of those who know firsthand what this is all about. In and through Jesus.

pray on

pray without ceasing…for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:17, 18b

To be told to pray without ceasing seems pretty unrealistic. To be sure, we can’t be praying every moment of the day. Maybe the idea is that along with actual praying, we’re in an attitude of prayer all of our waking hours. Or that it is to be a habit of life that fills our days. For me, I take it to mean that I’m to be much in prayer which includes not only talking to God, but listening and seeking to hear God’s voice, and discern God’s will in it all.

This is addressed to Christians together, so there needs to be an emphasis on corporate prayer, that we’re all in this together. But that includes individual practice, that each of us are involved in playing our part.

I find that two practices are vital for me: being in Scripture with an emphasis on application and personal growth and being in prayer. I honestly think a missing link, all too true in my own life is that insofar as this is possible, we need to be joined together in this.

In my own experience I find that the attitude and practice of ongoing, persevering prayer is so important to keep my head afloat, out of the deep waters in which I lack the breath, light, the perspective and life of God. It is almost like the necessity of applying a magnet so that another piece of metal doesn’t fall to the ground.

The only way I seem to be able to really stay grounded and centered on God and on God’s will is to remain in Scripture, but with persistent, ongoing prayer. When I let up on that, it’s not long before I’ve lost focus and perspective. And what comes out of that is not good. We’re not in a Sunday School picnic. At the same time what also needs to be remembered is that much good comes out of this practice. Not only to help center us, but in actual benefit for others.

As we’re told in the Scripture passage quoted above, part of God’s will for us. In and through Jesus.

other focused

Do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

Philippians 2:3-5

We don’t inhabit others’ spaces. We live in our own spaces. I refuse to say that we live in our own bodies because the real biblical concept which is Hebrew and not Greek is that our bodies are part of our true selves. But we live within our own understanding and experience. So it’s more than understandable when we want to share what we’re up to with others. Particularly when we think it might be helpful. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But what if our focus was not on that, but simply on tuning into others, to what they might share, what they’re thinking and feeling, their experience and take on things? And what if that became our practice, just a part of us, what we do? So that we offer our perspective ordinarily only when asked, or naturally within a conversation with another.

Yes, we need to give, but we also need to receive. And we do so as those who are “in Christ” and who are to let the mind of Christ be in us. Christ came not to be served, but to serve, and lived among others in complete love, a love which was humble and gentle. Yes, none of us are equals in any sense with Christ except that the very Spirit of Christ and through that, the heart and mind of Christ does somehow indwell us individually and together. We must not hold back from what we might be given to share with others, yet we need to be attentive to what others might share with us, and what God might be wanting to teach us through that.

Something of the other-orientation I am becoming more aware of and seeking to grow into. In and through Jesus.

learn from (and don’t ignore) history

I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did, as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” We must not engage in sexual immorality, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Therefore, my beloved, flee from the worship of idols. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.

1 Corinthians 10:1-15

I’m afraid that all too often our theology or teaching we’ve taken in trumps what Scripture actually says. In the same way I’m afraid that any ideology of the world can make reality take a back seat or get out of the car altogether. But reality doesn’t work that way. Unless we take seriously what Scripture says along with the voices that are raising concerns now, and unless we are willing to look at the past square in the eye, and seek to learn from it, and adjust ourselves accordingly, unless we’re willing to do all of that, then we’ll have to suffer the consequences, and others along with us.

All of Scripture somehow has meaning for us now, although I acknowledge that places in Leviticus seem without application to me. But you have to factor all the details of that book in as well, and see that as part of the whole, which might help us understand the present through considering the past along with the projected future.

Something similar is true for world and national history as well. Why we can’t look at the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly which is inevitable in any such history, and why that’s considered divisive or whatever else negative is a sign that we’re caught up in some ideology. To be devoted to an ideology as if it’s right and true, one example the myth surrounding any nation’s greatness and goodness, is to at least be on the precipice, if not already fallen into idolatry itself. We must be willing to hear the voices that speak out of pain. Of course, they’re not going to be infallible, but neither should we dismiss them as irrelevant with no truth and nothing to say that we can’t learn from. We must listen and listen and listen. Only then might we have something to say which might help, and maybe not. But we need to seek to learn. Only then will others come to respect what we might have to contribute for good.

And we have to accept what Paul tells us above. We need the fear of God in our hearts, but with the realization that such fear is meant to help us into the knowledge and experience of the fathomless and pervasive love of God. In and through Jesus.

the difference maker

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed, it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, then the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

So then, brothers and sisters, we are obligated, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs: heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if we in fact suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:1-17; NRSVue

In and through Christ, God meets us right where we live. Of course, we’re to be active and alert and try to understand how we’re supposed to think, what we should do. Indeed dwelling within us to help us individually and together get through life in a way that is pleasing to God, even pleasing to ourselves and to each other in Christ (Romans 12:2), and ultimately for the good of all.

When we depend on our own spirit, our own thoughts, whatnot, then we’re going to find ourselves lost and burdened, definitely weighed down, because we’ll want to live up to God’s just standards of love in all things, something we’ll not do well enough, or have the discernment to know what really matters to God in the first place, what we should be concerned about or do in any given situation.

The Spirit is the difference maker for us. Otherwise, we’ll likely be in something like a religious mentality in which we’re trying to figure things out on our own. Yes, the Spirit helps us, and often through others in Christ, and at times even through those who make no profession of faith in Christ. The important thing for us to remember is that in this life we’re not left on our own. The Spirit is our needed difference maker, ever present, giving us the assurance that we’re indeed God’s children. And with that assurance giving us all that we need to navigate life. Yes, with our individual situations of course, often through each other, as well as through scripture, in answer to prayer, listening for that “still small voice,” and intent on doing and living in God’s will. In and through Jesus.

listen well

You must understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters: let everyone be quick to listen…

James 1:19a; NRSVue

I’m not sure why we think we have to say something all the time. We can chalk up many reasons for that actually, but considering everything, we can begin to see that this often is not the better part of wisdom. It is so much better to hear someone out, put it on pause, perhaps ask some questions, and then maybe offer a humble thought which might lend some help.

But what if our posture was simply one of listening; not speaking, but listening? We’re letting someone get something off their chest. And what better thing can we do then pray about it? Why do we think we either should or actually even can have a good answer, Johnny on the spot?

The best pastors learn to listen to their congregations well, to each one in the church. A good pastor needs to know not only the Lord and scripture, but the people of their flock also. Maybe God will give a pastor the wisdom to offer something helpful right away. But the best thing a pastor can do, as I think Eugene Peterson said or might say is to pray with and for them and teach them to pray.

Listen, listen, and keep listening. Maybe offer advice only if asked to do so rather than doing it, often even before the person is finished sharing their thoughts. May God give us the ears to hear not only God, but also others. And a heart to listen and listen well. In and through Jesus.

Jesus speaks to the crowds with parables

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on a path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched, and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. If you have ears, listen!”

Matthew 13:1-9; NRSVue

Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, but didn’t give the interpretation, only to his disciples as we see later in this passage. But why? Jesus told his disciples that the secret of the kingdom of heaven had been given to his disciples, but not to the rest, citing scripture to that effect. I’ve touched on this before, but it seems like Israel of old, many of Israel had an incorrect picture of what needed to be. They had failed to see God’s big picture, what God wanted. And unfortunately, by and large their religious leaders had failed them as well, they themselves just as lost, the blind leading the blind. Jesus realized that the crowds were not ready to receive the truth he was giving to his disciples, but he wanted to point them in that direction.

I think this kind of teaching was not just a form of God’s just and even wise judgment, but also a form of compassion. Remember that teaching the multitudes many things is said to have come out of Jesus’s compassion for them, as he saw them helpless and harassed, like sheep without a shepherd. It could be at least to some extent that Jesus spoke in parables to cause those listening to ask questions. Instead of thinking they already know what needs to be done, God’s program, what the kingdom promised was all about, Jesus’s teaching of parables would raise questions. And would hopefully make some open to a new understanding. Note Jesus’s words to the crowd at the end: “If you have ears, listen!”

I don’t think I’m a good teacher in this way in causing people to ask questions. I try to point people in the right direction through giving the best answers I can. But probably the best teaching leads people to ask questions, but in a way that is directing them to come up with good answers. Probably faith is at least as much about asking questions, having sitting questions without clear answers. But within that simply  trusting in God.

Just some thoughts on Jesus’s teaching to the multitudes of the parables without explaining the meaning to them as he did to his disciples. In and through Jesus.

Jesus’s teaching ministry

With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

Mark 4:33-34; NRSVue

The teaching ministry of Jesus is often relegated to a secondary status maybe behind his miracles, but definitely so when considering especially his death and resurrection. So much of the gospel accounts are hardly considered gospel, oftentimes even considered law with the only gospel, Jesus dying on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and being raised to life to bring us the new, eternal life. But we need Christ’s teaching as well, to try to begin to understand what forgiveness of sins and new life really means, that there is a vision we’re to live in, different from all the many visions and dreams out there in the world. One prime example is “the American dream,” not necessarily bad depending on context, but I think can get in the way of what is being spoken about here.

It’s interesting that Jesus used parables. Some scripture seems to indicate that it was to hide truth, but I think that pertains only to those whose hearts were not open or ready to truly receive it, but would inevitably misunderstand and misapply it, something like was occurring to a significant extent in Israel during Jesus’s time. I think the parables are primed to reach those who are struggling to understand, whose hearts are being opened to understand.

And Jesus taught the crowd, speaking the word as they were able to hear it. I think this makes an important connection between taking in scripture, seeking to hear God’s word from it, but all of that correlating with our experience. I frankly write most of the posts I write out of my experience, or seeking to make sense of experience, or find a better experience. But none of it is grounded in my experience, but only in faith and in trying to discern truth from God’s word for life.

But we must never forget that it’s out of compassion that Jesus taught the multitudes (Mark 6:34). And we want to do the same. To teach others what God is teaching us with patience, remembering that we most often are slow to learn it well ourselves. In and through Jesus.

trying to see the big picture

Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD!
Why do you want the day of the LORD?
It is darkness, not light,
as if someone fled from a lion
and was met by a bear
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall
and was bitten by a snake.
Is not the day of the LORD darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?

I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them,
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like water
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 5:18-24; NRSVue

Trying to see the big picture, things as they really are will require both an openness and sustained effort on our part. Amos is a prophet who certainly saw, something inherent within prophets, earlier called seers, receiving a vision from God. And often that vision had everything to do with the times in which they lived, seeing the current situation in light of God’s revealed will, eventually in light of the kingdom of God which was and is meant to bring flourishing to all of humanity, to all of creation.

Amos’s words, indeed his calling was not an easy one, certainly true of all the Hebrew prophets. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. echoed Amos’s words in the most difficult task he undertook of seeking racial justice, equality, and reconciliation. King’s passion was rooted in the gospel, the good news of Christ, and the vision cast through that, calling America to the best in its tradition, though it’s not certain that the US Constitution advocated for individual liberty for all, but that’s another topic, and well beyond what I could address (interesting article on this). But after decades and decades, not to mention centuries of wrongdoing to the Africans enslaved in America, the United States went through the upheaval it did hitting against the climax of the Civil War. Yet not ending with that as more was in the works given that much was not healed and made right. True to a significant extent right up to the present day, in fact becoming most evident in recent times.

There’s no question that just like during Amos’s time, we are up against what seems to be intractable forces, or to try to make it clearer, it seems like the fallout is here, that we are going through a perfect storm as it were, that the result of our ways (I include myself in that, too) has pressed in on us. That people on both sides have had enough. During Amos’s time the poor and oppressed could do little. During our time there is both the sense in which they think they can do more, but those who give up are often tempted to despair with a few giving into violence. And those whites who feel their lives are needlessly threatened by all of this, a few of them are ready for violence as well.

Both Amos and Dr. Martin Luther King’s call is entirely different. It is about stepping back and trying to see the big picture both in terms of what actually is, and what God would have be. That comes through being in scripture (Hebrew scripture and the New Testament- considering the Apocrypha with that) and prayer. And doing so in community, but all of this with an eye to try to see the current reality. Listening to everyone, especially those who are marginalized or feel that way. The poor, the stranger, and in this time where I live, first of all the people of color beginning with African Americans and the indigenous, and along with them all others: refugees, Muslims, Chinese, etc.

Unless we do this, we’re not actually seeing as either the prophets or Jesus saw. With the goal of acting in the love of God which Jesus brought with the willingness to suffer in love and out of that same love, for others. Knowing that the good news in Jesus is one of reconciliation of all, involving working through everything that means. In and through Jesus.

the unexpected, the new road, a new goal

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.

Job 1:1; NRSVue

Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.

Job 1:20-22; NRSVue

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive good from God and not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Job 2:9-10; NRSVue

After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.

Job 3:1; NRSV

And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends, and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.

After this Job lived one hundred and forty years and saw his children and his children’s children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days.

Job 42:10, 16-17; NRSVue

The wisdom story of Job is as profound in the wisdom we might gain from it, as it is difficult and even perplexing in the story it tells. We who grew up in church and were taught this story as children became inoculated to the problem of the story. And to some extent I still seem to be. After all, God brags about God’s servant Job to Satan. Satan attacks Job’s character, and then God takes up Satan’s wager, and lets Satan take Job’s wealth then his children and after that Job’s health? Job first responds as one would expect since he is after all a righteous person. But when left alone and before three friends initially present with him and seemingly empathetic, but otherwise all alone, Job begins what amounts to a long dialog, more like monologue since he and his friends eventually enter into something more like a debate. And Job ends up not only debating them, but God as well, though God is not yet speaking. After all the bottom has fallen out of Job’s world. And when you think about it, how can you blame him? It is hard for us to put ourselves into the story.

What was Job’s perspective and view before that? I think we at least can see the influences afoot through the remarks and charges of his three friends. God steps in at the end and gives Job a perspective Job had never dreamed of, somewhat prepared just before that by a young man who had spoken, misspoken to some extent I think, but had pointed in the direction in which God would go. And in the end, it ended well. But was all really well that ended well? After all, Job’s first seven children were gone, all the love, hopes and dreams with them. Seven in the end with more and more children to come, but a hole, nevertheless. But for me this is simply a wisdom story, and not an actual event. And much, much wisdom for us in this book, a different kind complementary wisdom to the other wisdom literature in scripture, especially in the Hebrew Bible.

All of that said to try to say something like this. What about when new and unexpected events shake our world from the outside in, to the inside out? When we’re at a loss and are having a hard time coming to grips with what we see in front of us, what we’re experiencing.

I think that’s when we want to praise and thank God, but also come to God with our own honest thoughts. And then try to listen. And for us listening means plumbing the depths insofar as we can through going through a book like Job, as well as the rest of scripture. That is a lifetime endeavor, not something we can do in a day or a weekend or even in a year. But we start that journey and stay on it, even as Job blessedly does throughout this book.

We can be sure that there is a good ending, even if we never completely understand it. Part of our life now. In and through Jesus.