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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Strange Truth (Isaiah 28-30)

"I don't believe in White Privilege; I believe in American Opportunity and Success."

"I don't believe in White Privilege or White Guilt."

These are comments I've heard in the last few months. Anecdotal evidence to be sure.  Here are a couple of responses from a Kaiser Family Foundation report.

How is it possible to believe you have benefited from your race, but not benefited from discrimination?  Given the disparity in success between Whites and non-Whites--a series of facts that can only be avoid from willful ignorance--how can you not "believe in White Privilege"?  

Answer: False Prophets.  Isaiah dealt with similar problems.  While Judah was crumbling forgetting its values, Isaiah wrote of these prophets in Isaiah 28:7-10:
7 And these also stagger from wine
and reel from beer:
Priests and prophets stagger from beer
and are befuddled with wine;
they reel from beer,
they stagger when seeing visions,
they stumble when rendering decisions.
8 All the tables are covered with vomit
and there is not a spot without filth.

9 “Who is it he is trying to teach?
To whom is he explaining his message?
To children weaned from their milk,
to those just taken from the breast?
10 For it is:
Do this, do that,
a rule for this, a rule for that;
a little here, a little there.”
Isaiah also experienced the problem of willful ignorance.  Isaiah had the truth, but found an unwilling audience.
11 For you this whole vision is nothing but words sealed in a scroll. And if you give the scroll to someone who can read, and say, “Read this, please,” they will answer, “I can’t; it is sealed.” 12 Or if you give the scroll to someone who cannot read, and say, “Read this, please,” they will answer, “I don’t know how to read.”
It wasn't helped by the strangeness of Isaiah's message.  They worked hard to calculate success through alliances with Egypt or deals with Assyria. In fact, "[I]n repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it." Isaiah 30:15.

Those who thrash about targeting their fellow worker.  Advocating for a border wall and an end to free trade.  Alliances with Russian.  All foolishness stoked by false prophets.  What we need to do, is repent for a system of privilege.  We need to work for peace through justice.  But, unfortunately, we will have none of it.

How can you help someone understand a problem if he doesn't want to understand it?  Seriously, I would like answers.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Part II (Hosea 4-14)

The Second half of Hosea is a series of oracles alternating between condemning Israel, and sort of Judah, and predicting the return of Israel to God's fold.

This selection ties in interestingly with a couple of themes.  First, I've noted elsewhere the evolution of the merging of the northern and southern religions. It connects them by reference to both Israel & the religion beginning when leaving out of Egypt. "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." Hosea 11:1.  However, later there is a strong suggestion that YHWH only began to be there God after Egypt, "But I have been the Lord your God ever since you came out of Egypt. You shall acknowledge no God but me, no Savior except me."  Hosea 13:4.

Also, there is some significant retroactive Christianity temptation in this prophet.  Toward the end of the oracles, we have this promise from YHWH:
I will deliver this people from the power of the grave;
I will redeem them from death.
Where, O death, are your plagues?
Where, O grave, is your destruction?

Indeed, this is the lyric to a Christian hymn sung on Easter.

Otherwise, Hosea's oracles reflect the theme of other prophets, weeping for the coming doom for Israel & Judah.  Honestly, Hosea focuses much more on fidelity to the worship of YHWH than social justice in comparison to Isaiah.  Although, we do have this from Hosea 6
6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
7 As at Adam, they have broken the covenant;
they were unfaithful to me there.
8 Gilead is a city of evildoers,
stained with footprints of blood.
9 As marauders lie in ambush for a victim,
so do bands of priests;
they murder on the road to Shechem,
carrying out their wicked schemes.
10 I have seen a horrible thing in Israel:
There Ephraim is given to prostitution,
Israel is defiled.

Intimate Betrayal (Hosea 1-3)

The Prophet Hosea speaks doom for Israel & Judah in two major sections.  First is a truly peculiar story about Hosea marrying a prostitute and naming the children bizarre names.  My daughter joked that it would be like naming a kid today, "hashtag notmypresident," and in fact, the third child is named "not my people."  Ultimately, Hosea stays with his wife saying that she must no longer sleep with other men, nor will he sleep with her.  "Then I told her, 'You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.'”  Hosea 3:3.

We who have squandered the blessings we have are like Israel betraying God.  This betrayal is deeply wicked.  It is the sort of soul destroying wickedness that the prophet uses prostitution to establish the metaphor.  It's not enough to betray a contract or covenant.  It is like prostituting yourself.

The other message from this, is that some betrayals have consequences.  Hosea doesn't end up living happily ever after with the prostitute.  Her debasing herself meant that even after Hosea returned to her, they could not reestablish an untarnished relationship.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Celebration and Tragedy (2 Kings 18; 2 Chronicles 29-31; Psalm 48)

This picture is of two of the several years that I shaved my head for charity.  I raised somewhere in the neighborhood of $10K for childhood cancer research.

Even as Israel was about to be carried off to Assyria, Judah had a new king.  " Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses." 2 Kings 18:5-6. Such high praise for this king late in the life of Israel.

The Chronicler, takes some time to remember the festivals after Hezekiah returned the people to righteousness, even getting rid of the pagan alters and Asher poles.
Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to all the Levites, who showed good understanding of the service of the Lord. For the seven days they ate their assigned portion and offered fellowship offerings and praised the Lord, the God of their ancestors.  The whole assembly then agreed to celebrate the festival seven more days; so for another seven days they celebrated joyfully.

That's what it felt like at the St. Baldrick's events. We shaved our heads in the midst of a festive public event.  We drank beer.  We were joyful.

The author of Kings jumps pretty quickly fourteen years down the road when, "Hezekiah king of Judah sent this message to the king of Assyria at Lachish: 'I have done wrong. Withdraw from me, and I will pay whatever you demand of me.'” 2 Kings 18:14.  Hezekiah was the best king of Judah, and he couldn't turn the tide.

This photo is full of tragedy.  I got involved because my friends' seven year old son lost his life to cancer.  One of the boys in the top right picture would die the year after in a tragic accident. And as a result, his very shy younger brother, pictured in the bottom left took his place the next year to honor his brother.  But, rather than lessen, I feel like the comingled tragedies may actually intensify the impact of the celebration.  Looking into the eyes of disaster, whether a couple of guys or a nation, and say, "No, we will not forget our joyfulness," seems even more powerful than celebration alone.

Have you ever celebrated in the face of disaster?  Have you found space for joy in sadness?  

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Going Global (Isaiah 23-27)

This selection makes clear that the merging of YHWH and El has no culminated in a vision of a God of the World. First, after prophesying the destruction of the Mediterranean nations, Isaiah conveyed this for the World:
See, the Lord is going to lay waste the earth
  and devastate it;
  he will ruin its face
  and scatter its inhabitants—
it will be the same
  for priest as for people,
  for the master as for his servant,
  for the mistress as for her servant,
  for seller as for buyer,
  for borrower as for lender,
  for debtor as for creditor.
The earth will be completely laid waste
  and totally plundered.
The Lord has spoken this word.
 But, luckily it doesn't end there.
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
  a feast of rich food for all peoples,
  a banquet of aged wine—
  the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
  the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
  the sheet that covers all nations;
  he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
  from all faces;
  he will remove his people’s disgrace
  from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken
Now salvation is available to all peoples, and all nations.  

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Why Equality

This is a story I've told often, but it still gives me chills.  I believe this is why equality is so important to me.

When I was in junior high school, I met Jeff. Jeff had Down Syndrome, and I vividly remember recognizing the kindness of kids in our Indiana neighborhood for letting him play basketball. Similarly, I thought my dad’s finding a Bible that Jeff could use demonstrated his compassionate nature. It made me feel good that we accepted everyone. The previous pastor, I understood, did not allow Jeff to join the church because he felt that Jeff would not have understood the process. What an ass.

On a Palm Sunday in the mid ‘80s, Jeff came forward in response to Dad’s alter call, as planned. Dad looked him in the eye and asked the question we all knew by heart: Jeff, do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God?

I don’t know what woke me up. Perhaps Jeff said it louder than others. Perhaps he said it with an uncommon confidence. Perhaps he answered in a heart and soul manner than cannot be described with pitch and volume. But when Jeff answered: I do! I woke up.

I woke up to all the condescending, patronizing bullshit that I had directed toward him. His words brought my humiliating arrogance to surface, but simultaneously blew it away. Like impurities subjected to the heat of the crucible, my trivializing the value of another child of God, could not stand heat of Jeff’s faith. When Jeff responded with just as much verve to the second question—And do you accept him as your personal savior—joy filled my soul in a way that it never had before.

Jeff’s Good Confession permanently transformed me. I became a new creation. I could no longer ignore that each of us contains the divine and the capacity to tear the fabric of ordinary existence to make a way for the presence of the Almighty. Thank God for Jeff.

Unwelcome Revelation (Isaiah 18-22)

A theme of the Isaiah passage that I do not like is the description of the remnant.  The scrap of faithful that remain as the world crashes around them.  In his condemnation against Cush/Ethiopia, Isaiah writes, "For, before the harvest, when the blossom is gone and the flower becomes a ripening grape, he will cut off the shoots with pruning knives, and cut down and take away the spreading branches."  18:5.  If you have ever seen a plant, esp. a grapevine, after pruning, it really looks dead.  The uninitiated will think, "there is nothing left here."

Reminiscent of Moses who saw but did not enter the promised land, Isaiah includes: "The Lord Almighty has revealed this in my hearing: 'Till your dying day this sin will not be atoned for,' says the Lord, the Lord Almighty."

Taking the Gospel from my doorstep to the ends of the Earth is an exciting option.  Keeping the faith while those around me lose theirs (to paraphrase Kiping) is not so sexy.

Would you be willing to hold a truth with a small remnant of a faith, if you knew it was the truth, but you also knew that its broad recognition would not happen in your lifetime?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Angry Hope (Isaiah 13-17)

I had been on the phone starting with polling places that were not open at 6:00 a.m. ending in reports of marshals preventing those in line at 7:00 p.m. from getting to vote. I began to recognize the fatigue in my muscles brought on by thirteen hours of tense conversations with angry voters and election officials.  The "boiler room" lived up to its name, steamy from perspiration of a legion of lawyers serving the cause.  Computers shifted from the Secretary of State and County Recorder websites to news sites.  Unexpected East Coast states were being called for Trump.  Our hearts sank as the working class voters who we knew would be the victims of electing an oligarch we trending his way.  

A wave of intellectual confusion, of physical exhaustion, of deep, deep sadness crashed over me.  My God what had my countrymen done?  From this bare computer room, complete with few windows and concrete floors, we looked out on the certain destruction awaiting our country as a result of its choice.

Isaiah preached this to the people of Judah.  God would not standby and watch their wickedness.  God would use the nations of Assyria and Babylon to punish God's people for their reckless and foolish decisions, for their abandoning the widow and the orphan, for their arrogance.

But, but! The forces of evil would not reign forever.  Indeed for Babylon, Isaiah proclaimed a day of reckoning.  "Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty. . . See, the day of the Lord is coming—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. . . . Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the Lord Almighty, in the day of his burning anger."
Isaiah 13:6, 9, 13.  

I get it.  I understand why the small remnant of faithful adherents could find a bitter hope in this prophesy.  I don't know if it is healthy, but I do long for the day when those voting to take $700B from sick people, to scapegoat transgender people, to exploit the plight of the refugee on will receive their just deserts.  

Allies Advocating

Two white men, one gay one straight, spoke in favor of electing Rev. Teresa Hord Owens the next General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  The straight white man specifically identified his race in supporting her election.  No one spoke against her election.  Here is the video of me speaking at General Assembly four years ago.

Advocating as an ally is a tricky business. On the one hand, justice is not just an issue for the victim of injustice.  The perpetrator must recognize and address it as well.  And so, middle-aged, straight white guys should raise their voice for justice. Indeed, that is largely the purpose of this blog.  On the other hand, I understand the "we don't need your help" reaction. 

It's common to see lists of how to be a "good ally."  I typically find those lists to be terribly patronizing and condescending.  I read them as "we don't need your help," which is a reaction I understand, and is why they don't offend me or hurt my feelings. But, I don't think I've ever read one and thought it was actually advice for me on how to advocate.

Have you heard a message of support from an ally and found it hurtful despite best intentions? Have you heard a message you found it genuinely supportive?   

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Bright Spot (2 Chronicles 28; 2 Kings 16-17)

Things are falling apart.  The Israelite and Judean kings are both trying to make deals with Assyria, but none of these deals save them from the next demand from the invading army.  Stand your ground, when bowing down is not an option.

At one point, Israel has turned on Judah and is about to carry off 200,000 Judeans as captives, when a prophet stands up for righteousness.
But a prophet of the Lord named Oded was there, and he went out to meet the army when it returned to Samaria. He said to them, “Because the Lord, the God of your ancestors, was angry with Judah, he gave them into your hand. But you have slaughtered them in a rage that reaches to heaven. 10 And now you intend to make the men and women of Judah and Jerusalem your slaves. But aren’t you also guilty of sins against the Lord your God? 11 Now listen to me! Send back your fellow Israelites you have taken as prisoners, for the Lord’s fierce anger rests on you.”

. . .

14 So the soldiers gave up the prisoners and plunder in the presence of the officials and all the assembly. 15 The men designated by name took the prisoners, and from the plunder they clothed all who were naked. They provided them with clothes and sandals, food and drink, and healing balm.
Odeb didn't stop the invasion. He didn't save the nation, but he saved those people.  He did it by appealing to their common values, and their common faith.

Are there common values among Americans that could open the eyes of those who supported Donald Trump to see what they are doing to the sick and the poor and the refugee and the prisoner?