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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Bleak (Jeremiah 10-22)

In America today, racist nationalists, including but not limited to Nazis, emboldened by the election of Donald Trump, the poster child for white mediocrity, threaten the security of our union.  Uniformed bigots cannot face the truth of being unable to succeed, despite every imaginable advantage.  America's failure to live up to its promise of equality for all manifests itself in these oppressors who pathetically paint themselves as victims.  In the past, when festering, systemic violence gave rise to racist power structures such as chattel slavery and fascism, America lost unthinkable quantities of blood and treasure to put them down.

The people of Judah similarly turned from justice. They chose idolatry over the one true God. God's advice to Jeremiah, “Do not pray for this people or offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress. . . . Do not pray for the well-being of this people."  Jeremiah 11:14, 14:11. How bad does it have to get for God to tell God's prophet not to pray for God's people? Well, "They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal — something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind."  Jeremiah 19:5.

God poses an uncomfortable question to Jeremiah, a question I ask myself as I read Donald Trump's response to Nazi attacks on American soil, "Can a leopard change its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil."  Jeremiah 13:23.

Speaking metaphorically of the solution, God offers Jeremiah this parable:
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.
Jeremiah 18:1-6.  Less metaphorically, God promises to keep a remnant, but as for most of them:
“‘In this place I will ruin the plans of Judah and Jerusalem. I will make them fall by the sword before their enemies, at the hands of those who want to kill them, and I will give their carcasses as food to the birds and the wild animals. I will devastate this city and make it an object of horror and scorn; all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff because of all its wounds. I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh because their enemies will press the siege so hard against them to destroy them.’

Jeremiah 19:7-9.   Is there a way to right the evils of unjust distribution of power, without violence?  Is history actually full of societies redeeming themselves without cataclysm, but the only stories we remember are the dramatic ones?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Recovery & Redemption (Jeremiah 1-9)

Our youth group took found a seat with a view of the river and broke out our sack lunches.  The rather on-the-nose Credence Clearwater Rival tune drifted across the public park. 

If you come down to the river
Bet you gonna find some people who live
You don't have to worry 'cause you have no money
People on the river are happy to give

Big wheel keep on turnin'
Proud Mary keep on burnin'
Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the river
Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the river

A homeless guy approached our group.  Dad greeted him; as they exchanged small talk the man sprayed Lysol into its cap and took a drink.  Dad's fearlessness gave us permission to not be afraid.  We shared our lunches with him.  In between drinks of Lysol he shared the story of a tough life. We listened.  Then Dad said, "Hey John, put down the Lysol."  John couldn't do it and walked away.  

Unconditional love is a component of faith, but it is not the same as faith.  Dad knew that John needed more than just compassion; even though he probably also knew that John was by now incapable of taking that next necessary step.  Likewise, the Prophet Jeremiah brought word to the people of Judah who could no longer merely rest of being the chosen--even sufficient response was no longer possible.
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message:

“‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

 “‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things?

Jeremiah 7:1-10.  The charges level against Israel are both spiritual infidelity and social injustice.  Earlier, Jeremiah warns Israel that all but a remnant will have to be destroyed.  He describes the process like a woman giving birth.  
I hear a cry as of a woman in labor,
a groan as of one bearing her first child—
the cry of Daughter Zion gasping for breath,
stretching out her hands and saying,
“Alas! I am fainting;
my life is given over to murderers.”
Jeremiah 4:31.  Jeremiah's laments rings hauntingly true, today.

Do you think there is hope for America to avoid disaster and step back from the destruction brought on by unchecked greed and marginalizing massive sectors of its population?

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Being a Bummer (Zephaniah)

The people of Judah knew that under Hezekiah, Sennacherib's Assyrian army was at the walls of Jerusalem and had been repelled--or outlasted.  King Josiah had returned the nation to the ways of YHWH--the God of Jacob and Moses--and while the Babylonian Empire was on the rise, I suspect some of them were attracted to the idea of a day of vengeance would come when YHWH come in judgement.

Zephaniah had this to say about the Day of YHWH:
The great day of the Lord is near—
near and coming quickly.
The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter;
the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry.
 . . . . 
Woe to the city of oppressors,
rebellious and defiled!
She obeys no one,
she accepts no correction.
She does not trust in the Lord,
she does not draw near to her God.
Her officials within her
are roaring lions;
her rulers are evening wolves,
who leave nothing for the morning.
Her prophets are unprincipled;
they are treacherous people.
Her priests profane the sanctuary
and do violence to the law.
The Lord within her is righteous;
he does no wrong.
Morning by morning he dispenses his justice,
and every new day he does not fail,
yet the unrighteous know no shame.
So, when you have to keep correct your friends for their nonsense, you're in good company.  Zephaniah does let up at the end and leave open the possibility of a remnant of people true to God remaining through God's wrath.  Still pretty depressing. 

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Consequences (2 Kings 22-23; 2 Chronicles 34-35)

I have this memory fragment of entering my parents' bedroom.  Mom is making the bed, and I sheepishly make some observation.  She looks at me and says, "You hurt my feelings.  You can't just come in here and pretend you didn't and make things better."

You know how you have family stories that you tell over and over, so that you remember the story but not the event?  This ain't one of those.  Mom doesn't remember it.  I was probably five; Mom would have been only a few years older than my son is now.  It hurt to realize that I could be genuinely sorry but that did not eliminate the pain I'd caused.

In today's selection Judah finds itself in a similar place.  The back and forth of good and wicked kings continued: Evil Ahab, Good Hezekiah, Evil Manasseh, Good Josiah.  But, the people have permanently damaged their relationship with God.

After a half century of evil rule, Josiah takes over (at age 8) and begins restoring the temple. Having rediscovered the book of the law, Josiah's religious leader went to the prophet Huldah to seek guidance. 
She said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.’ 18 Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.’”
2 Kings 22:14-20; compare 2 Chronicles 34:22-28.  Notice that the best God can do, is delay the disaster until Josiah is dead.  Happily ever after is off the table.

Photo credit.  Sometimes, as the saying goes, there is hell to pay.  In criminal justice settings we talk about one's debt to society.   Before speaking sweetly of malice toward none and charity toward all in his second inaugural address, Lincoln considered whether the Civil War needed to continue "until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword."


Of course, how foolish would it be to continue amassing debts for fear of the consequences for the debts we already have.  If today all who benefitted from systems of privilege somehow instantly ceased to benefit from such systems, it would not mean that the wounds would be healed.  It would not mean that there was no reckoning to be had.

If you have been wronged, what must happen for you to be made whole?  If you have wronged someone, what must you do to restore your relationship?  Are there scars that remain even after healing has taken place?  And finally, do these relate to community as well as individuals?

Friday, August 04, 2017

Where Is Meaning (Nahum)

In a recent post I retold the story of my dad selling his beloved '67 chevy for $1.  There is more to that story, of course.  There are complex forces that went into Dad's thinking that may have included things like needing to move soon, who knows how good the good offers were, and perhaps ego around a grand gesture played a part in Dad's choice.  A few days ago I gave away a bobble head to a kid who got to the game late and didn't get one.  My pastor accurately noted that I got to be a hero AND didn't have to carry home a bobble head I didn't want.  The guy he sold the car to ruined it, making it undriveable only a few months after the sale.  And, although acts of kinds should not be limited to the "deserving," absolutely evil behavior of the man would later come to light that added pain to the relationship and are conveniently omitted from the story.

So what does the story mean?

We have read in Isaiah, 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles of the siege of Jerusalem at the hands of Sennacherib and Jerusalem's subsequent deliverance.  This article from the Metropolitan documents several Biblical and other sources, such as Sennacherib's Steele, that recount the unsuccessful siege shortly before Sennacherib's assassination.

Here's what the prophet Nehum, writing after the fall of the Assyrian capital, had to say about the reason for Assyria's demise.  From Nehum 3:

Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims!
The crack of whips, the clatter of wheels, galloping horses and jolting chariots!
Charging cavalry, flashing swords and glittering spears!
Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses—
Okay, and why did this happen?
all because of the wanton lust of a prostitute, alluring, the mistress of sorceries, who enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft.
“I am against you,” declares the Lord Almighty. “I will lift your skirts over your face. I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame.
I will pelt you with filth; I will treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle.
All who see you will flee from you and say, ‘Nineveh is in ruins—who will mourn for her?’ Where can I find anyone to comfort you?”
Per Nahum, Nineveh fell because of its wickedness.  For Nehum, Nineveh is a cautionary tale.  Nehum makes an even more outlandish claim.  Nehum's oracle provides that the rise and fall of empire is not an endless cycle. "Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news,
who proclaims peace!Celebrate your festivals, Judah, and fulfill your vows. No more will the wicked invade you; they will be completely destroyed."  1:15.  Like the other prophets, Nehum predicts it is possible to break the cycle and no more be invaded.

Historically, Nineveh fell as the neo-Babylonians began to rise.  There was exactly a cycle that had continued from the end of the late Bronze age collapse around 1200 A.D.  With the Hittites & Egyptians in decline, Israel rose.  Then Assyria came back only to fall to the rising Babylonians, then Persians.  Eventually the Greeks and finally (only for Biblical purposes) the Romans.  So, in a very real sense, internal decline is at least an incomplete explanation.  

Nonetheless, is there value in learning a lesson that is incomplete?  Is it valid to use an experience as a metaphor?  

When Should You Offer Your Son For Sacrifice? (2 Kings 20-21; 2 Chronicles 32-33)

The end is coming for Judah.  Hezekiah--for the third time now--is dying.  As good as Hezekiah was, his son Manasseh was as bad as his father Ahaz.  It reads particularly disheartening because Manasseh actually replaces all of the shrines that God opposes.

Consider this list of indictments from 2 Kings 21:5-6. "In the two courts of the temple of the Lord, he built altars to all the starry hosts. He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger."

Ignoring the weirdly casual reference to infanticide, it struck me that when Abraham did this, he established the faith for all time.  Of course, God called it off, but wasn't it required that Abraham intended to go through with it.  

To me, this means that the substance matters.  Why was it bad what Manasseh did?  Because the god to which he was sacrificing wasn't real.  And, my point is precisely that from a rational analysis there is just no way to distinguish.  

Mixed Messages (Isaiah 56-66)

Completing Isaiah, we move through what is called Third Isaiah--the oracles written most likely from Babylon.  Like the rest of Isaiah, it contains a dizzying mix of hope for a distant return to chosen status of God's people, revenge fantasies, and laments for disobedience. This oracle comes very near the end of the final chapter.
For this is what the Lord says:

“I will extend peace to her like a river,
   and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;
   you will nurse and be carried on her arm
   and dandled on her knees.
As a mother comforts her child,
   so will I comfort you;
   and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”
When you see this, your heart will rejoice
   and you will flourish like grass;
   the hand of the Lord will be made known to his servants,
   but his fury will be shown to his foes.
See, the Lord is coming with fire,
   and his chariots are like a whirlwind;
   he will bring down his anger with fury,
   and his rebuke with flames of fire.
For with fire and with his sword
   the Lord will execute judgment on all people,
   and many will be those slain by the Lord.
The promise is not merely for military victory.  It includes being comforted in the same way a mother comforts a child.  They will not just flourish like grass, but hearts will rejoice.  

So what relation does this have to the Lord coming with fire and with his sword?  I think it means that one does not reach this state easily.  There is suffering that cannot be avoided.  Hard work cannot be short circuited.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Earned? (Isaiah 54-55)

Mid 1995, I walked off USS Billfish after my first time a sea, a short ten week run to the Mediterranean and back.  Among the families greeting their loved ones, I took my ten-month-old son into my arms; he struggled reaching for Mom.  He did not recognize me.  We drove home pretty much in silence, holding back the confounding mix of emotions that we would come to recognize as typical for returning to port.  Once home, I took out the Dr. Sues book that I had read on the video tape before I left.  After the first rhyme his eyes lit up.  Soon enough he was smiling and happy for me to hold him.

I made sacrifices for my country during those five years in the Navy.  And, had I not worked hard and mad those sacrifices, I would have suffered consequences.  I earned the right to stand up during Diamondbacks games when they honor veterans.  I deserve to walk with my daughter in the Veterans' Day parade.

Of course, some of the advantages I enjoy are not the result of something I earned.  I did not have much to do with my dad being a scout leader who encouraged me to be an Eagle Scout.  I did not have much to do with my mom knowing how to fill out financial aid forms and assuming out of the gate that I would go to college.  Nor did I earn having my opinions taken more seriously when I spoke up in class, or people assuming that I'm one of the people in charge, both of which have much to do with my gender and race.

That's the thing about being the privileged, or the chosen--it doesn't mean you don't work for what you have nor does it mean that you can't do stupid things to lose what you have--it merely means that in addition to all of that, there is an element of luck prior to anything you ever did.

The nature of Israel's chosen status is examined at the end of what is called Second Isaiah sometimes.  Chapters 40-55 were likely written after the Northern Kingdom had been taken into exile by the Assyrians, but before the Southern Kingdom had been taken into exile by the Babylonians.

Israel longed for a return of its special status, perhaps.  Isaiah 54:6 says, "'The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—a wife who married young, only to be rejected,' says your God."  Note, in this metaphor, the wife doesn't really deserve to be called back.  It is an act of love rather than a transactional response. In Isaiah 54:17, "'This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,' declares the Lord."  Inheritance is not earned.

Despite Israel's longing, as the Southern Kingdom stood on the precipice of what would seem like eternal defeat.  Not just exile, but a destruction of the temple, the faith of Moses and of Abraham would survive by transforming from a local religion to a global one.  As Isaiah would write, in 55:8, "Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.”

How does Israel's demise relate to White Male Privilege?  The faith of Abraham survived because the chosen gave up their chosen status.  The chosen recognized, transformed, revised--whatever--the faith to be a faith of the world.  Imagine if those who benefit from our societal structures could both recognize the advantages they have received and work to reorder systems so that such unfair advantages would be removed.  How cosmically powerful is such a notion that the privileged in our society could let go of that chosen status for the betterment of the entire culture.  It would be as grand a change as the followers of YHWH seeing their God as the God of the world.

Israel wouldn't give up its chosen status until absolute, apocalyptic, cataclysmic destruction was imminent.  What would it take for the privileged in our society (like me) to be willing to surrender their privilege?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Appropriating Hebrew Scripture (Isaiah 49-53)

This passage, Isaiah 49-53, contains material that has been adopted in Christian consciousness.  The Book of Isaiah is the product of a school of prophets urging Judah to remember its roots as a people of God.  Isaiah speaks harshly against the people.  Both the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah), but now without hope.  Consider these two statements.

"The Lord made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me."  Isaiah 49:2.
"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." Matthew 10:34.

Then there is this, from chapter 52 to 53.

The Suffering and Glory of the Servant

13 See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
15 so he will sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.

53:1 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors
Is it legitimate for Christians to pull meaning from Isaiah and put it on Christ?  Reading Isaiah makes it clear that's not what Isaiah meant, but does that matter.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Salvation Again (Psalm 46, 76, 80, 135)

This selection is three of them, with another one from a couple of readings ago that I missed.

The psalms still give me some trouble.  But, what jumped out to me was this phrase repeated three times in Psalm 80.
Restore us, O God;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved

Christians talk about individuals being saved, but the psalmist is talking about a people being saved.  Furthermore, my understanding is that the salvation here is deliverance from enemies and perhaps return to Zion.  Psalm 135 recount military victories of the Israelites consistent with this understanding.

Again, I wonder whether it is appropriate for we as Christians to appropriate the Hebrew idea of salvation.  Interesting.

More than Human (Isaiah 44-48)

Tonight's selection is Isaiah 44-48.  In the previous post one can see that God has evolved to be the god of the world.  In Exodus, we read a passage that "clarifies" that the God worshiped by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as El Shaddai was the same God worshiped by Moses as the "I am Who I am," or YHWH (pronounced Yahweh.)  In this selection, Isaiah reminds us in two places that God is more than just a God for humans.

From Isaiah 44:23 first, and then from 45:8 next.
Sing for joy, you heavens, for the Lord has done this;
shout aloud, you earth beneath.
Burst into song, you mountains,
you forests and all your trees,
for the Lord has redeemed Jacob,
he displays his glory in Israel.
. . .
You heavens above, rain down my righteousness;
let the clouds shower it down.
Let the earth open wide,
let salvation spring up,
let righteousness flourish with it;
I, the Lord, have created it.
This is what keeps me from being a secular humanist.  I believe there is a more profound truth that can be found through worship and reflection on God.

One more passage jumped out at me, at the very end, Isaiah 48:22, "There is no peace for the wicked."  This plugs in to the cosmic, I believe.  Isaiah's author knows that there will be decades of exile and many wicked people will be victors, so for their entire lives.  But even so, they will not know cosmic peace.

Can the wicked know peace?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Salvation (Isaiah 40-43)

For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant,
and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.

Today's selection is Isaiah 40-43.  It connects with me much more than stories about kings praying for angels to come down and slaughter an army or get an extra fifteen years of life.  This passage is about hope.  The following imagery has made it into pop culture in some contexts.
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
I feel weary.  I feel like giving up sometimes.  President Trumps hostility toward transgender people serving in the military, to equivocation from the leader of my own denomination, to a friend relating a story in which her ten-year-old daughter's teacher found an excuse to use the n-word in class.  

I also feel alone sometimes.  I feel small and discouraged.  But then I remember, according to Isaiah the world will be saved by a remnant; to quote Shakespeare, "we few, we happy few, we band of brothers."  

But salvation, deliverance from mean existence into living in the way, the path for which we were designed, is not to be kept as a secret.  Isaiah reports in 42:6, "I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles," or as NVI states it "como luz para las nacciones."

This salvation is important. But it comes only from God. Per Isaiah 43:25, "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more."

Of course, my version of salvation is not Isaiah's version of salvation any more than it is that of a Christian fundamentalist who believe he will walk streets of gold in the sky.  What does salvation mean to you?  Can someone who has a different understanding of salvation than you, nonetheless provide you valuable information about salvation and access to it?

Prayer aka Speaking to the Universe (Isaiah 37-39)

Mom & Dad moved to Arizona in May 2008.  His cancer had miraculously disappeared, which honestly didn't make much sense to us.  They rented a house directly across the street from us.  Things were going to be good.

Within ten days of his arrival he went to the hospital for pain in his side.  The following day, the doctors reported that his cancer had filled his body.  No one understands why the doctor in Indiana thought the cancer was gone, even though Mom & Dad remembered it was in response to specific test results following his last round of chemo.  He was told he had between a few weeks and maybe three months to live.  No treatments could possibly be effective.

My son was thirteen and an atheist.  I heard him praying and asking that Dad should live the three months.  Not asking for a cure, but asking that Dad live to the outside edge of the prognosis.

We left King Hezekiah with the expanding Assyrian empire at his doorstep. The king claiming that YHWH himself had ordered the King of Assyria to conquer Jerusalem.  This is Hezekiah's Prayer:
“It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.
Isaiah 37:18-20.  According to the rest of the passage, and as foretold by Isaiah, the King was called away to another battle.  But not until an angel of the YHWH put to death 185,000 Assyrians.  Isaiah 37:36.  In that other battle the Assyrian King would be killed.  Judah was delivered from his hand in answer to Hezekiah's prayer.

Dad died a few days after my son's prayer.  Earlier than the earliest prognosis--although I suspect saying someone can die in a few weeks really means any time.

I don't believe in intercessory prayer.  I don't believe the Universe will answer my requests either--the spiritual but not religious version of prayer.  This didn't happen because of my son's experience; it really didn't.  But the event surely seems to reinforce my world view that God is not a wish giver on a cloud.  I've shared before what I think God is, but today I really am interested in what others think about prayer, or looking to the universe for answers.

Do you believe that the natural world can be altered by prayer?  Have you experienced the Universe moving within you in a way other than via your own thoughts?  

Many people I respect greatly and care about deeply feel differently than I do on this topic.  I honestly don't know if my feelings on intercessory prayer are a virtue or a shortcoming.  I would love to read responses.

Last proviso--I believe in lots of kinds of prayer.  I give prayers of thanksgiving almost everything morning. I participate in weekly communal prayer of joys and concerns.  Prayer as a way to open your heart to enable you to do what must be done and to discern the will of God.  There are probably others I'm forgetting.  This post concerns asking God to deliver someone and God either sending an angel to kill 180,000 Assyrians, or letting a cancer patient die earlier than expected.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Equality In Christ Is Not Politics

Newly elected General Minister and President Teresa Hord Owens needs to clarify her remarks provided here in the Christian Century.  The Kingdom will not be reached by letting some folks in and keeping others out.  It doesn't work that way. All bigotry is evil.  The privileged need to stop it.  The marginalized need to stop. And damn it, the church needs to stop it. 
Here's the context.  First a discussion of nonessential.
Her particular role is to lead people in efforts where they can agree, especially given the Christian Church’s history of making room for “widely divergent viewpoints concerning ‘non­essentials,’” as denominational literature puts it.
Good.  Fine.  
The Disciples have had conflict over LGBTQ inclusion, though a previous General Assembly passed a resolution in favor of it. She noted that the calls she has received have not been about her views on Black Lives Matter, but about sexuality and politics. She emphasized that her desire is to care for the vulnerable, not to align theology and politics.
Is the Black Lives Matter movement politics?  No.  Only if you think it is a political matter to believe Black kids should not be killed in disproportionate numbers by the police.  Is LGBTQ inclusion politics?  No.  Only if you think what God has made you can declare to be unclean.  If your cultural background teaches you that women, or gays, or trans people, or people who speak Spanish or Black people are lesser, then--and, let me be perfectly clear--fuck your culture.  I give zero shits about your stupid culture. And I certainly reject any notion that such bullshit is theology.   
“We’re disciples of Christ, not of any particular ideology,” she said. Further, since denominational polity lacks emphasis on doctrinal orthodoxy and places high value on congregational discernment, “we have no hammer to lay down.”
She noted that her congregation displays banners with the motto, “In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in all things love.” Unity, she clarifies, isn’t consensus, including in scriptural interpretation. Owens stressed the importance of biblical literacy: wrestling with the text in the pews as well as the pulpit.
I'm not sure what to make of this.  I really like Biblical literacy as you can see from almost everything else I've written in this blog.  But how will it help us care for the vulnerable?  (P.S. are LGBTQ folks not the vulnerable?) How will it make us a pro-reconciling/anti-racist church--something Reverend Owens claims later in the article to care about.  
“The church really does have to be able to hold all those things in tension and be able to take a stand when it needs to, and keep calling people to account on that issue of love—that cuts through a lot of disagreements about what’s essential and nonessential,” she said. “Unity is not possible if love isn’t right up there with it.”
The church does not need to hold in tension whether my friends are people.  The human beings God made and that I love are people, and I'm not going to be tolerant of any nonsensical garbage that suggests otherwise.  And all humans--let alone all Christians--being treated as people loved in the eyes of God sure as shit is an essential.

Hope (Isaiah 35-36)

Today's selection of reading has two faces of hope.  The first comes from a vision of God's return to the world.  Consider this excerpt from Isaiah 35--a passage special to me as I once recited it during Advent at Chalice Christian Church:
Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way
say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”
The following chapter has another face of hope.  Irrational faith in the face of attack.  It recounts the same events captured in 2 Kings  of the Assyrian king threatening the people of Judah.
“‘This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: On what are you basing this confidence of yours? You say you have counsel and might for war—but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me? Look, I know you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces the hand of anyone who leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who depend on him. But if you say to me, “We are depending on the Lord our God”—isn’t he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, “You must worship before this altar”?
A couple of things worth point out.  the "high places" and "alters" were to Baal and Ashera.  So, the outsider is either mocking, or more likely, misunderstanding the religion of Judah.  The King of Assyria goes further, when his messengers quote him as saying, "'Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this land without the Lord? The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it.’”  YHWH told the Assyrian King to march against Judah, really?

As I think I've made clear, I see our current systems as deeply flawed.  I believe that we cannot bring wholeness to the broken world without passing through a time of painful truth and reconciliation.  Thus, I think we are like the Judeans standing on the wall of Jerusalem listening to the foreign invaders mocking their faith. 

What are the characteristics of a hope or promise that is sufficient to enable one to willingly endure suffering to get to it?  Surely we all have experienced deferred gratification; can those models be transferred to a society?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Path to Peace (Isaiah 31-34)

He has in his hand 100 mL of reactor coolant. On the lab table sits a beaker with a small metal chimney. The teenage sailor's job requires him to deftly turn the 100 mL bottle into the metal chimney on the beaker. So long as the lip of the bottle is quickly under the top of the chimney, physics will prevent any coolant from spilling out. Hesitation results in radioactive fluid spilling over the chimney, onto the lab desk, and the relatively modest rad levels notwithstanding, spilling the fluid will result in an "spill" announcement and sounds of the ship's general alarm.

The sailor needed to trust in gravity and physics and smoothness. Isaiah discusses the need to trust, writing, "Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord."  Isaiah 31:1. It is not easy to trust so completely in that which is unseen.  
Curiously, Isaiah makes it clear that this call to trust in the unseen reaches the whole world. In Isaiah 34:2 he writes, "The Lord is angry with all nations; his wrath is on all their armies. He will totally destroy them, he will give them over to slaughter."  Note, too, that God's wrath is against nations, no just individual sinners.

The path to peace is provided well in Isaiah 32:16-17.  "The Lord’s justice will dwell in the desert, his righteousness live in the fertile field. The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever."  The process begins with JUSTICE.  You cannot have righteousness with justice, and justice does not permit inequity.  You will not achieve the divine quiet confident existence otherwise.

For the one in power, this seems insane.  However, like the sailor who timidly turns the bottle and ends up essentially pouring radioactive liquid into a very small chimney leading to a spill, the one who tries to give up only some power for justice will not achieve righteousness.  It requires a reckless faith.  Abandoning rational reliance in favor of faith.

Have you ever had to abandon rational thought to do what is right?  What paradoxical life lessons have you learned that others may not believe?

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?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Oppression & Deliverance (Micah)

Micah and Isaiah were calling out the same sinful behavior.  For example,
Listen! The Lord is calling to the city—
and to fear your name is wisdom—
“Heed the rod and the One who appointed it.
Am I still to forget your ill-gotten treasures, you wicked house,
and the short ephah, which is accursed?
Shall I acquit someone with dishonest scales,
with a bag of false weights?
Your rich people are violent;
your inhabitants are liars
and their tongues speak deceitfully.
Dishonest scales is such a specific version of exploitation to be called out. I hear echoes of campaign finance reform reading Micah's condemnation that "the judge accepts bribes, the powerful dictate what they desire—they all conspire together."

The work of the prophets was the work of the social justice activists.

Why did exploitation of the poor lead to the fall of Israel?  Was it necessarily divine intervention?   

Righteous or Wicked (2 Chronicles 27; Isaiah 9-12)

It's hard to explain how much Dad loved his '67 Chevy.  In the winter of 1979, his heart filled with pride when it started while the frigid cold paralyzed later model cars.  The ripped upholstery and missing passenger side mirror gave witness to its service as youth group transport.  We boys would manipulate the nonfunctional eight track controls to enable it to fly.

Unsurprisingly, he passed on a few reasonable offers when it came time to sell the car.  Enter Ron.  Ron, who could not read, told Dad about the most recent scam perpetrated against him by an unscrupulous used car dealer, then asked how much for the Chevy.  Dad asked Ron what he had in his wallet, and then accepted $1 for the car.

Today, I practice law and I suspect those bad deals complied with Indiana's statutory scheme. And even if the did not, I am quite certain they would not have sufficient monetary value to interest a lawyer in taking the case.  
Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.
What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?
Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives
or fall among the slain.

Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
his hand is still upraised
From Isaiah 10.  But, Isaiah recognized that those who make unjust laws would not have the last word.  Isaiah new that no matter how dark the looming invaders were, invaders he identified as doing God's will in punishing Judah for it wickedness, the worst thing would not be the last thing.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. 
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
From Isaiah 11.  We have a choice.   We may be a tool of righteousness or wickedness.  And while these specific terms are probably old fashioned, I suspect we have all felt the difference.

When you act for justice can you feel the pleasure of something outside of you?  When you've acted selfishly, can you not feel displeasure of what seems like something other than you?

Prophesy is More than Anger (Amos 1-9)

At seventeen, emotions drove my actions.  Seeing my dad overwhelmed by the most recent board meeting ambush from that wicked church was too much for me.  I knew that the lies and rumors were taking a toll on him, on all of us really.  So, I drove to her house, and knocked on her door.  At maybe or eight thirty or nine o'clock at night she let me.

"How is it possible that there are all of these ridiculous rumors about Dad sleeping around, but none about you--his secretary?"  Before she could respond, "Obviously you are the source of this," and while she denied it, I simply concluded, "Stop it."  Then I left.

The preacher's family felt the brunt of gossip in my small town.  As outsiders, the insiders could not resist going after us.  Despite its short duration, engaging Charlie Hedrick's daughter holds a permanent place among the stories by which I define myself.

"Stop it," often sums up the message of the prophets.  Amos, an outsider from Judah, spoke to Israel in its time of greatest power.  However, wickedness supported their power.  From Amos 2:
For three sins of Israel,
even for four, I will not relent.
They sell the innocent for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor
as on the dust of the ground
and deny justice to the oppressed.
Father and son use the same girl
and so profane my holy name.
They lie down beside every altar
on garments taken in pledge.
In the house of their god
they drink wine taken as fines.
The wickedness includes making sex into something profane, but Amos provided it as only one example of the powerful exploiting the powerless.  Read this list and think about the wage disparity in our country.  Think about the handful of people who fight our wars, tour after tour.  Think about immigration raids and the bosses hiring more immigrants the next day--perhaps for the cost of a pair of sandals. Amos prophesied that because of this, “An enemy will overrun your land, pull down your strongholds and plunder your fortresses.”

Likewise, I ensured powerful people who attacked my family, that at a minimum, we would not pretend we didn't know who was doing it.  We would not submit the oppressor's tool of politeness.

But my ego and testosterone inspired visit that night--despite its frequent use of an example "when did you exhibited courage" on essays and in interviews--lacked the essential component of prophesy.  Hope.  The only good news the Bible contains for the powerful: if you give up their power, if you live rightly, you may yet be restored.  These are the closing words of Amos, a prophet speaking just before the Assyrians would carry Israel away in exiles

“They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them.
They will plant vineyards and drink their wine;
they will make gardens and eat their fruit.
I will plant Israel in their own land,
never again to be uprooted
from the land I have given them,”

             says the Lord your God.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Injustice Is Costly (Isaiah 1-8)

I've tagged this reading as Isaiah 1-8 because in rereading Isaiah a couple of days ago a scripture really jumped out at me. I read it first in Spanish, "¿Para qué recibir más golpes?" Is. 1:5.  Why should we receive more beatings.  The cost of perpetrating injustice is like a beating on the perpetrator.  This feels like one anchor point for message.

Isaiah targets the privileged in his list of woes.  "Therefore Death expands its jaws, opening wide its mouth; into it will descend their nobles and masses with all their brawlers and revelers." Is. 5:18.  The Prophet engages in class warfare.  He tells the listeners to, "Learn to do right; seek justice.  Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow." Is. 1:17.  These ideas ring out as moral guidance.  More than mental exercise, but they do not quite strike a soulful chord. 

Having spent the last four days in General Assembly with my church, having spoken of justice for LGBTQ+ and how to bring it home to Arizona, having heard Rev. Barber preach and then met with other people about bringing something like Moral Mondays to Arizona, there is a chord that is still vibrating in my soul.

That vibration, that dawn of transformation type feeling that rests in your belly more than your head, I believe that is what Isaiah captures in the following passage:
I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Here am I.  Send me.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Bowing Down is Not an Option (& Isaiah 1-4)

Yesterday, we packed into Central Christian Church to await a message from Reverend Dr. William Barber.   Stained glass windows, carved wooden pews fixed to a sloping floor modeled after the gatherings on hills, all felt familiar--but a familiarity that I had almost forgotten.  I remembered Dad's dark robe with a red stole.

That Southern Indiana church was as broken as our country is now as Israel & Judah were then.  The air was filled with caustic gossip.  Tribalism overcame values.  As an immigrant nation targeting immigrants, as a people of God worshiping at Asher poles.  Sometimes the air is so stale that a flash of lightening is needed to bring the rain.

I remember Dad's proclamation: If this church was as full of gospel and gossip these wall would be filled.

Isaiah proclaimed: Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth! For the Lord has spoken:
“I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”

And Rev. Dr. William Barber taught us that you must stand your ground, when bowing down is not an option.  

The stakes are high and the time is now.    

Saturday, July 08, 2017


The Bible presents the period leading up to the exile as one in which the people needed to change their ways as much as the kings.  Good kings come and go, likewise with bad kings.  But what is consistent, even with the good kings, is that the people continue to worship at the Asher poles.

Then there is Jonah.  In the story of Jonah, we are presented with the question: Would you be okay if the people changed?  He runs from his calling, but when he brings the message to Nineveh, he is successful.  And that is upsetting to him.  So the story also points out that the change is more dependent on the recipients of the message than the speaker.

I'm engaged in a course to develop authentic, soulful telling of our stories.  Many of the participants have a message that they are compelled to tell, but others are listening to find that message, or story.  I have a nagging notion, that maybe, perhaps, I have something to say to the society.  A society that I feel is not unlike the Divided Kingdom waiting for exile.

Friday, July 07, 2017

2 Kings 14; 2 Chronicles 25

Amaziah was another mixed performance king of Judah. In 2 Chronicles failing to adhere to worship of the one true God is much more connected to his demise than it is in 2 Kings.  According to Chronicles he brings back the gods of Edom, which starts his downfall.  Kings is more vague.

This morning I am tired and so the story about another King falling into evil ways in old age makes me feel even more tired.  It is interesting to think about turns people make in the end of their lives that make little sense.  Martin Luther seems to have become anti-Semitic.  Einstein denied quantum mechanics.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

2 Kings 12-13; 2 Chronicles 24

The demise of God's kingdom continues.  In today's reading, that is.  There is a significant bright spot in which Joash, who takes the throne at 7, restores the temple.  But even he does completely right the ship of state but allows the corrupting non-YHWH worship to continue.  So, he has to pay off the king of Syria/Aram with basically all the gold.  He's then murdered by his ministers.

Chronicles' account actually provides some extra details.  For example, it connects his turn toward evil with the death of his wise priest.  When that priest's son tries to step into the role of prophet, Joash has the man killed, and per Chronicles, that is the reason Joash's ministers rise against him.

Although I like the account of a worker driven economy--the Bible makes it clear that the taxes collected to restore the temple were immediately put to use by paying the workers--the rest of this stuff get tiring.  Good King, Bad King, Bad King, Good King who then turns Bad at the end . . .   Pretty monotonous.

Is the trick to break a pattern?  Is the trick to recognize it will just take a lot of trial and error to get that perfect king?  Is the trick to just recognize and accept there will be good kings and bad kings?

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Women in the Bible

I don't shy away from the ugly.  In the passage I read today, 2 Kings 9-11, there is a lot of ugly.  Frankly, the slaughter of your political and religious enemies is ugly.  But we also have within a few passages some terrible images of women.

This is as Jehu and his army approach the city intent on murdering Ahab's son, Jezebel and all who are related or allied with them.
Then Jehu went to Jezreel. When Jezebel heard about it, she put on eye makeup, arranged her hair and looked out of a window. As Jehu entered the gate, she asked, “Have you come in peace, you Zimri, you murderer of your master?”
After the death of Ahaziah at Jehu's hands, we have this:
When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family. But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Jehoram and sister of Ahaziah, took Joash son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the royal princes, who were about to be murdered. She put him and his nurse in a bedroom to hide him from Athaliah; so he was not killed. He remained hidden with his nurse at the temple of the Lord for six years while Athaliah ruled the land.
So, we get two misogynistic archetypes in rapid succession.  Jezebel is the whore and Athaliah is the witch.  Hell, perhaps Jehosheba is the virgin and we've got the trifecta.

I don't think the poor treatment of women in the Bible is proscriptive; nor do I think it is a unique product of the Abrahamic religions.  I think it reveals the presence of the patriarchy in our society. BUT, modern people of faith must acknowledge the presence of this deep seeded injustice and work to undo it.

2 Kings 9-11

Today's passage quite violent and quite misogynistic.  It reads like a bloody scene from an action movie.  Ahab is dead but his son and wife are still alive and ruling Israel.  The kind of Judah, Ahaziah, was cooperating with Israel.  So, Jehu is anointed by the community of prophets and kills Ahab and all his family and all his friends.  Jezebel is murdered and her body eaten by dogs, but not before she puts on eye makeup?  The power vacuum leads to Ahaziah's mother ruling for several years in Judah--after she kills all of her rivals, but one who slips through her figures.  Then she is killed.  Also everyone who worships Baal is killed.

I note that while these are not objective histories in the modern sense, they are also no whimsical fairy tales about slaying dragons.  They are pretty realistic.  Society's thrashing about searching for a leader to save it does not have a good track record.

Even the good leaders seem to always go bad after time--the corrupting influence of power.  Is there a different model?

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

2 Kings 5-8

 Another very rich selection from a narrative perspective. 

On a personal note, I'm contemplating how to better live out the mission that inspired this blog, prophetic progress.  Progress meaning moving society toward right living.  Prophetic meaning speaking truth to power. 

In 2 Kings 5:8, when the Syrian/Armenian King asks the Israelite King to heal his servant the King becomes distraught.  However, "When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: 'Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.'”

There is a prophet in Israel.

I reminded me of an earlier passage when the Kings of Israel & Judah were working together.  The King of Judah (a good king) asked the King of Israel, “Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?”

Is there a prophet in Israel?

The rest of the passage is full of fantastical tales like making an axe head float, and afflicting a deceitful official with leprosy.  But this is one of the strangest, darkest passages of the bible, which rests along side the tale of the Levite's concubine as horrifically unresolved by the authors.
As the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried to him, “Help me, my lord the king!”

The king replied, “If the Lord does not help you, where can I get help for you? From the threshing floor? From the winepress?” 28 Then he asked her, “What’s the matter?”

She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him today, and tomorrow we’ll eat my son.’ So we cooked my son and ate him. The next day I said to her, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him,’ but she had hidden him.”

When the king heard the woman’s words, he tore his robes. As he went along the wall, the people looked, and they saw that, under his robes, he had sackcloth on his body. He said, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if the head of Elisha son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today!”
I can not find any clue about how this is Elisha's fault.  I left the King's reaction in because it demonstrates that there was no response to this.  It's just a vignette of awful. 

Also there is a lot of stuff about market forces in describing the siege in Samaria including details of the response when supply is returned to the city.  Elisha literally prophesizes about food prices returning to a specific lower level. 

Monday, July 03, 2017

2 Kings 1-4

First off, you have to listen to this. It's the theme to Chariots of Fire and it is way more eighties than I realized it was.

There's some nice hits in this reading.  The evil kings really are kind of in the background.  And we move from Elijah to Elisha.  Like Solomon, Elisha knew how to play the wish game.
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”
“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.
“You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”
Sure enough he sees him and gets double the portion of the spirit.  Elijah, like Enoch--and evidently from some non-biblical story Moses--never dies.  Instead,
As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more.
 Like Elijah, Elisha brings a child back to life, and performs a food miracle--purifies water for a town rather than bread for a widow.  Elisha even has a feeding the 100 miracle.  (Roughly 50 x less of the spirit than Jesus I guess.)  But this is the best part of the story,
From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.
Who decided to keep this one in?  Joab son of Azriah is like, "Hezakiah, do we really want to keep this one?  I mean, should we at least spice up the insults and like have them blaspheme the Lord or something?"  Then Hezakiah--who happens to be thinning out a bit on top--is like, "Hell yes.  This is a very important component of our cultural heritage."

Sunday, July 02, 2017

1 Kings 12-22; 2 Chronicles 10-23; Obadiah & Psalms 82-83

I really lost my morning routine.  Oh well.

Since last updating, we've had the major events of Elijah, the rulers through Joash & Jehu.  Obadiah, which is about the fall of Jerusalem, and seems kind of out of order, and one of the most interesting Psalms.

God presides in the great assembly;
he renders judgment among the “gods”:
“How long will you defend the unjust
and show partiality to the wicked?
Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

“The ‘gods’ know nothing, they understand nothing.
They walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
“I said, ‘You are “gods”;
you are all sons of the Most High.’
But you will die like mere mortals;
you will fall like every other ruler.”
Rise up, O God, judge the earth,
for all the nations are your inheritance.

I really dig how some polytheism has slipped into the canon.  I love the quotes around gods added by NIV.  Compare with the NSRV.

There is so much to say about Elijah and the histories, some of the richest story telling in the Bible, but I'll just make a couple of observations.  The extent to which Jesus is written of as a new Elijah is pretty amazing.  And, the empire in decline motif really hits home.