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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?