Let us Ramble: Stilling hunger

I was not hungry as I began my devotions this morning. A parishioner had a bumper crop of hot peppers which she recently shared with me. I was not hungry for food at all as my stomach was filled with an omelette that was stuffed with spicy goodness.

I was not thirsty as I began my devotions this morning. I had an ethically-sourced cup of coffee which sated my thirst quite nicely. The cup of coffee was a good cup of coffee with strong flavor.

I was neither hungry nor thirsty as I began my devotions this morning, but that state of being changed as I spent time in reflection. I came across a quote from Henri Nouwen as I was working through my favorite devotional book “A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants.” This quote from Henri Nouwen is sourced by the Guide as coming from “Reaching Out”:

“The Gospel doesn’t just contain ideas worth remembering. It is a message responding to our individual human condition. The Church is not an institution forcing us to follow its rules. It is a community of people inviting us to still our hunger and thirst at its tables.”

As I came out of the reverie, contemplation, and depths of my devotions, I found myself wanting to share this quote with others. There were deeper matters in my devotion this morning, but this was a word I felt needed to be shared for a simple reason. I am not certain the world sees the church in this light.

A Powerful Pair

My devotional and one of my Bibles

 

I grew up in a northern home in a house that was very Protestant. My mother had been Roman Catholic but had become United Methodist when she married my father. We went to a United Methodist Church every Sunday and were taught things like “God loves all people.” There were moments when my family struggled with racism, but I do not believe that is a unique situation. On the whole, we were taught that the church was open to people of all races and ethnicities. My general thought process was that if God welcomed people of every variety into the family, shouldn’t we? Even in the extremely European communities where my family lived, seeing someone of another race was not the kind of thing that made one exclude and hate, so much as just being the kind of thing that made you say “Oh, hey. That’s different. Whatever.” I was not the most enlightened of kids, but at least I was not malicious. I was more ignorant than anything else.

When the time came to be educated about the past of our nation I remember reading stories of the activities of the KKK with horror. I was not just horrified about the way that people treated the “other” in these stories. I was offended by someone burning a cross as a symbol of hatred. I was furious that they would try and use a symbol of love and inclusion to threaten people! The behavior I was learning about was simply unacceptable.

I saw the church as a place where God’s love leveled the playing field of life. I saw the church as the place where we could look beyond our differences and find community. I saw the church as a place where even ignorant kids like me could find a home as we grew. I was absolutely horrified by what I learned. I began to ask questions of youth leaders and my good friend Jim Patterson who was an elder in an urban Presbyterian Church invited me to think deeply about what united us with different people.

In college I studied with Dr. Middleton who brought a global perspective to my theology, although it was still very much a western perspective. When I went to seminary I studied African religious history and African American religious theology. I was enthralled because the words I was reading were far different than those in my own heart. I literally read “Stony the Road We Trod” to my daughter as an infant on the day she was born because I did not want to fall behind and because she liked the sound of my voice as she napped against my chest. I read, I pondered, I made friends, and I tried to know more and more about how the Bible looked to people who were not like me.

For me, the church had become a place where I could safely challenge my own assumptions, grow deeper in my faith, and help the world to become a better place. When I hungered for knowledge, there was almost always a wise colleague or friend who could help me go deeper. When I thirsted for righteousness, there was almost always some place I could go to work towards a better world. When I had a need to belong, to grow, to work, to live, and to be a part of something greater than myself, the church was there to push me forward.

I do not think the world sees the church in the same way, especially when sometimes the first exposure people have to Christianity is images of burning crosses, abortion protestors with horrifying pictures, or bullhorn wielding “prophets” telling everyone they are going to burn in hell. Not everyone is lucky enough to have been nudged into the path of knowledge, faith, and blessing which I was blessed enough to find in my own life.

I am hungry and thirsty. The coffee still takes care of my natural thirst and that omelette is doing remarkably well at holding off my hunger, but I am hungry and thirsty for other things. The world does not see what a blessing the church can be in the midst of life. I want people to see a world where the church can be a place more concerned with community than regulations. I want people to see a world where the church is more concerned with bringing good food to the table than in meeting the budget so we can have fancier napkins. I want people to know that the church exists to be a blessing. All of our lives are made better each time someone joins in at the table. I wish people understood the power of the church fully active and empowered. Indeed, Irenaeus, the glory of God is humanity fully alive in Christ.

Let us Ramble: Contemplations on being Contagious

Once again, I have been drawn into deep thought by my children’s favorite podcast. My kids adore the NPR Podcast Wow in the World with Guy Raz and Mindy Thomas. Last week my kids asked to listen to the podcast while we were running an errand to the grocery store in Johnson City. The podcast was entitled “A Case FOR the Giggles” and revolved around a study out of Georgia State University. The study was on the health benefits of laughter.

The podcast was very amusing. The podcast was full of laughter which spread throughout our van as we drove through the hills outside Binghamton. The podcast also caught my attention when it began to speak about the idea of contagious laughter. Laughter, much like yawning, is contagious. Simply being around another person who is laughing can cause a person to smile if not laugh,

As I contemplated contagious behavior, I began to think about other behaviors which are contagious. The creators of the podcast suggested a social experiment where we look at how other behaviors might be contagious. The study suggestion was to see if people would engage in mimicking your behavior. I thought back through past situations in my life and here is what I came up with:

  • Stress is contagious. If you enter a room and you are filled with stress that stress is extremely contagious.
  • Body language is contagious. If you are in a deep conversation and lean towards someone, they will lean in like you. If you cross your arms and sit back, they may do the same thing.
  • Panic is contagious. If one person begins to panic in a crowded place, things can go downhill quickly.
  • Anger is contagious. I do not go out on Black Friday as a result of this contagion.
  • Greed is contagious. If there are a limited amount of resources and you hoard as much as you can, others will likely follow suit.

I noticed that a lot of the examples I could come up with for contagious behavior revolved around pretty negative things. Yawning, body language, and laughing may be neutral activities, but anger, panic, greed, and stress can be pretty negative. I was contemplating this idea when I thought back to my time at the Academy this last session.

I remembered that when people smiled, grinned, and even made space for each other, the space was transformed, even in the midst of absolute silence. There were a number of periods of silence each day and what I discovered was that silence was not the end of communication. The sense of peace, welcome, and grace filled the room.

So, is peace contagious? Yesterday in my private devotions I was reading through Luke 10:1-12. In that chapter Jesus says the following to the seventy disciples that he is sending ahead of him: (Luke 10:4-7, NRSV)

“Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there that shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move from house to house.”

What if what Jesus is telling the seventy disciples is to be contagious with their peace? He tells the seventy disciples to share their peace widely as they go. Each home they enter should be offered peace. As they preach in these towns, Jesus tells them to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal those who are ill, but only if they are welcome. If they are not welcomed, they are invited to knock the contagious dust off their feet and move on.

What if the invitation to the seventy disciples applies to us? What if we are to offer our peace to people when we enter into their lives? What if we are to begin our relationships with others through the gift of peace? We live in a world that suggests fear and carefulness is the correct response to strange folks. What if the very first thing we are called to do is to offer peace? What if we have been going about things all wrong?

Can you imagine a world where the peace of God spreads like a contagion? Can you imagine a world where it inoculates us from things like fear, hatred, and angst? Can you imagine a place where grace and kindness spread like the joy of laughter? While I do not like being contagious when it comes to a cold or sickness, there is something powerful about the idea of being contagious with God’s grace.

What if all of the fruits of the Spirit were such contagious things? Perhaps the very contagious nature of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control that is why they are described as fruit filled with seeds. I hope they are contagious, because I know the people I know and the whole world could use more of these gifts. May they spread like wildfire among the saints and those people that they love.

Let us Ramble: Transients

I struggled to finish my sermon this weekend at the Maine Federated Church. The subject was challenging, but I was prepared. I struggled to finish my sermon because the cold of the previous week had beaten my voice to a pulp. We were preaching on baptism and how baptism was opened to people of all races. We shared that God loved all people. I publicly declared that God does not think of one race as superior to another. We spoke of deep things even as my voice started to crack.

Sunday night, I watched my Facebook feed explode with statements from pastors and committed Christians from across the spectrum. The vast majority of them were incredibly clear. “Racism is bad.” “God loves all people.” A few of the statements were provocative. A few statements seemed more concerned with politics than with what was actually happening. My public statement on Facebook was to reblog a “Litany against White Supremacy.” I will admit, I was still exhausted by my cold, so I was willing to let that stand for a day or two until I could get a good night’s rest.

Well, I am rested now. I have a cup of hot coffee to sooth my throat muscles, I have spent some time centering myself in my daily devotions, and I am prepared to enter into my pastoral role as one of the resident theologians in my community. So, let’s lay out the theological argument I wish to make. I will not be pulling punches today.

  1. It is a Christian’s duty to live with a sense of humility
  2. It is a Christian’s duty to love people like Jesus
  3. White Supremacy should be considered an abomination

I believe that it is a Christian’s duty to live with a sense of humility. I believe that is a belief that long predates Christianity, has been passed down from our Hebrew forebearers, and should be passed along from generation to generation. I believe that pride has been an issue for the church for nearly the entirety of our history and must be fought with all sincerity.

In my own studies I have been reading through “Penguin Classics: Early Christian Writings,” which is a translation by Maxwell Staniforth (revised by Andrew Louth) of some early letters of church leaders. One letter translated was from the church in Rome to the church in Corinth. It was written by one of the early church leaders in Rome named Clement and is generally considered to have been written during the last decade of the first century with a high probability of having been written around 96 CE. A passage from this letter from one church to another strikes me as fitting and applicable: (¶30)

“Since then we are the Holy One’s own special portion, let us omit no possible means of sanctification. We must bid farewell to all slandering, lewd and unclean coupling, drinking and rioting, vile lusting, odious fornicating, and the pride which is an abomination. God, it says, opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble; so let us attach ourselves firmly to men who have received this grace. Let us clothe ourselves in a mutual tolerance of one another’s views, cultivating humility and self-restraint, avoiding all gossiping and backbiting, and earning our justification by deeds and not by words… Self-assertion, self-assurance, and a bold manner are the marks of men accursed of God; it is those who show consideration for others, and are unassuming and quiet, who win His blessing.”

So, Clement was very opinionated. Clement uses several words and makes several claims that I am unwilling to make throughout his letter, especially on the role of women in their homes. I am very glad that this letter is not a part of our scriptures for several reasons, but there are some gems to be found in this old letter.

First, there seems to be a strong opposition to pride in Clement’s worldview. In some places, such as Clement’s insistence on quiet obedience of women, the adoption of humility as a driving force of church life is less than ideal in a modern context, In other places, such as the passage above, there’s a real sense of force behind Clement’s words. Looking through the list of sins Clement lists, the one which is singled out for being especially onerous is pride. Pride is the thing which Clement nails over and over again throughout his letter.

  • ¶16 “Christ belongs to the lowly of heart, and not to those who would exalt themselves over His flock. The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Sceptre of God’s Majesty, was in no pomp of pride and haughtiness—as it could so well have been—but in self-abasement…
  • ¶35 “Wickedness and wrongdoing of every kind must be utterly renounced; all greed, quarreling, malice and fraud, scandal-mongering and back-biting, enmity towards God, glorification of self, presumption, conceit, and want of hospitality; for men who do these things—and not only men who do them, but men who consent to them—are held in detestation by God”
  • ¶39 “Men who have no intelligence or understanding, men who are without sense or instruction, make a mock of us and ridicule us, in their wish to raise themselves in their own esteem. But what is there that anyone who is mortal can really effect? What force is there in anyone born on this earth?”

Clement was very clear in his letter that pride was a serious issue. It can be inferred that Clement speaks out of the worldview of the early church. The conception of pride being an issue and the value of humility was nothing new to Clement or the church in which he lived. We can head back to the end of 1 Chronicles to see King David share similar sentiments. David says in 1 Chronicles 29:10-18: (NRSV)

“Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our ancestor Israel, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours’ yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might; and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all. And now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your glorious name.

But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to make this freewill offering? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. For we are aliens and transients before you, as were all our ancestors; our days on earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope. O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own. I know, my God, that you search the heart, and take pleasure in uprightness; in the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you. O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our ancestors, keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people, and direct their hearts towards you.”

At this moment in the story of scripture, David has prepared the way for his son Solomon to build a temple in Jerusalem. David has accomplished a great deal in his life and is approaching the end of his reign. David has led imperfectly but is completing his reign in peace, which is a blessing few of his descendents would know as the generations would pass. Here at the end David gives thanks to God through an honest lens that gives thanks to God and puts his life in perspective.

David sees himself as a transient in these words. He does not claim the right and power over all that he had done and all that he has gained. He seeks humility. He states that all of God’s blessings are from and ultimately are for God’s purposes. He lives out the humility that Clement claims we must seek. Clement is echoing David’s statement on human transience in this life when he asks what real effect the proud can have in this world. The people of God are here in this world for a moment. The people are being invited to live in humility by both Clement and David.

Going back further we see a real sense of a call to humility from the earlier tales of faith. When Abram was called in Genesis 12:2-3, the following words are shared (in the New Revised Standard Version) with the one who would become Abraham: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”

From the very beginning, the call of God comes with an understanding that the blessing that will come to Abraham is for the very purpose of Abraham becoming a blessing to all the families of the earth. His call is to head out into the world as a transigent. His call, the call to create a nation, will begin with him being an immigrant in a strange land. The call of Abraham is not into a castle or highly advantaged place in society, but to live as a stranger in a strange land.

Throughout the scriptures, God calls the humble time and time again. Even figures like Jacob, who was not humble, had to go through humbling circumstances before they were fully ready to take their place in the story of God’s life-bringing and grace. Being a Christian is a call into a tradition which has been marked by a strong need for humility. Jesus told a parable in Matthew 26 about an employer who hired servants throughout the day and paid each the same amount to each. The ones who began earliest in the day believed they deserved more, but it was the employer’s choice to be generous. All who follow Christ are called to understand that by God’s choice the first may become last just as the last may become first.

I also believe it is a Christian’s duty to love people like Jesus. When Jesus came across the other, Jesus acted with compassion. It is true that Jesus called people to repentance and expressed extreme disappointment and occasionally foretold woe for cities that refused to repent like those in Matthew 11:30-34 and the Samaritan village in Luke 9:51-56. Jesus also expressed hope for those of other races than those of Jewish descent when we shared the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37, shared a story of a faith-filled Roman Centurion in Matthew 8:5-12, and told the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4:1-42. Jesus seems less concerned with where people are from than how they react.

Jesus’ love was not bound to one race or one people. The very call of Acts 1:8 is to make disciples by witnessing to the ends of the earth. The very call of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 is to go out and make disciples of all nations. The call of God is to reach out to all people because God called for all people. Jesus’ compassion was for every people of earth—that is why are were sent out to share the good news in the first place.

This should go without saying, but this love informs us. If we want to live a life with Jesus, we will be remade through and like Jesus. Paul wrote to the church of Romans in 8:9-12:

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

Later on the effect of God’s Spirit and Christ’s love is further laid out by Paul in Romans 10:10-13:

“For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says. ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek—the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him, For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”

So, let’s be clear on these points. Our life, our eternal life, comes from God. Jesus’ Spirit comes into us and gives us life. The Spirit of Christ who loved faithful people of different backgrounds has opened salvation to all who call on the name of the Lord. The God of the Jewish people is the same God as those who are Greek, Roman, African, Asian, or any other form of human.

With all these things in mind, I have to say that I firmly believe that white supremacy is an abomination which must be resisted with all of our strength, all of our willpower, and all of our heart. White supremacy claims that one race is superior to other races, but God has called us to humility. To claim an inherent greatness for people of one skin color is to walk in the exact opposite direction of where Jesus walked. To claim an inherent inferiority for people of other ethnicities is abominable for many reasons, but especially because it stands in direct contradiction to the teachings of Jesus.

In Luke 14:7-14, the following is shared by Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith:

“When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host, and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’”

When teaching on humility, Jesus first told people to choose the worst places at the table. To be certain, there is a chance that this is a story about practically putting oneself in a place where someone could be honored by the host when they are asked to move up, but there’s also a real sense of Jesus noticing what is happening around him and inviting people to a place of honest humility. Jesus states that a person or people will be humbled when they seek to their own exaltation.

Is there any more clear description of self-exaltation than to say that your race is inherently superior to all of the others? Is there any more clear way of looking at this situation than as an invitation to being humbled for your actions? Is there really something so special about being white that leads people to believe that they alone are exempt from the call to humility? As a white male, I have to say that whites are no more exempt from this rule than men—any attempt, whether based on gender or race, to say that my people are superior to other people (either as men or as people of European descent) is foolhardy and an abomination.

Who should come to the banquet of celebration? The other is to be invited. We are called to humility and hospitality in life, Events like those in Charlottesville this past weekend are incompatible with Christian teaching. People who live out their faith through terrorism and violence do not exemplify the Christian life and they are certainly not acting on behalf of Christians who hear our call as a people to humility, repentance, and community.

A Litany Against White Supremacy

A beautiful creation for a day of challenges. I lift prayers for folks down south today.

Pastor Jennifer Preaching

http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-white-virginia-rally-20170811-story.html

As Charlottesville, VA becomes the focal point of white supremacy and those who stand against it, this litany was prepared by myself and Pastor Elizabeth Rawlings for use in worship.

Litany against white supremacy

Gracious and loving God,

In the beginning, you created humanity and declared us very good

We were made in Africa, came out of Egypt.

Our beginnings, all of our beginnings, are rooted in dark skin.

We are all siblings. We are all related.

We are all your children.

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are all your children.

Violence entered creation through Cain and Abel.

Born of jealousy, rooted in fear of scarcity,

Brother turned against brother

The soil soaked with blood, Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are our brothers keeper.

When your people cried out in slavery,

You heard them…

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Let us Look: Christ takes up His cross

 

As previously stated, one of the blessings of the Academy for Spiritual Formation is that it is located at the Malvern Retreat House. Our stay while at the Retreat House is at the Family Life Center. There are wonderful walking paths near the Retreat House for contemplative walks. One of the paths includes a set of fifteen Stations of the Cross. Yes, I said fifteen. It is a unique set of Stations.

We were invited to consider kataphatic contemplation while at the last session of the Academy. Kataphatic contemplation uses works of art or bits of nature as invitations to contemplate the divine. I was drawn to the fifteen (yes fifteen) stations of the cross which were created by the artist Timothy Schmaltz. They are quite beautiful and have been rather interesting to ponder.

Last week’s reflection was on the first station of the cross entitled “Jesus is Condemned.” The post ended up reflecting on how we all must choose how to react to Jesus.

“Christ takes up His cross” by Timothy Schmaltz

This week’s image is entitled “Christ takes up His cross” and was dedicated to a gentleman named Bob Ashman. As previously stated, the four stages of contemplation that I am using for this particular exercise are as follows:

  1. Show up
  2. Slow down
  3. Stay still
  4. Stay with

As I show up with this piece of art, I find myself drawn to the imagery of the Roman soldiers surrounding Jesus. The soldiers are strong and burly men. Jesus’ arms are being lifted up to hold the bottom of the beam which will eventually be attached to his wrists. They seem strong. Jesus seems to need help raising his hands to the beam. Jesus is looking up towards heaven. If I stood in front of the piece, Jesus would be staring right at me. When I was at Malvern, those eyes seemed a bit haunting to me. Here is the beginning of Jesus’ last journey before his death. It is an emotional image.

As I slow down I start to think about what I am seeing in this sculpture. I look to details like the strong muscles on the soldiers, the slighter appearance of Jesus, and it makes me begin to feel a bit perturbed. I notice a detail that tells me a great deal about the story which is untold in image, but familiar to those who have studied the stories.

Unlike last week’s representation of Jesus, this Christ has a crown of thorns. Last week’s sculpture was poignantly without a crown of thorns, which indicated a strong connection with the account from Luke, the only gospel without a mention of the crown of thorns. The crown shows up in Mark 15:17, John 19:2, and Matthew 27:29.

In fact, if a person were to isolate one scripture as the basis of this scene in this scenario, it would likely be the Matthew or Mark passages. Why? In the Matthew passage, Jesus receives the crown of thorns after Pilate’s judgment and before he goes on the journey to the cross. John has Jesus don the crown of thorn before Pilate concludes his questioning.

Mark and Matthew are both filled with events which take place between these two stations. In Mark, here’s how verses it reads in chapter 15, verses 16-20: (Common English Bible)

“The soldiers led Jesus away into the courtyard of the palace known as the governor’s headquarters, and they called together the whole company of soldiers. They dressed him up in a purple robe and twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on him. They saluted him, ‘Hey! King of the Jews!’ Again and again, they struck his head with a stick. They spit on him and knelt before him to honor him. When they finished mocking him, they stripped him of the purple robe and put his own clothes back on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.”

The detail of the crown tells me that Jesus has had a hard journey between stations. In all honesty, these actions are the kind of actions that make me want to do anything but watch a passion play. The taunting, the sorrow, the pain, and the brutality of it. To hit someone in the head with a crown made with thorns or even spiky leaves (there is a controversy here which I am not going to wade into), is to do something incredibly brutal. As I slow down and let my knowledge parse what I see, I am brought into a deep place in my heart.

As I stay still with this image, I remember the eyes. The hands may have become too heavy to lift, but the eyes are staring upward in pain. They faced me as I walked that path. They faced me as I walked away from that station. The stillness with those eyes has been deepened by a knowledge of what Jesus has already been through. There is a sense of frailty to Jesus.

As a Protestant, I have this strong idea in my head of Jesus as victor. When I think of Jesus I think of the teacher and the miraculous rabbi. I imagine Jesus calming a storm or confronting legion. I do not tend to focus on these moments. “Let’s rush to the resurrection! Let’s even rush to the tomb.” This place of pain in the life of Jesus is uncomfortable. Even as I write this blog I want to do anything but dwell in this place where Jesus arms, the arms of the Good Shepherd, are raised up to hold a cross that will soon cause him to stumble and fall.

As I sit with this image I think of all the places where I try to run past the difficult parts of my own journey. I think of the times places where I fall short but try to run on past. I think of these moments and I mourn what happened on that day.

As I decide what I will stay with as I go forward, my mind is drawn to a scripture that I read earlier in this week as a part of my personal devotions. 2 Peter 1:3-8 says: (CEB)

“By his divine power the Lord has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of the one who called us by his own honor and glory. Through his honor and glory he has given us his precious and wonderful promises, that you may share the divine nature and escape from the world’s immorality that sinful craving produces.

This is why you must make every effort to add moral excellence to your faith; and to moral excellence, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, endurance; and to endurance, godliness; and to godliness, affection for others; and to affection for others, love. If all these are yours and they are growing in you, they’ll keep you from becoming inactive and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

There is a very large part of me what wants to dwell in this image and find a place of sorrow to dwell within forever. Peter’s letter invites me to see things differently though. Jesus has given us everything we need for life and godliness. We are invited to share in life through Jesus.

As Jesus looks upon me, even in weakness, there is still a question of how I will respond. Will I find a reason for shame or an invitation to faith? If I have that faith and put it into practice, might the eyes carry an invitation if I add to my faith this alternative conception of what Paul might call the“fruit of the Spirit?” What would the eyes say if I were to let these things grow in me? What would the eyes say if I were transformed by this act of love?

This journey of contemplation is just beginning. Next week the third station will be posted on Saturday. I invite you to journey and ponder along as we head through these fifteen opportunities for contemplation.

Let us Ramble: “The Natural World”

Okay, so today I wanted to put out a blog post that addressed something I hinted at in yesterday’s post. This is more educational than pastoral. Teaching is a part of the role of a pastor in the United Methodist Church, especially in times of crisis. Yesterday I wrote about fear. Today I write about applying faith to action.

Our world stands at a precipice. We have rushed up to the edge of a cliff and are looking off the edge. There is a need for wisdom and discernment in the world. A voice needs to cry out with wisdom! In a world with a thousand and one opinions for every person, there should be some place we can turn when things are out of sorts to find a consensus of wise minds. Yes, the Bible is one such place to find guidance, but nuclear weapons are not mentioned by name in the scripture.

Thankfully, the United Methodist Church meets for holy conferencing every four years. While I am not always a fan of everything that comes out of General Conference, there is one resource that I believe best expresses the heart of what good holy conferencing can create. Unfortunately, not many United Methodists read the words of our Book of Resolutions. The Book of Resolutions are non-binding on people within the church and as such are free to express our most passionate ideals while not forcing churches in wildly different circumstances to engage in the same behaviors.

Here’s what the 2016 Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church (¶160.1) says about “The Natural World:” (my underlines)

All creation is the Lord’s, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it. Water, air, soil, minerals, energy resources, plants, animal life, and space are to be valued and conserved because they are God’s creation and not solely because they are useful to human beings. God has granted us stewardship of creation. We should meet these stewardship duties through acts of loving care and respect. Economic, political, social, and technological developments have increased our human numbers, and lengthened and enriched our lives. However, these developments have led to regional defoliation, dramatic extinction of species, massive human suffering, overpopulation, and misuse and overconsumption of nature and nonrenewable resources, particularly by industrialized societies. This continued course of action jeopardizes the natural heritage that God has entrusted to all generations. Therefore, let us recognize the responsibility of the church and its members to place a high priority on changes in economic, political, social, and technological lifestyles to support a more ecologically equitable and sustainable world leading to a higher quality of life for all of God’s creation.

As United Methodists have gathered in Holy Conferencing, we have come to the conclusion as a global body that there are some things we believe about the world around us. We believe that this world is a world that is entrusted to us but does not exist entirely for us. Our planet has a natural heritage this planet possesses that abuses have caused us to damage and debilitate in some cases. Plants, creatures, and the earth itself all consist parts of God’s creation. We are called to care for this earth as caretakers and stewards.

While there are people who still argue about and around climate change, the vast majority of people understand that the deployment of nuclear weapons would be a damaging act that would do a massive amount of harm to the earth, the plants, the biosphere, and the creatures including humans. United Methodists believe that the way we treat the world can jeopardize the natural heritage entrusted to all people and all who live upon and in the world itself. As a people, we cannot abide the concept of nuclear war and the ramifications it has on human and natural life. We have the technology and we have the ability to develop non-technological responses (e.g. diplomacy, sanctions, isolation) to deal with tyranny without resorting to nuclear exchanges.

The suffering which would take place as the result of a nuclear exchange would be massive. As people of faith, there are many things we can do. We can pray for our leaders and for other world leaders. We can study peace-making and begin to create a culture of peace-making that can influence challenges like these in the future. We can also write or call our representatives in this earthly nation and ask them to express displeasure (and abject horror) to other leaders in the world about the possibility of a nuclear exchange.

Regardless of feelings of helplessness, questions of efficacy, or doubts about our own abilities, it is the obligation of stewards to care for creation. We are stewards of creation and we have an obligation to seek a way forward which will care for creation in the face of nuclear annihilation. To do anything less would be an abdication of our responsibility as caretakers of a planet that has given us all of the great elements that provide us life.

A Collect for these days: “Holy God, You are the One who stitched this world together. Knit together Your caretakers in action, deed, and love through your Holy Spirit so that we may work together to keep this world from being torn asunder through the most brutal and violent of forces. We pray these things through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Let us Seek: Do not be alarmed!

I was out in the world this morning. Cold or no cold, there are some appointments that cannot be put off. I had an appointment with a specialist that I had scheduled weeks in advance. I went to my appointment on cold medicine, advised everyone I was in contact with to wash their hands, and we made the best of things.

My appointment today was for a simple non-invasive type of treatment which took a few minutes. The doctor and I sat alone talking while she was going about her work. We began to talk and things went to deep matters in a few moments. I was not surprised. People often open up to me–I do not advertise that I am a minister, but I always seek to be polite and courteous. It can be amazing how quickly people come to trust you when you always say “please,” “thank you,” and tell them that you are grateful for what they are doing for you. I also believe that most people just want someone to listen.

She started talking about what she had heard in the news. She was afraid of what was happening in the world. She talked about intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear warheads, and the idea that someplace as nearby as Washington could be struck, although she did not rule out New York City. As medicated as I was at the time, I wondered aloud about the fact that people feared nuclear attacks on the Hoover Dam and the dam at Niagara Falls during the Cold War. We talked about how frightening things are, how strange everything seemed, and she wondered what she would do if a war broke out. She was frightened. I commiserated, listened, spoke very little, and prayed for her fears in my heart.

The conversation reminded me of a passage in Matthew about the end times. Discussions of nuclear winter, nuclear fallout, and global conflict often remind me of the passage found in the twenty fourth chapter. Matthew’s gospel reads in verses three through fourteen: (Common English Bible)

“Now while Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately and said, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen? What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age.’

 

Jesus replied, ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the Christ.’ They will deceive many people. You will hear about wars and reports of wars. Don’t be alarmed. These things must happen, but this isn’t the end yet. Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other, and there will be famines and earthquakes in all sorts of places. But all these things are just the beginning of the sufferings associated with the end. They will arrest you, abuse you, and they will kill you. All nations will hate you on account of my name. At that time many will fall away. They will betray each other and hate each other. Many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because disobedience will expand, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be delivered. This gospel will be proclaimed throughout the world as a testimony to all nations. Then the end will come.’”

I first came to know this passage well through the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. In that translation verse six says “…you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed…” These verses have all taken a vital place in my lived theology within this world of global information and easily spread global panic, but verse six has always rung out the loudest in my mind. As I lay on the table, I could almost hear a palpable voice repeating in my heart “you will hear wars and rumors of wars…” alternating with “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you… Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” 

My doctor was afraid this morning. I chose not to be fearful, but to be compassionate. What is the good news? In this context, I believe it can be best expressed earlier in the Gospel of Matthew. In verses twelve through fourteen in chapter eighteen, Jesus tells a parable: (CEB)

“What do you think? If someone had one hundred sheep and one of them wandered off, wouldn’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hillsides and go in search for the one who wandered off? If he finds it, I assure you that he is happier about having that one sheep than about the ninety-nine who didn’t wander off. In the same way, my Father who is in heaven doesn’t want to lose one of these little ones.”

I invite you to think about the promise which inherently sits within this parable. My doctor, like many individuals, has an uncertainty about the future. The world seems to be less than the ideal many of us were taught as children. Most of us lose a sense of the innocence of childhood as we grow into the world, and I personally believe that there’s a correlation between this loss of innocence and the traditional drop in church attendance that tends to happen at around the same time. Losing our innocence hurts.and events like those depicted in the news can send us back into our grief over our loss even if it has been decades since we first realized the world is broken. The world can seem to be a confusing place and our fear can isolate us.

Into those moments of fear, there is an ancient promise embodied in the person of Jesus. God does not want to lose one of those little ones. God cares about the lost sheep of the world. Even when it seems that the world does not care one bit for our fears, God does care and will walk through the valley of darkness to lead us all home. There is space for us at the table, there is space in the flock, and there is deep grace despite our fears for all people. God has come near, God has shown compassion, and eternal life will come to those who follow the Shepherd. As Matthew records in the twenty ninth verse of chapter nineteen, “…all who have left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children, or farms because of my name will receive one hundred times more and will inherit eternal life.

Friends, be at peace. God does not give as the world gives. Know that the path of a Christian is not an easy path, but there is a place of peace that awaits the end of our journey. Go! Be a blessing in a world of fear! Fight for justice and grace! Share the Good News! Walk with the lost sheep! Please, be compassionate

Let us Look: Jesus is Condemned

One of the blessings of the Academy for Spiritual Formation is that it is located at the Malvern Retreat House. Our stay while at the Retreat House is at the Family Life Center. There are wonderful walking paths near the Retreat House for contemplative walks. One of the paths includes a set of fifteen Stations of the Cross. Yes, I said fifteen. It is a very unique set of Stations.

While we were at the Academy this past July, we were invited to consider the possibility of looking at beautiful works of art as invitations to contemplation. Kataphatic (sometimes spelled cataphatic despite the fact that the Greek root word began with a “kappa”) contemplation and prayer is not very common in most Protestant circles, but even the most pragmatic of Christians has probably felt an invitation to consider what Christ had done when they considered the image of Christ on the cross.

I am seeking to practice a bit more of what Spiritual Director and former Jesuit Wilkie Au called “crabgrass contemplation,” which is a term he admittedly borrowed from the book “Noisy Contemplation” by William Callahan. The four steps of this contemplation are as follows;

  1. Show up
  2. Slow down
  3. Stay still
  4. Stay with

Showing up is the first step which is recommended in this contemplation. Wilkie shared a joke with us while we were on retreat that illustrated this point beautifully. A person was praying to God and asking why God never answered their prayer. God decided that it was time to address the matter. A big booming voice from Heaven rang out over the person in prayer saying “Aren’t you the one who keeps asking me to help them win the lottery?” The praying person nods their head mutely in astonishment. The voice rang out again saying “Look. I can see you are scared, so I will meet you halfway on this one. Have you considered buying a lottery ticket?”

It is a mildly humorous joke, but it is an even better invitation. If you want to find God in contemplation, you must first show up. Nobody wakes up surprised that they have not learned to speak Spanish if they never study! The invitation is made clearly and it invites us to show up.

Slowing down is the second step to this form of contemplation. I have had struggles with eyesight over the past few years, especially as I have recovered from my corneal transplant since this past March. It can take me a moment or two to focus my eyesight and really see something well. I need to slow down and take the effort to focus if I want to see something. On occasion, I have even found that I need to get out a specialized instrument to help me see which I could never use on the run. You might be amazed at how much more beautiful that robin in the yard looks when I slow down, take out my spyglass (I had one functional eye for a while–binoculars were overkill), and look with purpose instead of rushing through the yard. Slowing down in our faith is one way to focus our minds for contemplation.

Staying still is the third step and one of my least favorite steps in this method of contemplation. I have a very precocious seven year old daughter who likes to run, jump, sing, talk, and make noise. My wife blames me for this part of her daughter’s personality because I used to be that child. My mass is what now uses all of that excess energy, but it can be very difficult for me to slow down in my mind. I want to sing, I want to hum, I want to monologue, and I want to be active. Staying still is the invitation which comes next in this process and it can be challenging, but useful.

Finally, the last step is staying with the thing that we are contemplating. For me this is a different than staying still. I often will find myself in contemplation having the same eureka moment time and time again. One reason this might be a part of my pattern of being is that I often take the first morsel and run off in joy. I never notice what I am missing. This pattern could be likened to being invited to a five-course meal and running off after the salad. We are invited to stay with the item we contemplate.

I wanted to publically practice this form of contemplation with the Stations of the Cross for several reasons. First, I want to model the idea of contemplation within a Protestant context. We tend to be afraid of what John Wesley would have called Romish things, but there is a beauty to considering what Christ has done for us and is doing within us. If a Station brings us to consider the actions of Jesus within the Passion narrative, then should we not consider that a blessing?

Second, I want to spend some time connecting these Stations within the Biblical narrative. Not every station is as firmly planted within the scriptures, but each station expresses a truth which I believe should be deeply embedded within our group consciousness as Christians.

So, without further ado, I invite you to consider the first Station of the Cross located outside of the Malvern Retreat House. The station is entitled “Jesus is Condemned to Death” and it was dedicated to the friends and relatives of the Santoleri family. The artist who created the sculptures was Timothy Schmaltz.

“Jesus is Condemned to Death” by Timothy Schmaltz

As I arrive at this place of contemplation, I consider the truth of contemplation which sits directly in front of me. As Herod sits in a contemplative posture in front of Jesus with crossed hands, so I sit considering the scene in front of me. Jesus stands upright at the base of the stairs upon which the judge sits in contemplation. Jesus waits, looking, and watching.

Biblically, I must admit that I think there’s a dissonance in the story. John 19 states that Jesus would have been flogged, beaten, and crowned with a crown of thorns by the point of his condemnation. Mark’s Gospel in chapter 15 does not have an explicit flogging before judgment is passed, but Jesus would have been bound. Also, where is the crowd? Likewise, Matthew 26 records the scribes and leaders beat Jesus, but there is no mention of a flogging; however, there is a place where Herod sitting on a seat is mentioned. Luke 22 and 23 have mockery, beating, and a fancy robe placed on Jesus, but this scene does not appear so readily. Indeed, Matthew has Jesus washing his hands while sitting on the judgment seat, which is probably as close as we can get to this particular image.

As I slow down and contemplate this scent of Jesus’ life, I am drawn to the inconsistencies with the story. Where is the crowd yelling for condemnation? Where is Barabbas? Why does Jesus appear so very calm? Who should I identify with in this image?

As I stay with the image, the question I ask myself is whether I am in image by intention. Consider for a moment that there is a crowd in this moment. The crowd is you and me. The crowd is everyone who walked this path and slowed down to look. The crowd stares at Jesus from thousands of Stations of the Cross around the world and throughout history. We are the crowd who sees Jesus standing in judgment. We are asked the question: “What would you have been yelling?” Would we be joining in the condemnation or would we have fled as the cock crowed that morning like Peter? Would we have had the courage of the women who would walk the road with Jesus, eventually even being with Jesus as he hung on the cross?

Herod’s hands are grasped together in a form that suggest to me a feeling of angst. I too feel the angst of Herod on considering what is ahead on the path towards Golgotha. The only person who doesn’t seem to feel angst in this interpretation is Jesus. Jesus has prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that this cup would pass, but this is the moment when the prayer is ultimately answered. Jesus will begin his journey towards the cross.

How does this idea stay with me today? I think there’s a piece of my heart that needs to wrestle with questions of what I would have done as I watched this scene unfold in front of me. I think there’s a piece of my heart that needs to comprehend that Jesus would not have run away like I would have liked to run away. Ultimately, there needs to be a place of love in my heart for the willingness of Jesus alongside the pain of watching Christ suffer.

If we are called to be remade in the image of Jesus, then perhaps a good thing to contemplate is what it means to be willing to enter into love despite the pain it might cause for us. If such a contemplation brings me closer to the heart of Jesus, then such a contemplation is a blessing regardless of what name you claim as a Christian.

Let us Ramble: On Commitment

There is something foul afoot in the Dean household. My family was in the Olean and Buffalo areas this past weekend visiting with relatives. Every single one of them had a cold yesterday. Yesterday was a foul day full of a lot of phlegmy sounds.

When everyone had settled into bed for the night I drove into town to pick up supplies. Liquids, liquids, and more liquids. We also had begun to run low on that most effective of medicines. We were low on chicken broth. With three folks fighting colds and a father who has to keep his body healthy to resist the plague, chicken broth is a powerful thing to have around.

As I drove into town I thought about the evening that had almost taken place. I was supposed to go into town to play a tabletop game with a colleague and his friends. There were invitations for my family to enjoy a nice lasagna with my colleague’s family. As a very isolated introvert, it is the kind of event that is really healthy for me. When my family became ill, those plans had to be put aside. My family needed me. I drove and thought over the night’s events that could have been while remembering what had taken place in our kitchen while a chorus of coughs serenaded me from the next room.

Earlier in the day I set to work to make kluski noodles. When I was young, a hot bowl of wonton soup was my favorite cold remedy. Often, I wouldn’t even eat the wontons. I would just drink down the hot broth with gusto. As I grew older, I went to college where I learned that the Chinese restaurants in the vicinity were not up to par. Their broth was way too watery and the wontons were generally nothing to write home about. I was frustrated, looked for alternatives, and found kluski noodle soup at the store. The soup was really fragrant, the noodles were small enough to enjoy without scratching things up on the way down, and this was a great alternative to the wonton soup of my childhood.

I brought forward my love of this soup into my marriage. It was quite a sight when my wife and I would get sick My wife felt better when wrapped in her grandfather’s old robe. I only felt better when I had plenty of broth to drink. She’d wrap up and watch me sip cup after cup of broth. We both felt better, which was the goal. As the parent of two daughters, my plan has continued to work while the three of them fight over one bathrobe. You can always make more soup for more bowls.

So, I set about the task of making kluski noodles for soup. I asked for recommendations, received a wonderful recipe from my mother-in-law which her mother used to cook, and set to work. I measured, I sifted, I mixed, I realized I made a mistake, I corrected, mixed some more, and rolled them out before attacking with a pizza cutter. Here’s what they looked like when all rolled and cut.

Kluski noodles!

Not exactly uniform, but uniform isn’t the rule of the day when you’re making homemade soup. I set about making the broth. I was out of bone broth, so I used some dried chicken soup base and set out into the garden with a pair or scissors to attack the lemon thyme, sage, and parsley plants. Along with some ground peppercorns, a dash of garlic powder, and a leaf off of my bay tree, the soup base was ready to simmer for a few hours to mix flavors and fill the house with the smell of health.

I did not always know how to cook. While I am almost certain most people who have eaten in my kitchen would find it odd to believe, especially when I am feeling particularly miserable and tell people my fantasy of running away to become a cook in an isolated diner in someplace quiet like Maine or North Dakota. I actually was a horrible cook when my wife married me.

I learned to cook in seminary while my wife was working to make sure we had those niceties which do not come easily when you are getting an education on student loans. Due to my wife’s working with the developmentally disabled we had things like food, soap, and deodorant. I still believe that my classmates adored my wife for that last blessing alone.

I started simple with things like grilled cheese, which I had already learned to cook in home economics in school. I flipped the sandwiches way too often, didn’t use my nose to smell, had little experience, and burned the living daylights out of a lot of them at first. I practiced and I learned. Highlights of my first year of cooking:

  • I learned it is harder to burn things in a crockpot. Harder does not mean impossible.
  • I somehow made split pea and ham soup with neither split peas or ham!
  • I learned that Campbell’s soup is good in a pinch, but not sufficient alone to help a hungry Kayti make it through a shift at work.
  • I learned that I had an affinity for cooking eggs. We understood each other and my wife started calling me her “King of Eggs.” I still find that to be one of the nicest things anyone has ever called me.

I practiced, practiced, and practiced. When my wife became pregnant I began to practice cooking with the things she was craving, usually with mixed results. When my child came along, I began to look into soft foods like porridge. I began to steam things, sauté, and “unfortunately” finally left the seminary and became appointed to a place where cable was a part of our housing package. In other words, I was finally exposed to the Food Network where I became obsessed with people like Alton Brown. We still get the Food Network magazine years after telling our beloved parsonage committees that they do not need to pay for cable as it is neither helpful nor desirable in a house with small kids. I like my advertisements like I like my clickbait–easily ignorable in a sidebar, not blasting in my face decibels louder than a television program every three minutes.

In time I began to see cooking as more than a hobby. Cooking was a way I could bless the people around me, including my family. If you’re looking for me around 3:30 PM on an afternoon, the place to look for me is generally at the parsonage. If you come around 4:00 PM, you may even get an invitation to dinner if it is stretchable. I cook dinner almost every night because it is one way I live out my commitment to my wife “for better or worse.” The same love and commitment fuels me as a parent as I continue to push back against my youngest daughter’s whims against “weird” vegetables like pepper and strange food like “fish.” I have been given a gift, but that gift is not for me alone. In a paraphrase of the words of the Abrahamic blessing, God has said “I will bless you so that you may be a blessing to others.”

In continuing the story of the soup, I added some frozen turkey bits from a previously roasted turkey, some carrots, and yellow pepper to the broth about half an hour before my wife was going to be home. Normally I wouldn’t have added them so early, but let’s be clear here–sick people do not love crunchy vegetables. Softer carrots and softer peppers are good for the throat, especially as the pepper oils spread into the broth and slowly condition my youngest child to like the taste of peppers–I will win the pepper-war eventually. When my wife walked in the door, the slightly dried noodles were tossed in the pot. In a few minutes (far less time required than when cooking dried noodles), the soup was ladled out to salivating kids. A prayer, a blessing, and sore throats began to enjoy.

Yummy soup

My kids claimed it was the most delicious soup they’d ever eaten. My wife said it was really good. To be honest, it was pretty good. I drank a couple extra ladles of broth to make sure my body would stay nice and healthy.

As I collected my groceries and returned home, I thought about all of these things. I thought about the game that I had missed and the fellowship over lasagna that could have been mine that evening. I reflected and gave thanks that a perfect day had not occurred, but that my commitment to learning, practicing, and caring had allowed me to bring blessing into my sick family. Commitment is not always about the large things in life. Commitment is often lived out in the little things, like learning to plant herbs and use them to make a good cup of soup.

Rob’s “Kluski” Noodle Soup (makes… a lot of brothy soup that is easy on bellies and throats)

  • 1 gallon Chicken Soup Base (or skimmed poultry bone broth)
  • 2 cups of previously roasted turkey (small bits–I imagine any poultry would do, but I would recommend something chunky, not sliced. My wife would say to buy a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store and chop it up. I would tell you to reserve the bones and skin to make bone broth later, especially if people might be sick for a couple of days. Yes, I know that’s a beef bone broth recipe, but just substitute chicken. It works, I promise.)
  • 1 cup of sliced carrots
  • 1 yellow pepper, diced
  • 1 dash garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground pepper
  • Noodles!
    • 2 cups flour, sifted
    • ½ teaspoon salt (shh–I used the “No-Salt” my dad left behind to cut down on the sodium)
    • 2 Eggs
    • 2 half-eggshells of water (old recipe indeed)
  • 1 Bouquet Garni (tie together with enough string to tie it to the handle of pot so that you can remove it easily)
    • 5 sprigs (3 inches) of Lemon Thyme
    • 2 sprigs parsley with stems (3 inches)
    • 1 sprig sage (3 inches)
    • 1 bay leaf

First, make the noodles. On a clean surface, like a large rolling board or a silicone rolling mat, sift the flour and salt together. Make a well in the flour. Crack the eggs into the well. Work the eggs through the flour, which is surprisingly easier if you do it before you add the water. When thoroughly mixed, form another well and add the water. At this point, I use a spatula to make sure the water doesn’t escape until the dough is formed. Roll the dough as flat as possible and cut into the desired shape. Kluskis are usually about 2 inches long and maybe a half centimeter wide. I didn’t do a very good job at this part, but they still tasted good.

Bring broth to a boil. Reduce to simmer. Add spices and the bouquet garni after tying it to the handle. Leave it to summer for at least an hour. The soup will smell very lemony, but that’s okay. The thyme will not overpower the soup. With half an hour to go, put in the veggies and turkey. If the turkey is frozen, add the turkey a few minutes earlier and bring the broth up to a boil. I personally remove the bouquet at this point so the tumbling vegetables don’t break too many leaves off. The thyme lost several leaves, but after this long a boil, they’ll just slip down the throat with the broth without causing even a hiccup to the most sensitive of throats.

When you’re almost ready to eat (seriously, only a few minutes), set the table and add the noodles. They will float when nearly done. Taste one noodle (I use chopsticks to pull it out–kluskis are dense but should taste cooked through) and adjust broth if necessary, although I didn’t need to do anything. Serve with lots of broth to make unhealthy throats happy.

Let us Seek: Sovereign God, part deux

Sometimes, I argue with myself. My habit to write the next day’s blog post and schedule it for 9:00 AM the following morning. On occasion, I find inspiration to continue with a previous line of thought. Occasionally, I find myself arguing with both myself and my blog entry for the day.

This morning I posted about a reflection on the sovereignty of God. My post came about after reflection on scripture as seen through the light of a book I am reading for the Academy for Spiritual Formation. That book is “Psalms of the Jewish LIturgy: A Guide to Their Beauty, Power & Meaning” by Rabbi Miriyam Glazer. In the book, the argument is made that the sovereignty of God is a sacrosanct concept. Adonai reigns so our world is seen in a different light.

I made the “mistake” of spending time in my devotions this morning, which is always a risky affair. I was working through one of my favorite resources, which is Upper Room’s “A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants” (henceforth, “Guide”) This resource is the very resource which led me to consider applying for the Academy in the first place. Before finding the Guide I had always seen Upper Room as that tiny little book which I took to individuals when I visited or handed out to folks when they wanted something to read to go deeper. The Guide was deep, methodical, and practical for me as someone who likes structure in their prayer life to balance out my lack of attention span–there is a reason my blog uses the phrase “Distracted Pastor.”

Quick aside, one of my colleagues at the Academy recommended that I take my new Worship Book to the artist formerly known as Kinkos to get it bound with a spiraling ring to make it easier to use. I took my Guide there and for less than nine dollars it is now far easier to use and has nice protective covers to keep it safe. Getting my devotional book bound with a ring was a great idea as I now don’t have to weigh the pages down while taking notes in my journal.

Look how easily it sits flat!

The plastic cover is a nice protective touch…

Anyway, back on subject, I made the mistake of working through the Guide and found myself reflecting on a passage that was the exact opposite of what our good Rabbi Miriyam Glazer stated. Mind you, the author whom the guide quoted is a Christian, so that is somewhat to be expected. Still, the cognitive dissonance has been bothering me as I attempt to stay with both readings.

The following excerpt is stated to be from “Prayer” by Simon Tugwell, a Dominican historian and author. The excerpt is found in the readings for reflection for this week.

“[God in Jesus] does not come in strength but in weakness, and he chooses the foolish and weak and unimportant things of the world, things that are nothing at all, to overthrow the strength and impressiveness of the world. As we saw earlier, he is like the judo expert who uses the strength of his opponent to bring him to the ground; it is the art of self-defense proper to the weak.

This is why, if we keep clamoring for things we want from God, we may often find ourselves disappointed, because we have forgotten the weakness of God and what we may call the poverty of God. We had thought of God as the dispense or all the good things we would possibly desire; but in a very real sense, God has nothing to give at all except himself.”

I imagine most people can see the dissonance between these two sets of conceptions. On the Rabbi’s side we have a God who reigns. Adonai reigns; therefore, we have hope that the future can be a place of blessing. On the Dominican’s side we have a God who has entered the form of Jesus. There is a sense of a self-imposed weakness. God has nothing to give except himself in the form of Jesus. God has nothing to give except himself; therefore, we should not see God as the dispenser of all the good things we would possibly desire.

I have to say that my knee-jerk reaction is to immediately side with Rabbi Glazer. My fear is that my reaction is very human. How could God do something so very foolish? Well, God does what God does. In the most ancient of addresses, God claims the name “I am who I am.”

The challenging part in the midst of all of this chaos is the reality that the Reading for Reflection in the Guide does not stand alone. The psalm of the week is Psalm 105. Psalm 105 is not a psalm of passivity. God acts deeply, thoroughly, and completely in the psalm to assert the placement of the people of God. A few examples:

  • The psalm invokes the actions of God in a time of famine through the servant Joseph. (Ps 105:16-23)
  • The psalm invokes the action of God in establishing a covenant with the immigrants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob which will never be forgotten. God protects those immigrants with might (Ps 105:7-14, 42-45)
  • The Psalm invokes the powerful and sometimes brutal story of the Exodus (Ps 105:24-45)

The actions claimed in the Psalm are not the actions of a passive God of weakness. The Psalm claims the power of Adonai. Adonai reigns! All of this begs a simple question. Why did Bishop Job and Pastor Shawchuck, the compilers of the Guide, choose to include this passage for reflection? Was it merely to inspire there to be interesting thoughts in the minds of those who sought God this week? Even without Rabbi Glazer’s contribution to this conversation, Psalm 105 and this reflection seem at odds with each other.

I have been pondering these differences for several hours and I am brought to a place where I once again go back to things I learned way back in my philosophy classes at Roberts Wesleyan College. Yes, I was indeed the student who insisted with all of the depths of my heart that I believed that God could do the incredible. I believed that God could make a square circle.

The concepts was simple. Could God do something that was logically impossible? Could God create a rock so heavy that God could not lift it? That concept never stuck within me. I was obsessed with the square circle. Could God make an object that was fully a circle and fully a square? Such a logical fallacy seems impossible.

To say that I received a bit of mockery, ribbing, and even disdain at the time for the strength and consistency of my view is to put it mildly. I have since learned to live into that tension, especially as I lived into theology. Can God truly be fully human and fully divine? Can God really be the One God as expressed in trinitarian theology? Can God really care for humanity to the extent that God would come into the world in the form of weakness to engage in an act of strength that would help Jesus emerge as the victor who would break down the division of sin that had lasted for ages past? There are all sorts of paradoxes in Christianity. There are many koans to be considered.

What is the sound of one hand clapping? I have no idea. How can Jesus be fully human and fully divine? I have no idea. How can God create a square circle? I have no idea. How can God move in weakness and foolishness to save the world? I have no idea, but I believe that Jesus has done this thing quite beautifully.

What are your thoughts in regards to this contradiction? Do you have any ideas or reflections?