Let us Ramble: Trees

Today’s reading in the Revised Common Lectionary contain a powerful teaching of Jesus. Jesus teaches about the fruit of each tree revealing the nature of the tree. Jesus teaches that a good tree does not produce bad fruit and a bad tree does not produce good fruit. I’m fairly certain Jesus isn’t talking a tree having a bad year due to inclement weather. In general, a person knows the reality of a tree by what it produces. If a tree consistently produces bad things, the chances of it producing something good is pretty poor. If a tree consistently produces good things, the chances are a bad harvest is a fluke rather than the rule.

Our church has a parishioner who owns an apple tree that produces the weirdest apples. The tree predates the parishioner, so when I visited at the home, I found myself confronted by weird apples. Interestingly enough, the parishioner took it to the local Cooperative Extension office and the apples are unidentifiable. They’re apples. They’re tasty. That’s about all we know about those apples besides one basic fact. Those apples are good apples!

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Think about that reality for a moment. There is no known ancestry of these weird apples. There are no known relatives. For all we know, the tree is unique. We do know the tree produces good fruit, so it is a good tree. Jesus’ teaching reveals something about the tree.

What does the fruit you produce say about you as a person? Are there things in your life that might need Jesus’ healing touch? Have you ever stopped to think about where your path is leading?

If you are in need of change, God hears prayer. God is able to work in us even though some of us are really stubborn. To begin that journey of change, pray to God for help. If you’re out of practice, begin by speaking to God as if you were talking on a phone. If you’re not comfortable with that paradigm, write God a private letter or email. When you’re done, sit with God for a while with an open heart.

When you are ready to go, seek a church community that can support you. If you’re in the area of Maine, NY, I would be happy to journey alongside you for a while. If you’re out in the greater world, ask folks you know if there’s a church or pastor that they’d trust. Get several recommendations or go try one out for yourself. If need be, gather with a few friends who are like-minded and see where the journey goes.

Poem: Deborah’s Image

So today’s readings from the Revised Common Lectionary included the song sung by Deborah and Barak in Judges 5:1-12. I worked hard to write a good poem for Deborah as her story does not get told enough in the church. Like a lot of the strong women of scripture, it seems to me that her story is relegated to Women’s Bible Studies and that’s a shame. The world can always use a good example of strong women in leadership.

So here’s the poem. I’ve entitled it Deborah’s Image. Obviously, it is an acrostic of Deborah’s name.

Don’t look in the mirror and see a project that needs to be fixed–you carry the image of women like Deborah.
Everyone has an opinion about how you should live your life, but strong women begin by believe in who they could be.
Believe in yourself, believe in your falling, believe that you are here for days like today.
Outrageously enough, strong women can come from anywhere and can change everything.
Release your fear, claim your heritage, and believe in yourself.
Armies may stand against you, fear may gather behind you, doubt may circle around you, but you carry the image of strong women.
Have faith, believe, and understand that God call us all–you do have a very special place in our world.

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This work by Robert Dean is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

 

Poems: Rev. 16:1-7, Psalm 123

I returned late yesterday from the most recent session of the Academy for Spiritual Formation. My wife had sent me a text and I completely misunderstood the urgency. I rushed into town expecting to head to the hospital. I was mistaken.

While at the Academy I began to explore writing poetry again. It has been several years since I have engaged in writing poetry on a regular basis. I brought a book of poetry to help me to pass the nights in silence. I fell asleep the first night of the Academy with a stanza of poetry ringing through my mind. I awoke after a night full of beautiful dreams remembering why I loved poetry.

When a particular time in reflective silence inspired me to attempt to write a poem the floodgates were flung wide open. I started scribbling, scribbling, and scribbling some more during my free time. I spent an hour reflecting in poems, prayers, and psalms before heading to bed that night. I felt as if a long dormant part of my personality was finally breathing after years of holding a breath.

For the next 18 months (at least), I have set poetry writing based on the daily readings from the Revised Common Lectionary to be a part of my ongoing covenant to grow closer to God. Why? First, you cannot write poetry on a passage without reflecting upon the passage first. Second, most of my poems are shaped around prayer language. Third, it allows me to keep that part of my soul breathing.

To be clear, I am not always going to be sharing poems that I write. As a matter of fact, I wrote three poems today and the first one that I wrote is not for public consumption. Sometimes the poems will just be bad. Occasionally, I am going to take time off. On rare occasions, the poems may not be appropriate, like the poem I wrote based on the Judges reading today. With that being said, I do not mind sharing poetry on occasion.

Today’s readings in the Revised Common Lectionary include Revelation 16:1-7 and Psalm 123. I will share the Revelation poem followed by the Psalm poem.

Pointless Bowl

A voice calls out from the temple:
“Pour out your bowl into the sea!”
So, I pour into brackish water.

A face watches from the shore.
Nothing moves, jumps, or tries to flee.
Eyes behold a sea of slaughter.

He wrote these things down at Patmos long ago.
He did not understand all of the things he did see.
This devastation came as humanity’s daughter.

Silenced Hope

My soul has had her fill.
Scriptural words make hope lie still.
Look at my heart and give dreams to me.
The only Source of light that I see,
Break apart contempt and pride.
Lead us to life–be our Guide.

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This work by Robert Dean is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Let Us Seek: Holy Moses!

Today’s readings from the Revised Common Lectionary draw something a bit personal out of me. In particular, I am drawn to ponder the reading from Exodus. I’ve had many images in my mind of Moses over the past few decades of my faith journey. It has been twenty years since I gave my life and my heart over to Jesus. I have spent a significant amount of time since then reading and pondering the scriptures.

Yesterday, while reading through “God’s Unconditional Love: Healing Our Shame” by Wilkie Au and Noreen Cannon Au for the upcoming session of the Academy for Spiritual Formation, I read about the practice of visualizing what you read in order to reveal your own internal image of God. When I apply this practice to the idea of seeing Moses after twenty years of study, I will admit that it is hard to describe what I see at first glance.

To be clear it isn’t the following image…

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I’ve never watched Heston’s portrayal… Sorry film buffs–it has not happened by this point in my life.

To be honest, my vision of Moses has been deeply affected by my sense of humor. I don’t have permission to copy the image, but this is my work computer’s background (We miss your cartoons ReverendFun.com). My honest impression of Moses when I stop to pray is somewhere between these two images. Moses was serious, intense, and challenged continually. I imagine I’d tear my hair out with the stuff he had to deal with, but I also think that Moses had to reach a point of frustration where he’d have to either laugh or cry. I prefer to think of him as laughing.

All of that being said, I honestly believe that I have never stopped to dwell on the idea of Moses as a father. Was he married? Yeah. His Father-in-Law gave him some really great advice, right? I can easily remember that story. He had two sons. Exodus 18 names them as Gershom and Eliezer.

Gershom’s legacy is that his children become priests for the Danites until they are carried off into exile (according to Judges 18). 1 Chronicles 23 says that Eliezer has one son, but that son had a lot of children. The legacy of both children is tied to the tribe of Levi, but what challenges me is not the legacy of Moses’ children, but the very act Moses is called to engage in shortly after today’s reading.

Moses is called at a burning bush and must go to confront Pharaoh. The people are crying out in anguish and Moses is called to go out to do the right thing. Moses has children and following God will mean that Moses will leave his wife and children with his Father-in-Law Jethro. Listening to God’s call will require Moses to walk away, if even for a short while.

I have two children. My two daughters are shining jewels that challenge me to be a better father and provoke me to occasional fits of face-palming. I have another child on the way, which is pretty exciting. Walking away from one’s children is a hard idea for me to swallow, but isn’t that exactly what Jesus confronts several people about when they resist his call? In Matthew 10:37-40, Jesus says: (NRSV)

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

While I am challenged by Moses’ call and his ability to walk away from his children, I must admit that there is something common in the call on Moses’ life and the call on our lives. We are not called to simply live lives that fall in pleasant places. We are not called to lives where we can always call the shots while remaining faithful. There are times when the call of God supercedes our desires and that can be incredibly painful, but pain is not always a bad thing.

I am grateful that this passage reminds me that God is calling us to a lifestyle where things are not always easy. I am grateful that the scriptures do show that Moses is eventually reunited with his children and with his wife. I am grateful that Moses was not left alone in the wilderness but was brought into a place of safety and refuge by Jethro. I am grateful Moses created a family with Zipporah.

My image of Moses may always remain the man pulling out his hair or the young man from the cartoon, but I am glad there was more to Moses than what I see in my image. Maybe as my hair turns silver I can remember Moses’ story and have an explanation as to why Heston’s hair was graying in that old movie.

Let Us Seek: Tastes good, less malicious!

In considering the Revised Common Lectionary readings for May 2nd, I am immediately drawn to the reading from 1 Peter. Indeed, these verses seem almost magnetic after a long week that has devolved (or evolved) into prayer more times than I can count. Whether it is reading an article on Facebook or having newspaper clippings handed to me out of today’s local paper, I have been regularly driven to a place where I have felt a need to lower my head into my hands and pray. As a result, I find this scripture magnetic. 1 Peter 2:1-3 says: (NRSV)

“Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation–if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

I find these words have a certain magnetism because they are both incriminating and freeing to me. I find them incriminating in the sense that there is a part of me that wants to be angry and malicious. When friends, neighbors, and colleagues are hurting due to the actions of other individuals and special interest groups, I want to make that pain stop, but my professional avenues to address these issues are limited. This situation is extremely frustrating to me and to many others.

In the midst of these frustrating situations, I hear a voice in these scriptures. Is God good? Yes. Have I experienced the goodness of God? Yes. Which do I long for more–the pure, spiritual milk or vengeance? I long for something better than maliciousness. I hear the voice of God calling and the invitation is to both faith and relinquishment. I am called to have faith in the God I know is good and to let go of my desire for vengeance. It is time to let go of anger, hatred, and frustration. I know there is a part of me which feels frustrated and allows that anger to fester into malice, but with God’s help I can move this place from one of incrimination to one with freedom from my own anger.

Let me try and explain it another way. In our church this past Sunday we read the story of Stephen in Acts 6-7. One of the details that has always slipped my attention is the last thing Stephen does before dying. Stephen asks God to forgive the people who have caused his death. Like Jesus, Stephen decides that it is more important to forgive than to have vengeance. The sense of forgiveness that Stephen exudes and that Jesus modeled reminds me of the promise Paul makes about how the protective peace of God (which surpasses all understanding) when we make our requests known to God with joy (Philippians 4:4-7).

Forgiveness, peace, and trust all seem to dwell in a symbiotic relationship in a life of faith. For me this smorgasbord of faith is at the heart of what Peter is referring to in this passage. God is good and forgiveness, peace, trust, and friends all seem to flow from God’s goodness in a very consistent manner. These gifts are freeing and I feel freed when they take the place of anger in my heart and mind.

Does any of this mean I will advocate for righteousness any less? No. I will continue to advocate but I will also remember to do so without malice. I have tasted and seen that God is good. I will serve God with that truth in my mind partially because of the blessing of today’s scripture. I am thankful for the gift of this scripture.