Mature Exchanges

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12 )

It takes a mature person to think through a set of actions and consequences, and be able to foresee and understand how someone might react. When something happens that activates an immediate response, it is human nature to respond without thinking things through. A good example of this is when a health care professional tests your reflexes; a well aimed tap results in a leg or arm involuntarily flexing. The same is true of the human psyche; someone says something or does something negative, and we respond. It takes control and forethought to say, “If I do not respond carefully, this situation could get worse.”

However, in humanity’s recorded global history there have been more non-careful responses than careful ones. But it is at a global level where responses have to be even more carefully thought through than on an individual level. If the guiding principle for nations is to act towards others as you would have them act towards you, why are there nations who hate us and why do we seem to be on the outs with some nations?

We teach our children to play nicely, to share, and to not hit just because they do not like what another child has done. Does these principles translate to a global level? And if not, why not?

I do not want to make this to be a pointing fingers exercise. In the long run it is not helpful. The scripture passages this year are to focus on peace and by extension to spreading of shalom. Let us then admit that errors have been made in relationships, and that care has not been taken as it should be. Let us forgive ourselves, and forgive others as we wish to be forgiven. Let this be our beginning for mature and peaceful exchanges. Selah!

Holy Unity

“I in them and you in me.
May they be brought to complete unity
To let the world know that you sent me
And have loved them even as you have loved me.”
(John 17:23 )

Me in you and you in me.
God in all of us, a holy unity.

God who is creator, author of life.
Christ Messiah who saves us from strife.
And Holy Spirit, counselor for all,
As we live our our lives on this terrestrial ball.

Love that is special, love that’s divine;
Within love all humanity’s entwined.
For that love God gave us all that is good,
And teaches us to live as we should.

In holy unity then, let us live in shalom,
Bringing peace and justice wherever we roam.

Amen

As I read the verse for today, I was struck by the way the verse seemed to have an internal rhythm and rhyme. This verse is taken from the longer prayer in John that Jesus prayed over his disciples before his betrayal, trial, and crucifixion.
My poetry writing days are long behind me. But Will’s poem from a few days ago gave me the courage to try my hand at it too. Mine is what I would consider a bit of “doggerel” meaning clumsiness and forced rhymes. If you can look past that, I hope the message of our partnering with God for a holy purpose and unity comes through. Let it stand as an example of our human efforts to achieve peace versus our Lord God’s divine purpose and action. And may you strive to each day to work more fully in unity with our Lord God, Christ Messiah, and the Holy Spirit. Selah!

When is “soon”?

“This is what the LORD says: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed.” (Isaiah 56:1 )

Scholars estimate that Isaiah wrote and prophesied around 740 B.C. Isaiah was writing warnings to Judah and other nations who did not recognize and honor God. Isaiah spells out what should be done by God’s believing people, and what God’s salvation and righteousness is like and how that will be made manifest on the earth. Isaiah was a very colorful writer. But I have to wonder, what does “soon” mean?

In looking to commentators I found three varying definitions of “soon.” John Wesley indicates that soon will come about with “eminent salvation by the Messiah.” In Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary’s the implication is that soon will be “near to come” as pointed to by John the Baptist and Jesus; perhaps their coming was the fulfillment. This commentary also references the Second Coming as being the “soon,” The Matthew Henry commentary does not give a measurable time line, but rather suggests how to pass the time, to “wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.”

It is a quite popular question to ask, “How soon Lord?” It is easier to “maintain justice and do what is right” when you know how long you have to do that. There are those who have gone before us who waited for their whole lives and, if biographies are to be trusted, did not falter or weaken in doing what was just and right. They were waiting, as we are, for God to come and take control and make right our world. If this is the case, “soon” may be beyond our lifetimes also.

Perhaps it was a Wesley indicated, that the coming of Christ was God’s salvation and righteousness revealed. So the question becomes, what did we expect to be revealed? If the “soon” came and went, did we miss it? That is, has God’s salvation and righteousness already been delivered to the world? And if it is in our world now, where might we find it? I suspect the answer to that question is within us, literally and figuratively. We are to be God’s salvation and righteousness in the world by holding true to God’s commandments of love, peace, and all that is shalom.

If then the “soon” of salvation and righteousness depends on us, how soon will we as a people, as a nation, as a global community reveal what God intends? How soon?

May you gentle reader find within you the hope of righteousness and the faith to carry forth God’s plan of salvation. Selah!

A moment of silence

Draw near,O nations, to hear,
and give attention, O peoples!
Let the earth hear, and all that fills it;
the world, and all that comes from it.
For the LORD is enraged against all the nations,
and furious against all their host;
he has devoted them to destruction, has given them over for slaughter. (Isa 34:1-2)

A moment of silence please,
A time of reflection on
The casual destruction
And near immolation
Of much that we love.

Whenever the reason please,
Cease from absconding with
The mutual horror
And engorging on murder
Of much that we love.

I planted a tree please,
And watered the roots for
Many long months
Hoping for mangos
The kind that I love

It was gone in a moment please,
Flattened by debris from
Nearby explosions.
It died in the earthquake
Like much that we love.

So a moment of silence please,
A time of reflection on
The abs/presence of Deity
And responsibility
For much that we love.

Peter’s fuse

Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men!”  (Acts 5:29)

It would be unfair to the story to make Peter and the other apostles into proto-feminists who mean literally what they say: that they cannot obey the men, the male hierarchy, the patriarchy, but must, instead, obey God.

But if Peter had been Sojourner Truth declaring “Ain’t I a woman?” it wouldn’t be so far-fetched. Sojourner Truth knew a thing or two about the trials and difficulties of being under patriarchy, and she knew she needed to obey God rather than men:

Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

Peter’s resolution along with the resolution of the other apostles, in some ways set alight a long-term fuse that would damage the very idea of “apostleship,” that certain people–certain men, in fact–would be the ones who spoke and others would have to listen. Because once Peter declared that God’s truth was more fundamental than a man’s, it made his own truth subject to nullification.

One thinks of the brave early Anabaptists who directly rejected Peter’s successors’ right to rule them in things of religion, and who directly rejected the local Protestant’s state’s right to do it, either. They, too, were all male, of course–or perhaps someone knows something about early Anabaptist women that I do not–and so they continued to light Peter’s fuse.

So, today I hope to find a godly woman rebel to listen to. And perhaps it will be my friend Allie, who says that one of the most radical things a woman can do in these days is to love one husband and raise lots of kids.

Breaking the pattern

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
(Romans 12:2)

Every day has 24 hours, each week has seven days; and while the length of months may vary, each year has twelve months. It is a pattern that has persisted and served the majority of humanity very well. Our cultures and societies in other places and in other times may have had a different system, but each of those systems of marking the passage of time became a pattern also.

When someone does you wrong, it is human nature to want to do something back to them. Each time a rule or law is bent or broken, there is someone there to reprimand the the offender (or at least that is what our pattern of justice strives for). For every action there is a consequence; that is what the law of physics states. There are patterns in material, society, biology and physics. What pattern are we not to conform to?

It is a rhetorical question I know. And I do know the answer. But it is helpful to think about exactly what pattern that the writer of Romans is referring to. If we know the pattern that should not be conformed to, then it should be a simple matter to not conform to it. Ah, but there is the rub! Breaking that pattern of conformity does not mean just re-writing the rules of society, but re-writing the patterns of human nature. Will put his finger on a very apt application of this yesterday; vengeful-ness, revenge and retribution. There is also the impulse to do wrong and all manner of sinful actions.

Renewing our minds would mean overhauling the entire human psyche. But that does not mean we would or should be without a pattern to follow. We are to conform and follow the pattern of the Divine’s. It does not have the same values or priorities that the human one has. But then the human pattern does not seem to be doing all that well anyway. Maybe it is time for a change.

May you gentle reader adopt God’s pattern of life as you own. Selah!

Vengeful pie

The LORD preserves the faithful, but the proud he pays back in full.  (Psalm 31:23)

So, I happened to watch this old Dick Van Dyke Show episode today, called “Punch Thy Neighbor.” Van Dyke, you’ll recall, plays Rob Petrie, a comedy writer for the Alan Brady Show. He and his wife, Laura, live in New Rochelle, outside of New York. This episode starts as their neighbors, Jerry and Millie Helper, are watching the show with the Petries, and Jerry calls the show “rotten,” but he is “only kidding.” This “kidding” (which is never funny, but always edged with meanness) goes on as he gets his son, the milkman, and even the Petries’ own son to consider that the show was rotten. He even sends a singing telegram to Rob about how rotten the show is.

Rob and Jerry go out to lunch, and Jerry continues his ribbing, and Rob “accidentally” hits Jerry in the nose. This leads to many complications: Rob hits Laura in the nose as he recreates what happened at the restaurant, and Millie and Jerry fear that Rob is beating Laura. Jerry comes over, and physically restrains Rob by performing karate on Rob and then sitting on his chest. Eventually, though it’s all cleared up; but Laura, Rob and Millie all agree that Jerry’s kidding has got out of hand. Jerry admits, under duress, that he thought the show was “excellent.” When the wives are in the kitchen getting the coffee, Jerry goads Rob into punching him (on the arm) to make both Rob and Jerry feel better. Rob is reluctant, but Jerry calls the show “rotten” again, and Rob hits him. They do both feel better, and shake hands; friends again. As the two couples are having coffee, Jerry kids Rob one more time (about a non-untied shoelace being untied) as Rob goes into the kitchen to bring back the dessert.

In good sitcom fashion, the dessert is a pie, and Jerry warns Rob about a roller skate on the floor–this time he is not kidding. But it’s a boy-who-cried-wolf situation, and Rob slips on the roller skate, and the pie goes–you guessed it–into Jerry’s face. Rob says Jerry will never know if Rob knew about the skate.

And so, as in the psalm, Jerry gets “paid back in full”–the kidder is kidded, and gets a pie in the face. But it is so odd that Jerry never apologizes to Rob, or really ever admits he was wrong, exactly. Rob, who is somewhat in the role of the “faithful” here, has his reputation and self-worth preserved, and, by confronting Jerry, manages to preserve their friendship.

Maybe the moral of the story is just to not send mean singing telegrams to your friends. But if this were the real world, I would hope that Rob could speak softly and confront Jerry, and Jerry would apologize and repent, and there would be no need for vengeful pie or the chaos that proceeds from mean humor.

I think I will look for ways to affirm someone’s “excellence” today, and try to avoid mean teasing, and look for ways that the Lord can preserve good things when I and others act faithfully. And, if I slip up, I’ll watch out for pie in the face.

God’s Shalom, broader and wider than our days

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” (Psalm 90:1-17 )

I have referenced the entire chapter of Psalm 90 because I feel it is important to understand the context of this verse. It is said to be a prayer of Moses the man of God, and reading it I can believe that. I encourage you to read the whole Psalm.

Verse one and two speaks of God’s power and presence in the world. Verses three through six sets the human world against the vastness and authority of God’s presence. Verses seven through ten states where humanity’s place is,how we compare to God, and how we feel before God. Verses eleven through fourteen are petitions for God’s wisdom and teachings. And verses fifteen through seventeen are requests for blessings upon God’s people.

These verses illustrate quite well that God is larger and eternal against the frailness, fallibility, and fleetingness of humanity. It should be no surprise than that our ideas and concepts of peace are small against God’s. And in the same way, our concept of when and how peace will come is very different from God’s. The way God envisions peace is that the whole world and all creation will be at peace. And we, who are like dust (verse three), toil away at small pools and ponds of peace that are rippled and splashed away by the violence and evil that consumes the world.

But it is unthinkable to give up. And Moses (if he is the author of this Psalm, which I am not disputing) states clearly that humanity should continue to work and toil for good in the world, and doing so is not a hopeless and impossible task. Verse twelve says, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom“ and verse fourteen says, “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” And verse seventeen concludes by saying, “May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands.” And should not the work of our hands be working towards shalom for all people?

If we would dwell in the Lord, we dwell in the hope that God’s shalom will be a reality to us; and that we may show others a glimpse of Gods’ shalom that can only be known in part in this world. In our daily world, within the limits of our humanity, we talk about peace, hope for peace, and work towards peace. But we need to be reminded every once in a while that God’s peace, which is shalom, is bigger than we can fathom. Let that thought gives us hope that we toil not in vain, but as a part of the grander vision that God holds for us in the world to come. Selah!

A simple little refrain

“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord” (Psalm 31:24)

Back when I was in seminary, we held a pray vigil for a sociopolitical event of the times. I really can not remember what it was, but I am pretty sure it had to do with peace issues. Peace issues were a going concern in the early 21st century. I signed up to do one hour; people were scheduled in ones or twos to be in the seminary chapel over a 24 hour time period. When I signed up I was not exactly sure what I would do during that time. But what happened during that hour turned out to be very interesting.

I started out by praying. And then, as the situation seemed to call forth, I sang some songs concerning peace and God’s presence in situations. In the chapel the chairs had slots for song books, and one of the song books was from Taize. One of the songs in the Taize book in the chapel was “Wait for the Lord” It is comprised of a simple two line refrain that is repeated as often as dictated by the service it is used in. “Wait for the Lord, whose day is near. / Wait for the Lord: be strong, take heart!” I felt lead to pray for different things, and after each prayer I would sing the refrain several times. In essence, during that hour I constructed ad hoc my own personal worship service. And the hour that I thought would drag on, sped by. It made me wish I had signed up for two hours instead. In fact when the next person came to relieve me and continue on the vigil, I was loathed to leave. But I wanted them to have their time too.

This one hour going deep into a spiritual experience was one of the significant moments on my spiritual journey. To be quite honest, I am not sure whether our seminary’s vigil had much impact on sociopolitical stance of the United States. I have come to see that these vigils are not so much for the players in the events but for those of us on the side lines who feel helpless in it all. That is not to say the prayers of the righteous do not have much effect. But if we seminary students and faculty did have sway by our prayer vigils, I am hard pressed to explain why American troops are still in Afghanistan. Perhaps the question of our influence will be answered when Christ returns and we are then able to see the true total picture of what happened. Until then we can but cling to such verses as above and the songs of faith and spirituality they inspire.

May you gentle reader find inspiration at every turn, and you be strong, take heart, and hope in the Lord. Selah!

(Wikipedia’s entry on Taize for those who are not familiar with it. Article on Taize from Wikipedia
The website that Taize has established for themselves. Taize Community)

In God’s time

“This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:10-11 )

Many years ago I got a pocket calender that included a card with verse 11 from Jeremiah chapter 29 on it. The calender is long gone, but I still have the card taped up on my desk. It serves to remind me, whenever I am feeling lost, that God has plans for me and that they are for my good. That theory has been tested many times, and while I am going through things I do not see how they can possibly be for my good. But I can see in hindsight where I have been lead and how I have grown.

I am sure the exiles in Babylon wondered too how seventy years in captivity could result in some good things. But each time God’s people were taken into captivity, they were also lead out of captivity. Notice though that it is God’s people, the chosen, and not the same people who were taken. Jeremiah told those taken to build houses and make a life for themselves there in Babylon. Because while there is hope that God’s people will not always be under Babylonian rule, even a child born in Babylon may die there also.

If you think about it, giving this card to people in a calender that will last only one year is pretty ironic considering the background of the verse. In one year’s time will the holder of the calender be lead in AND out of tough times? We tend to gloss over the fact and phrase of ‘in God’s time’. I do not know about you, but my tough times to not start and resolve themselves in neat and orderly time periods. In fact, quite the opposite can be true. Trials and travails last from day to day, week to week, month after month, and spanning years. Of course, not quite seventy years, or even the forty years the Hebrews spent in the desert.

But then, neither have I felt that God has abandoned me totally during my times of trial. And if truth be told, God has never abandoned me. At times I felt more distant from God, but God was always there. This is the message that Jeremiah was sending to the exiles in Babylon. God had not forgotten they were there, and they as a people were still part of God’s overall plan. That is the point though, they were part of the plan and not the whole plan. What they did and where they were was not the summation of all that God was doing. We can read in the book of Jeremiah that other things were happening to in Jerusalem; that God’s presence was being felt in other places.

And who is to say what effect it had on Babylon and the Babylonians there during God’s chosen people’s time in the city. Jeremiah in his letter to them encourages them to live, to marry, to raise families, and contribute to the shalom (peace and prosperity: verse 7) of the city. In fact, Jeremiah tells them to do the very things that we as Christians are to do where we live. We, as Anabaptists, Mennonites, and Christians, say we are in the world but not of the world. The exiles are being told, I think, the same thing. It may seem like they will be in Babylon a lifetime, but they will be lead out and to the places that God has made for them.

The promises given to the exiles in Babylon are the same promises that we hold to; that God has a plan for us, and it is for our good. The plans may not fit neatly into a year, or even into a lifetime. But God holds the chosen people gently and lovingly in the Divine’s hand. There is not promise that trial and travail will not come upon us, that we will always be in circumstances that are ideal and delightful. But that where ever we are, we are in God’s care and never out of the Lord’s sight.

May you gentle reader be in God’s care as you wait for all good to come about in God’s time. Selah!