January 29, 2010
29 January, 2010
Then he started explaining, “This passage of scripture has just been fulfilled — while you were listening!”
Those present were giving their opinions of him and were surprised by the gracious words he spoke. They also said, “But this is Joseph’s son, right?”
Jesus replied to them, “The next line you’ll give me is , ‘Doctor, heal your own self!’ or ‘Do here in your hometown, too, everything we heard you did in Capernaum!’ ” Then he said, “This is the way it is: prophets never get a hearing among those who ‘know them best.’ The truth is, there were lots of widows in Israel during the prophet Elijah’s lifetime, when there was a severe three and a half year drought and widespread famine. But God didn’t send Elijah to any of them; he was sent only to a widow of Sarepta in the region of Sidon — a non-Jew. And there were lots of lepers in Israel during the prophet Elisha’s lifetime. But none of them were healed except Naaman from Syria — a non-Jew.”
When the crowd heard this they erupted in anger, took action, and drove Jesus outside the city, leading him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, intending to throw him over the edge. But he made his way between them and left.
We have no health insurance — yes, we’re involuntarily one of that large crowd — and own one car that’s shared between 3 adults since our son totaled his own car a few weeks back. Make that, we “owned one car.”
Yesterday Jody drove to her annual check-up at a public health clinic not far from where we live. While she was inside waiting to be seen, a young man (age 30) was gunned down just outside the clinic while driving a car (which was not his). As he was dying, he lost control of the vehicle and it plowed into ours, knocking it off the street and onto the sidewalk against a tree. This was the first homicide in Cincinnati for 2010.
When I arrived at the scene in a borrowed car the clinic was still in lock-down mode (with Jody inside) and our car and the area around it were taped off as a crime scene, so it was several several hours in bone-chilling weather before it was released to be towed away.
Losing two cars in quick succession is for us a major loss because, quite frankly, we don’t have money for another. On the one hand something valuable to us was stripped away — and it feels like a number of things have been stripped away of late — yet on the other hand a much greater stripping occurred in the murder of a young man. Most things can eventually be replaced. Not so with people.
Whenever I come to this dramatic passage from Luke 4, I’m always challenged by the huge loss that takes place. The people in the synagogue have just heard a stunning pronouncement from Jesus, yet their previous experience and knowledge of him (“Isn’t this Joe’s boy?!”) prevents them from receiving the one person they most need to receive. Furthermore their secret challenge for Jesus to produce something off the hook (“Do here in your hometown what we heard you did in Capernaum!”) prevents them from receiving what he actually might like to give them.
And because of their narrow understanding of Jesus, they flip very quickly from wonder to bewilderment to anger, driving him from the synagogue out to a spot where they can murder him for his “unorthodoxy.”
When I read this I’m reminded that I don’t have the luxury of framing the story as their actual loss. (This isn’t a story about good guys and villains.) The sobering truth is that this is just as much a story about my potential loss. God reminds me that I must be open to seeing Jesus in a different way. God reminds me that my lack of openness will only lead to questioning, skepticism and anger. I’m reminded that God is always pushing, pressing into whatever openness and receptivity of heart are present, and if that means going around me and into some strange places (like to a widow outside Israel or a leper outside Israel), well, God is God.
The Jesus I want to hold onto would give us health insurance, would protect the one car we own, wouldn’t strip anything away, wouldn’t allow people to be gunned down on a street. In short, the Jesus I want to hold onto would do everything according to my desires. If this is the Jesus I want, then of course this is the Jesus I get, but it’s not much, and because Jesus will not suffer being caged, I’ll end up bewildered or angry like his hometown crowd, missing the larger work of God in my life and in the world. God is at work this day. There is redemption waiting for the family of the slain man, for those who shot him, for our family as well. This is for all of us “the year of God’s favor.”
January 22, 2010
14And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district.
15And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all.
16And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read.
17And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,
18“THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME,
BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR.
HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES,
AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND,
TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED,
19TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.”
20And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him.
21And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
At first reading, the phrase “…in the power of the Spirit,” jumped out at me. What does that mean and what does that even look like?
Reading this passage several more times, I begin to feel the significance in what Jesus found to read from Isaiah. I’ve often thought that the passage Jesus reads from Isaiah, well, it just doesn’t get any simpler than that concerning our mission. If Jesus – as a good rabbi – says to me “follow me” and then wants me to do what He does, this becomes my mission in a nutshell. Proclaim good news to the poor, release and set free the oppressed, proclaim the favour of God. The significance of this mission is that the Reign of God is being entered, not just by the followers who do what Jesus does, but to the marginalized: the poor, the oppressed, the blind. God’s favour is becoming present and revealed to them. Yet to be honest, while I believe this for others, I sometimes have trouble remembering to believe this for myself. I sometimes don’t believe now is the favorable year of the Lord for me. My debts cancelled? My family returned? My oppressors overthrown? And I also struggle that if I can’t bring myself to believe it, how can I proclaim it to others? Of course, therein lies my own struggle of a season with a famine of faith and a feast of doubt.
“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” What a spectacular thing to say…and how exciting. As all the eyes were fixed on Him, I can imagine the surge of energy that must have risen from the gathered crowd when Jesus proclaims the fulfillment. And yet, what an unspectacular event. Jesus is the humble person of gracious words here. Humble gracious words…this is what it means to proclaim ‘in the power of the Spirit’…it doesn’t have to be some deep-throated rebel yell (although there is a time and place for that too)…but today I am seeing that this is who He is, incredible power in such deep humility. My God is a humble God…and He calls me to humility with Him.
++Lord, I believe! but in my feast of doubt, help my unbelief. Let me know and experience the power of humility. Let us know You O Lord, and follow You in Your mission here and now. Amen.++
January 19, 2010
As technology gets more mobile and your 3G or 4G network gets you “connected” from anywhere on the planet, social scientists are pointing toward the fact that other horizons seem to be disappearing. Nature and green space have dropped off the screen so-to-speak, because in our time-poor culture, we just don’t have time to go to the park or have a garden, because apparently we’d rather miracle-grow our farms in a game on Facebook. Nature is becoming invisible to the virtual eye, one might say. We walk down the street texting or e-mailing or chatting on the phone, and un-noticed is the silent creep of the natural world. Does this call into question the very argument of the erstwhile apostle Paul from Romans 1: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” Do we no longer take time to notice?
I bring this up, because I think it has an immense bearing on what we call “spiritual formation”. When we speak of spiritual formation, we are talking about what forms us into the people we are becoming. Thus, in spiritual formation, we seek to have the Spirit of the Living God forming us unto Christlikeness, just as Jesus foretold us He would in John 16:13.
Yet a recent article in the Washington Post reported that: “According to a recent landmark study of viewing habits, adults spend an average of nearly three hours a day interacting with computer screens. Add TV viewing and you get a screen time of about 8 1/2 hours. “People are spending more time in media and especially screen media than anything else they’re doing in life,” says Bill Moult of Sequent Partners, one of two organizations that provided the study…But you don’t need numbers to know how absorbed we have become by screens and their mesmerizing qualities. In October , two Northwest Airlines pilots who flew their jet 150 miles past their destination told investigators they were distracted by their laptop computers.”
The more time we spend with something the more it “forms” us, that’s basic spiritual formation 101. The more time with Jesus, the more like Him we become, however we also note that it is not just the content of material going into our brains (input) that forms us – things like scripture reading or memorization - but it is also how we are taking that information in that is just as critical. In spiritual formation studies, we note that the impact of content can suffer greatly if there is no contact – actually interacting relationally with Jesus directly via prayer and indirectly in community with others and our world.
Interviewed about what we are losing in the digital/virtual age, Robert Harrison, a professor of Italian literature at Stanford University, observed that the difficulty is that we are losing something profoundly human: the capacity to connect deeply to our environments. He reminds us that landscape designers talk about bestowing on a garden its genius loci, or spirit of the place, that bubbles up into your consciousness if its presence is strong enough and the visitor meditative enough to receive it. Harrison says a garden truly reveals itself only when its own depths and those of the beholder flow together. But in our present age of rushing here-and-there, we languish in the poverty of both time and attention. Thus in an age of distraction, attention becomes a primary spiritual discipline, along with meditation, which he mentions.
Harrison claims that gardens and green space are keys to bringing us back from the virtual world to re-claim our humanity. In fact, in the initial chapters of Genesis there is a word-play in the Hebrew with regard to the Earth and the Man formed out of earth. In Hebrew, earth is ‘adamah and man is ‘ha-adam. The best translation may be ‘earth’ and ‘earthling’, and the earthling is placed in what?…a garden of delight. Thus, Professor Harrison goes on to say: “Gardens are the best place to begin this reeducation,” Without it, he fears that the prophecy of the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, in his Duino Elegies, will become so. “Earth, isn’t this what you want; invisibly to arise in us? Is it not your dream to be someday invisible? Earth! Invisible!”
Of course it is entirely possible that Paul nailed it in Romans: we, professing to be wise, became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for a virtual image flickering in HD…
- How do you connect best with God? Nature? Internet? Solitude? Community?
- Have you considered – as an earthling – how you are connected to this earth? I believe there is something significant that we are made of earth, yet the Spirit of the Living God indwells us…I like how Pierre Teilhard de Chardin turns our perspective on its head: We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
- What would you say is the genius loci/spirit of the place in which you inhabit currently?
- Take time to connect with your local environment…meditate deeply on it and look for the bubbling presence of God to reveal the hidden Christ to you; journal your thoughts on this afterwards. Is God saying something to you?
January 15, 2010
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
In few other places in scripture do we see the intricacies of being fully human yet fully divine more than in the story of the wedding at Cana.
Here the Son of God, His nature explained in the Nicene Creed as “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father…” shows His humanity by taking a directive from His jewish mother. After He initially objected to it, she sweety ignored his objection telling the servants “Do whatever he tells you”.
Being also a fully human jewish boy honoring his mother, Jesus turns the water into wine, all 120-180 gallons worth! That’s a lot of wine! Ken Collins observes in his writing “A Wild & Crazy Guy?” By turning the water into wine Jesus prolonged the party. He also notes that whatever gift God gives, it is of the highest quality. In this case good, sweet, wine.
This passage ends “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”
As always our belief is founded on His work and revelation.
January 8, 2010
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Fire and water. Judgment, love and acceptance. I find myself skimming past the scene of the wheat harvest as quickly as I can, but I see and I settle on the elements. I see water in baptism in the beginning and end; I see fire in the middle. The water is peaceful; the fire is terrifying.
I read again, and I see that the story is framed by Luke saying that the people are looking for Messiah, and paying attention to the signs they found around them. John’s message perked up their ears, even if it was hard. The unexpected was at hand. John deflects interest away from him and goes deeper. He’s not The One, but when water turns to Spirit and fire, a swift harvest will happen. Wheat, ground, fire. The people were baptized. Water again.
And now Spirit, visiting Jesus in peace and in encouragement. Father God’s voice lands as well; in the water Jesus has not Spirit and fire, but Spirit and love.
Is love the unquenchable fire?
Is it love and God’s pleasure that separates the shell from the jewel within?
Purify me, Lord. Separate the husk from the meat. Blow away the dust in my heart; as it settles to the ground receive the crop within. Love away all that is not you and yours.
January 6, 2010
the soul environs itself with friends, that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or solitude; and it goes alone, for a season, that it may exalt its conversation or society. - ralph waldo emerson
I have been contemplating this quote from Emerson, and I think our culture increasingly misses out on the interplay between friendship and solitude. It’s rare that we choose to enter seasons of solitude, yet rarer still having that experience of solitude enrich our conversations and relationships. Our “environ”-ing ourselves in non-obligatory affinity groups has become a wasteland of isolation in shallow community. In this wasteland of isolation, our actual experience of both friendship and solitude is ever-atrophied, even as the desire continues to grow for both of them. We have become lost in our own space - our profound isolation among society aggravated by our desire to be known and to know ourselves. In pursuing to meet our increasing desires for knownness, we have become our own cause célèbre, as our growing pang for real intimacy is merely being aggravated by following someone on Twitter or Facebook: “Steven is sitting with his mug of dark roast contemplating the life of birds in his backyard“…no he’s not, that dark roast is sitting there getting cold as he pauses to type and the contemplation of the life in nature becomes secondary and shallow because he interrupts the moment to tweet about some now non-existent state of being and moment in time that has been interrupted by his own need or felt responsibility for the celebrity of having others know what he’s up to this morning before he even experiences it or digests its significance. In this, I trade depth and significance for a shallow celebrity. And the irony is that in that moment my connection with God or nature or people fades or stops as I set aside the dark roast and contemplating the life of birds to log-in and type it out. Rather than actually experiencing something that can eventually be shared and rather than being present to someone in sharing it, I short-change my experiences and substitute real presence for a distributive and insipid presence that more and more just leaves me exhausted in isolation. This kind of profound isolation eats at many of us, and gets ever-aggravated as we go looking for knownness and intimacy in all the wrong places.
We want to be known, and yet nowadays we impoverish ourselves in a faux knownness – in a virtual connectivity - yet fewer and fewer people actually know us and the experience of presence recedes. Chaundra and I met an old friend at a pub last year, and over a few pints and a lingering meal got re-connected. At one point, I excused myself from the bar to go to the restroom, which was all the way in the back of the place, past the dining room. As I was making my way through the dining room, there was a couple all dressed up and obviously out on a date, and as I passed their table twice I noticed they both had their noses in their iPhones, and at least one of them was on Facebook, probably typing a note about being with the one they love and having a delightful dinner. Except it was only partially true, because they weren’t with the one they loved except in terms of shared spatial coordinates on a map, because they were both lost in their own separate virtual worlds. Admittedly, in arranging to meet our friend for a nice dinner, we set up the experience via Facebook, but we did eventually leave Facebook behind to actually experience relationship.
See, it’s not that the Internet hasn’t been a great tool for social networking and making connections or renewing old acquaintances, it’s that we have substituted actual connections for virtual ones, and also prioritized the virtual ones. Who hasn’t been interrupted in a conversation with a friend by their cell phone as they take a non-urgent call or they tune out from being present to check their Blackberry to see how many e-mails are piling up. We accentuate the virtual at the expense of the real. Oh, sure, people may read my tweets and smile wryly at some comment I make in a virtual community, but they don’t really know me and we are not present to one another. The person they know is mediated by internet access and the virtual masks I construct therein. People imagine that they know me, and I imagine being known, but neither is actually happening to any depth that feeds our souls and sets us on a journey greater than our random comments to no-one-in-particular. We’ve traded an intimacy rich with depth for something shallow and hallow. It’s like my 4 year-old trading her well-worn $10 bill for a shiny new nickel…it’s shiny, but not worth half as a much! Intimacy with others is actually enhanced by the discipline of solitude in our lives, and yet we don’t really believe that to be true or more people would practice it. In fact, as William Deresiwicz insightfully laments, our culture entrains us to never be alone…never disconnect:
“I grew up in the 60s and 70s, the age of television. I was trained to be bored; boredom was cultivated within me like a precious crop. (It has been said that consumer society wants to condition us to feel bored, since boredom creates a market for stimulation.) It took me years to discover — and my nervous system will never fully adjust to this idea; I still have to fight against boredom, am permanently damaged in this respect — that having nothing to do doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The alternative to boredom is what Whitman called idleness: a passive receptivity to the world. So it is with the current generation’s experience of being alone. That is precisely the recognition implicit in the idea of solitude, which is to loneliness what idleness is to boredom. Loneliness is not the absence of company, it is grief over that absence. The lost sheep is lonely; the shepherd is not lonely. But the Internet is as powerful a machine for the production of loneliness as television is for the manufacture of boredom. If six hours of television a day creates the aptitude for boredom, the inability to sit still, a hundred text messages a day creates the aptitude for loneliness, the inability to be by yourself.”
In a culture of constant virtual connectivity, solitude becomes a discipline to be embraced. In a world where friendship has become a comfortable illusion of a virtually-constructed self that merely acquiesces to the Facebook request to be a friend, the challenge of sacred friendship must be met to spur us onward, upward and inward. It’s time for the cultivation of the precious crop of Christlikeness, which embraces both sacred friendship and solitude. But we may ask: OK, but what might this depth look like, how do we do it? The Apostle Paul says it this way: “If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends.” (from Philippians 2 – The Message) I’ll end today with David Benner, who points us toward the essence of sacred friendship in a practical way when he writes in his book Sacred Companions, “Spiritual friends share with each other at the level of the soul. This does not mean that they talk about only serious, personal or spiritual matters…Friends who enjoy soul intimacy never settle for gossip or simple information exchange, [they can be comfortable in silence.] Instead they use the data of events as springboards for the sharing of feelings, perceptions, values, ideas and opinions. The conversations of such friends are never merely about what happened in their lives or the world but move from this to how they experience, react to and understand what happened. Dialogue continually moves from the surface to the depths, from the external to the internal. This is the crucial distinctive of dialogue in spiritual friendships.”
January 1, 2010
15-18As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.
19-20Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told.
21When the eighth day arrived, the day of circumcision, the child was named Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived.
I am struck by the sheepherders sense of urgency in this passage. Different translations say things like “they went with haste” and they “hurried off” to find the yet unnamed Jesus. Mary’s response, on the other hand, in the midst of these cosmos-shaking events was “to treasure them in her heart” or as Peterson translates to “hold them deep within herself.” The shepherds let loose and were very verbose in their praise to God and sharing with everyone they met. Mary held back and pondered the events deep in her heart. Two very different responses to the same event.
I love that God makes room for different personalities and ways of responding to his revelation! There’s room in the kingdom-mansion for the cloistered contemplatives and the wild-eyed Pentecostals, the Mary’s and the Shepherds, the introverts and the extroverts, the book worms and the party-ers, the quiet and the verbose, the over-talkative Peters and the mystical Johns.
I met with an old friend yesterday and he has been part of a church that is going after a “culture of revival” (his words). This translates to a lot of exuberance and praise and a high expectation for healing and signs and wonders. Typically my first response when hearing about churches like this is: “What is wrong with me? Am I lacking faith? Why don’t I see or expect more miracles?” Today’s passage was a helpful reminder that there are many different ways to respond to what God is doing. Quiet reflection is appropriate AND exuberance is appropriate. God not only makes room for both but embraces both without judgement.
+++ Lord, thank you for the diversity of personality in your kingdom! Please help me to accept the way I’m wired – the way you already do! – and rejoice with those who respond differently without feeling threatened. Thank you for the path you have put me on. Help me to embrace that path fully and follow you wholeheartedly into this new year… +++