https://www.etsy.com/listing/265484823/jesus-clears-the-temple-small-abstract?show_sold_out_detail=1 Jesus Clears the Temple by Melani Pyke

Love in Public: Lenten Reflection (36)

Scripture for Today: Mark 11:12-12:44

“And God will give the vineyard to others.” (12:9)

Although there are a few interpretations of the parable of the wicked tenants, the most widely accepted idea is that Jesus uses the landlord to illustrated God’s displeasure with the religious authorities (the tenants)  at that time.

Why is God so displeased? They weren’t doing their job.

This isn’t in the literal sense of tending to the vineyards — the religious authorities neglected the responsibility to care for the people of God. This failure to seek the welfare of the people motivates Jesus’ actions in this chapter.

Jesus is furious that, rather than make God accessible to people, the chief priests were  charging impoverished people unreasonable amounts of money to buy the required sacrifices to worship God. The even rob the most vulnerable (the widow) of all she owns. As the chiefs become wealthier, the people of God suffer more.

Jesus acts in reaction to this unjust treatment. He creates havoc in the established place of power and religion. He shuts down their racketeering business and calls out their wicked ways. And, in perhaps his most subversive act of this reading, he says that instead of profiting off of people you are called to love others as dearly as you love God. That love demands a deep identification with those around you and a commitment to their welfare. He insists that, in the words of Cornel West, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”

They were not loving their people.
They were not seeking justice.
They were not doing their job.

Naturally, the chief priests become angry when Jesus challenges their competency. They begin to grasp at anything that will stabilize their threatened power and wealth. They throw out every theological and legal challenge they can summon, hoping that something will discount this call to a radical and justice-oriented love.

Jesus’ unrelenting commitment to love his people eventually leads to his death. Pay attention to the depths of love he expresses and receives along the way to Golgotha. How does he demonstrate his love? How do others react to his way of love? This is more important than all else.

Pray: Give me the courage to love boldly.

Reflect: How has love motivated you to seek justice? Where do you notice resistance, either in your personal or public spheres, to such bold love?

Art: Jesus Clears the Temple by Melani Pyke

Resources: This reflection was largely inspired by this sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley of Alfred Street Baptist Church.

This is What Democracy Looks Like: Lenten Post (35)

Scripture for Today: Mark 11:1-11

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the LORD! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God!” (Isaiah 40:3).

I heard the prophets shouting on Saturday.

“Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”
“Black lives matter!”
“No More Silence, End Gun Violence”

I heard the echoes of the crowds in Jerusalem crying out. 

Hosanna!
Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!
Blessed the coming kingdom of our father David!
Hosanna in highest heaven! (v 9&10)

Protest shouts are prophetic: they recognize the pain of the current moment and call into being what might be possible if we change. Our signs, collective movement, and hopeful cries enact a vision of the realm of God. In so doing, we hope to inspire change.

There was something divine about the March for Our Lives happening on Palm Sunday weekend.

The air was filled with hope for revolution and change. People were crying hosanna (literally translated from Greek: “save us”), not one more day of fear and oppression. This march was very similar to when the people sensed possibility as Jesus rolled into Jerusalem on a donkey.

The people of Jerusalem sought to usher in a new rule, one inspired by the way of their ancestors. A rule in which God’s ways of freedom, peace and prosperity were felt by all. They welcomed a rule that would not prioritize the luxury of the few at the expense of the masses. They celebrated a rule that would turn the world upside down.

On Saturday hundreds of thousands of people showed up to turn the world upside down. We cried out against the senseless influence of the NRA that led to the suffering of so many. We refused to believe that chaos and fear should rule our streets or our schools. We believed that a new way, one marked by God’s peace, could be possible.

So we shouted:
No More Silence, End Gun Violence.
Save Us Now.

May we all begin Holy Week with this sort of Prophetic Hope. Jesus is coming. Liberation is happening. Cry out. The time has come to offer our prayers for revolution, healing, and restoration. The time has come to claim boldly what might be possible if God’s way of peace reigned on earth. .

This is what kin(g)dom looks like

Prayer: Hosanna, save us.

Reflection; What in your life, personal or public, is crying for revolution? What are you yearning to see change?

Art: Natalie at March for Our Lives Boston . Photo taken by James M Thomas

Sermon on the Mount by Laura James - https://society6.com/laurajamesartshop/s?q=popular+sermon-on-the-mount_print#1=45

Heart of Relationship: Lenten Reflection (31)

Scripture for Today: Matthew 5-7

“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…This is the inter-related structure of reality.” Dr. Martin Luther King

We tend to define relationship as an interpersonal object that begins and ends at our will. In reality, relationship is more of a principle than a noun: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. We are constantly in relationship with one another. Our choices, ideas, and attitudes impact those around us, and in some cases, those thousands of miles away. The question is not whether we want to be in relationship with one another, but how will we be in relationship with one another?

Jesus’ entire ministry was to foster right-relationship with people: Relationships that honored God’s dream for equity and justice. Relationships that tore down structures of oppression. Relationships that lifted up the disenfranchised and challenged the powerful. Relationships that fostered our ability to know, claim, and own that we are the Beloved of God. Relationships that invited us into liberating love.

Knowing this, it makes sense that Jesus would begin his ministry by speaking to how, in all types of relationships (marriages, disagreements, keeping oaths, public prayer, and judgement of others), we are to be mindful of the mutuality that exists between us all. If our sibling is hurting, we hurt too, so we need to try and heal the situation. If we respond to hatred with hatred, we only perpetuate hatred. Therefore, we are instructed to address the situation non-violently in a way that exposes the pain others inflict upon the world.

By addressing injustice and exposing pain, we end cycles of violence and indifference and develop a heart of compassion that causes us to mourn with those who mourn, hunger for justice, and suffer with those who are persecuted. We become those Jesus honored in the Beatitudes — we enter the heart of relationship.

Prayer: Increase my hunger for righteousness.

Reflect: Consider one or two particular relationships. How are you honoring the belovedness of people in how you treat them? What might you change to further acknowledge their belovedness through your relationship?

Art: Sermon on the Mount by Laura James

Grace Remains by Makoto Fujimura- https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-Grace-Remains-Nard/890479/3254010/view

Another Gospel: Lenten Reflection (27)

Scripture for Today: Galatians 1Colossians 21 Timothy 1:3-11

img_0356

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent this week in Bermuda with my partner and Purity, a very good friend from Kenya. I’m going to share more photos and stories from the trip in a later post; for now, here’s one of the three of us at Cooper’s Island.

The week provided time for enjoyment, wonder, and conversations that are impossible in the normal hustle of life. After this photo was taken the three of us drove our scooters to Pizza House for traditional Bermudian fish sandwiches and a particularly powerful conversation about the cross-cultural nature of oppression.

Although our experiences of oppression were incredibly varied given our diversity of race, ethnicity, class and gender, there was a common thread that ran through our experiences and cultures:  humans have always created systems to differentiate between who is right and who is wrong, who was “in” and who was ‘out,” who is valued and who is shunned, who has access and who is denied.

Anglican theologian Francis Spufford refers to this tendency to disrupt God’s dream for us to live in right-relationship as “the human propensity to f**k things up.

This eternal struggle shows up in our reading for today: the people of the Way are forming beliefs that limit the gospel’s reach to only only the most deserving. This institution of merit is especially surprising in this situation because the community of the Way is founded on the grace of Jesus. By “grace” Paul is referring to the idea that all people have the capacity to comprehend and intimately know the love of God.

Paul is infuriated that people are placing bounds and limits on that which was never theirs to mediate. He responds: there is no other gospel than grace. 

This plea of Paul’s, to stop creating systems that lay claim to what was never ours, is one we would do well to heed today. Although I would love to be proven wrong, it is unlikely we will ever stop creating systems of oppression. They are part of our very being.

However, the good news is that the love and grace of God abound in equal measure to our propensity to f**k things up. And if we can come to truly know this grace, a gift that we never earned and to which we can only respond to with abundant thanks, maybe then we will stop holding tightly to what we consider ours and work ardently to secure access for all people.

Prayer: Forgive our tendency to divide.

Reflection: Where are systems of merit or value present in my world? How do I benefit from them?

Art:  Grace Remains by Makoto Fujimura

The Conversion of Saul (after Caravaggio) 3 by James V. (Villani) Lee: - http://jvillanilee.com/?attachment_id=122

Everything Changes – Lenten Reflection (23)

Scripture for Today: Acts 8-9

First, a note about chronology: in designing our Bible Study for St. John’s Hingham, the Rev. Noah Van Niel and I decided to begin the New Testament portion with Acts and the Epistles to reflect how the books were written chronologically. We’ll read the Gospels next week.

By beginning with the first recorded writings about Jesus we receive insight into what the earliest followers of Jesus considered his most important qualities and his most valuable implications for our lives. Today, we read the story of Saul’s conversion as a window into what it meant to be on the Way. We can draw out the following four lessons:

One, the name of the earliest followers, the Way, characterizes the identity of their movement. Rather than a religious practice that centered around a temple and a set of stagnant rules, they understood following Jesus to be an ongoing and fluid journey. It was a way of living that enabled people to comprehend and experience the love of God.

Two, Saul was an unlikely character to be called to lead the Way. He was a well known persecutor of people on the Way and held a high position of power in the Jewish community (9:2). But God, ever surprising us, calls Saul to minister to the exact people he was persecuting. This theme of Jesus using unlikely people as instruments appears throughout the New Testament (9:15).

Three, following Jesus requires that we are willing to share in his suffering. It is important that we know that Jesus’ life was so contrary to the governing authorities that the Roman state sought after him. This subversive and challenging aspect of following God was central to the lives of earliest believers. We see this reflected in the text from Isaiah quoted by the Eunuch, and the fact that Saul’s life was threatened soon after his conversion (8:33 and 9:23).

Finally, Jesus changes the entire way we exist in the world. Saul’s conversion is marked by scales falling from his eyes, signifying that he saw the entire world differently. This change in perception is marked by his immediate desire to praise the God he once persecuted. Yes, to Jesus’s earliest followers, he represented a complete shift in the way of being, a message similar to the Hebrew prophets.

In the current context of Christianity in the United States, these aspects of following Jesus feel distant. Following Jesus has often become synonymous with participation in  institutions that legitimize the power of unjust structures rather than movements that challenge the very fiber of this world. We assume that those who earned their religious authority through academic degrees are the ones through whom God will speak. And, rather than stand on the side of the oppressed, all too often the church (especially the white church) avoids suffering and stays comfortable in our seat of power.

I do not intend to completely demean the Church as an institution of faith. As someone who is pursuing ordination in The Episcopal Church I deeply understand the need for structures to hold our community and gather our collective power for change. That said, we would do well to examine our current way of being in light of the Way of living modeled by the earliest followers of Jesus — even if this means everything must change.

Prayer: Keep me open to your Way of transformation.

Reflection: What quality of the early church connected most with me today? How might that connect to what’s happening in my life today?

Art: The Conversion of Saul (after Caravaggio) 3 by James V. (Villani) Lee

2014+Isaiah+61-+Garment+of+Praise - https://www.bryngillette.com/store/crown-of-beauty-isaiah-61-nnkt3

Always Longing – Lenten Reflection (22)

Scripture for Today: Isaiah 60-62

Our final reflection from the Hebrew Bible was written by the prophet Isaiah. In this reading we find the people of God in very similar mindset to where they started in Genesis, longing to return to God’s favor. This theme of longing threads through the Hebrew Bible: in Genesis it was the garden of Eden, in Exodus the Promised Land, in Judges the longing for a way of life aligned with God, in Job the longing for vindication from God and in the prophets, longing for freedom from oppression and exile.

Always longing.

Although the context is different, this sense of longing continues today: longing for a new job, longing for an end to politics of hate and fear, longing for healthcare to be affordable and available to all, longing for women to walk the streets without the fear of assault, longing to know God is near during heartbreak, longing for an end to racism and xenophobia.

Always longing.

In this time of longing Isaiah carries a clear message for his hearers: prepare the way, your salvation is coming, God will shine upon you and your people shall be redeemed. God is coming and there will be redemption. So they prepared.

Always longing.

This promise of radical hope is bolstered by the idea that redemption will be unlike anything ever previously experienced: the poor will receive good news, the captives will be granted liberty, those who mourn will be comforted, and the prisoners will be released. The powerful will be knocked down and God’s people will be restored to dignity.

Always longing.

When will redemption come for us?

When Jesus comes, he promises a way of redemption centered on humbling ourselves to be in right-relationship with one another. He asks that we drop our judgmental glare and get down with the sinners and the saints. He turns away from purity codes that elevated certain classes and he lifts up a standard of abundant love. But it’s not what we expected.

Always longing.

We don’t want healthcare for all — we want to guarantee we have the best healthcare available. We don’t want fair wages for all if it means our own wages will be reduced. We don’t want gender equity if it means equity for non-binary and trans people as well. We don’t want a generous maternity leave if it means the same generosity is also extended to those who choose not to carry children. We don’t want redemption if it means that we have to let go of our power.

Always longing.

We are asked to learn to be last. This is especially true for those who are in places of privilege or power. We must accept that God’s reign requires us to follow rather than lead. We must give up decision-making roles and trust that others have an insight into God’s dream. We must stop striving to be the best and instead do what we can, trusting that others will fill in the rest. We must stop chasing freedom through oppressive ways of being.

Always longing.

God’s version of redemption is something we have never seen. It is a life full of freedom, joy, and liberation and it will challenge our impulse to hold tightly to what we believe about redemption. God’s vision requires that we, like the Israelites and the people of God throughout the ages, become willing to let go of our own ways of maintaining power and instead trust that God might be up to something far more wonderful that we could ever imagine.

Otherwise we will remain.

Always longing.

Prayer: Open me to your dream of redemption

Reflection: Where do I sense longing in my life? How might I open myself to what God is doing? How do my power and privilege contrast with God’s dreams of justice?

Art: Garment of Praise” by Bryn Gillette

Resources: How to Be Last: Towards a Practical Theology for Privileged People by Christena Cleveland – who is the keynote speaker at ECM’s annual meeting! Come!

Feeling Guilty or Doing Justice? – Lenten Reflection (21)

Scripture for Today: Micah 2, 4, 6

I met Rose on my second day in Kenya. Rose was about my age; she had two beautiful children and was full of light. Rose worked as my housekeeper for all four of my years in Kenya and became one of my closest confidants.

One day after a huge storm Rose came to work late. The storm had literally torn her world apart: the roof on her home had been blown off by the winds, her entire home had flooded, and everything was ruined. As I listened to her my heart sunk, my stomach tightened, and my skin started to crawl,

This experience of guilt was a regular occurrence in Kenya: why did I maintain a life of comfort when so many were living in poverty? I imagine this is a question many of us have asked in some form. And despite the eternal nature of this philosophical question, I’m not sure it’s the question God wants us to be asking.

I know that’s not how Micah calls the people in his prophecy. Micah is writing to people who occupied similar positions of authority, wealth and power in Judah. He is angered by their greed, corruption and abuse of power. Instead of using their power and privilege for the good of all, the people Micah addresses are stealing homes from those who are poor, and cheating others in court (2:2 and 6:10).

Micah dramatizes this conflict, writing the book to read like a courtroom scene in which God has taken the people to court for their behavior. In the opening arguments, God reminds the people of the provision they experienced in the desert, and asks them to extend God’s care as it was extended to them. We are not being judged on purity, chastity, competency, worldly success, or the amount of guilt we experience but on these three qualities: doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God.

Justice and kindness are stark contrasts to guilt.

Guilt keeps the focus on our own discomfort rather than the pain of the situation. At best, guilt can lead to one-off actions that attempt to remedy our feelings of shame. At worst, it motivates us to recede deeper into our position of power to avoid this discomfort.

Justice and kindness begin by looking outward and acknowledging the discomfort we feel about inequity. Justice is, directly translated, the idea of seeking wholeness and finality for people. Doing justice means bringing about the unity and equality Ezekiel dreamed of in his prophecy. A community marked by loving kindness, the relentless love of God, lets that love transform the way we show mercy and kindness to those around us.

No, I do not think God wants guilt.

Instead, God requires that we “walk humbly.” That we open our entire being to justice and kindness so that all that we do might move us one step closer to God’s dream.

Prayer: Open my heart to justice and kindness.

Reflection: How does my emotional response to injustice get in the way of me taking action? How might I increase the kindness I offer others?

Art: Micah

Worship-6-26-11: http://www.jconradimages.com/?project=dry-bones

Collective Restoration – Lenten Reflection (20)

Scripture for Today: Ezekiel 16, 36-37

Today’s reading begins with the same complicated metaphor of yesterday, an unfaithful bride. However, it pivots quickly to talk about a vision for restoration. This vision expands past a scorned lover to include healing between God and the land, between God and individuals, and among the people.

Ezekiel writes in the same manner as Hosea, using metaphor and image to describe this holistic healing.  Through the images of dry bones and stone hearts turned to vulnerable fleshly beings, the prophet reminds us that restoration isn’t about a specific aspect or action; it’s about claiming an entirely new way of being.  Instead of symbolic sacrifices, we offer to God our very essence. In doing so, we gain a heightened sense of intimacy with God.

The image of two formerly-split sticks being attached teaches us that restoration extends past ourselves and God to making right relationships among the community. Ezekiel is speaking specifically about the relationship between the Northern and Southern parts of Israel (split after the reign of Solomon), but this idea of collective restoration continues to appear in the New Testament when Jesus prays that “They may be One” (John 17). In Ezekiel, along with the unification of peoples, the land is also deeply blessed by restoration: “The land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden” (36:35).

When I think about harm and healing it is easy to get fixated on how conflict impacts me, the person I am conflicting with, and sometimes God. It takes intentionality to notice the effect I am having on my wider community or the environment. It is difficult to consider how my guilty pleasures reinforce communal values, to notice how my tone with my partner impacts the people around us, and to consider the environmental impact of our purchases.

Ezekiel’s vision challenges the idea that healing is two-dimensional and invites us into a wider understanding of restoration. This invitation will undoubtedly require that we raise our consciousness, but in return promises a more vibrant and rich life for all.

Prayer: Deepen my understanding of restoration.

Reflection: How can I be more conscious of my impact?

Art: Worship-6-26-11

Tikkun Olam - Heal the World - Laurie Morgan - https://fineartamerica.com/featured/tikkun-olam-heal-the-world-laurie-morgan.html

Tikkun Olam – Lenten Reflection (17)

Scripture for Today: Proverbs 8:1 – 9:6, Ecclesiastes 3

One Jewish account of creation is as follows: God contracted the divine self to make room for creation. Divine light became contained in special vessels, or kelim, some of which shattered and scattered. As a result, good and evil remained thoroughly mixed in the created world, and human souls became imprisoned within the shards. Humans have been charged with the work of tikkun olam, a Hebrew phrase that can be roughly translated as “repair of the world.” We repair the world by claiming the Divine light and choosing to embody goodness by engaging in the healing of the world.

The Hebrew word for world, olam, appears in Ecclesiastes 3:

God has placed eternity (olam) in our hearts, yet we cannot fathom what he will do from beginning to end.

Wow. God, the creator of all, placed a piece of the eternal world in our hearts.

I find it difficult to expand on this profound truth, and I don’t want to. Rather, I can share the moments in my life where I might have begun to grasp God’s eternal presence in me.

These are moments that seem too big for our bodies: a dear friend finally conceiving and bearing child after years of trying, finding someone who loves even the most human parts of you, connecting with a stranger as if you had known them for years. In these moments of profound connection and intimacy my heart feels like it’s going to burst into shards of light. Eternity is in me.

These moment are breathtaking.

These moments are frustrating.

As much as I try, I cannot create, manufacture or grasp these moments. They are fleeting, brief encounters with the eternal wisdom that was beside and with God from the beginning of the world (Prov 8:9).

This, I think, is the reality of the human experience. We were created by God to be God’s very image. The Holy Spirit, described beautifully in Proverbs 8, is ever crying within us to embody her way. And sometimes, we get it. However, we are often frustrated (understandably so) because we cannot see the whole picture from beginning to end.

So what do we do?

We pay attention to the voice of God that is within us. We follow the way of righteousness and justice. We enjoy the bits of the divine we are graced to encounter. We eat. We drink. We take pleasure in our work. We do what is placed before us and trust God with the rest. We try our best to engage in the repair of the world, one eternal moment at a time.

Prayer: May I embody the light of God.

Reflection: How can you create space to listen to wisdom speaking within you? How do you feel called to engage in the repair of the world?

Art: Tikkun Olam: Heal the World by Laurie Morgan

Attribution: The description of Tikkun Olam comes from My Jewish Learning.

From - http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2267/2503232332_7491c708d1.jpg

We are the Powerful – Race and Power in the Church

It is in many ways unfair for me to speak about issues of race and power. I have a college degree. I practice Christianity. I have a thin body. I have white skin. In our culture, I am a woman of power. Power is a complicated and loaded word. Today I will define power in terms of personal privilege: I can assume that in most situations I will enter into a room knowing I will receive attention, respect, assistance, and to a varying degree, I can get what I want, because of the qualities I possess.

That said, I feel I must speak. The recent deaths of Eric Gardner, Michael Brown, John Crawford III and Tamir Rice have reminded our country of the lingering presence of racial inequality and I am challenged with how to respond. I am saddened by the loss of life, the perpetuation of racism, and I feel powerless. Especially because I practice a way of life modeled after Christ who proclaimed that love always conquers death.

I suppose I could join a protest, grab a microphone and speak out against the murders. I see many churches acting this way and I applaud their desire to speak out against violence and be witness to compassion. However, I worry that these actions risk missing the root of the problem in the way that they are addressing these flashpoints of violence rather than the underlying power dynamic that perpetuates this problem. Some may argue that something is better than nothing but in this case, I am not sure. I believe that the paltry “somethings” the church has done for years has actually allowed people of faith to perpetuate existing power structures.  The current violence cannot be addressed in isolation but must be a call to align our way of addressing power and race through the example of Christ.

Commission on Racial Understanding Leadership Team in the Diocese of Ohio - A Group Seeking to Address the Root Causes of Racism
Commission on Racial Understanding Leadership Team in the Diocese of Ohio – A Group Seeking to Address the Root Causes of Racism

Church’s Current Relationship with Race and Power

For years the Christian faith has promoted half-solutions that keep us, the (white) people of power, in power. We provide just enough food so black kids are fed but we don’t fully address the hunger problem by arguing for living wages. We take time to tutor one child that “had it rough” rather than using our collective voices to promote policies that develop healthy and vibrant schools in all neighborhoods. We donate old clothes to the poor, never stopping to ask ourselves why we need to make such a large income that allows us to accumulate extra but others to scrape by on with not enough. We, through our paltry attempts at charity, create a world in which we have power in the dominant systems.

Read More »