Saturday, March 14, 2009

Free to Love

Well, obviously, I missed yesterday. I knew that I'd never make 40 straight days!
Yesterday we were invited to read from 1 John, and to ask in prayer if there is someone to whom we should be extending love. The problem was, I was in such a completely foul mood that I did not even want to risk such an open prayer.
Being in a more or less public role, I am occasionally on the receiving end of shots that are really aimed elsewhere but ricochet around till I get in the way. It happens; and I always get angry in response, and then turn inward and beat myself up for the part of the shot that struck home with any kind of accuracy, no matter how slight.
So, there I was, mad and not at all in the mood to sit with John, much less with God.
Perhaps that is the time when one ought most to seek the presence of God and unload on truly broad shoulders. Jesus, after all, offered to carry our burdens.
Perhaps, the anger is, itself, a form of prayer. The psalmist gave voice to some deep-seated anger and, when I find myself stuck in a long-term funk, dark place or unpassing anger, I turn to the psalms.
But yesterday was a passing storm, that I finally let go of this afternoon on a long run.
The invitation today was to free prayer, and the run was the perfect time for that. I turned my I-pod onto a shuffle of up-tempo songs and lost myself in sweat and song and let go of the anger. I gave it away along the way. That is prayer.
Now I am ready for a Sabbath day.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What's In a Name?

Today's invitation is to do something that preachers are always told to avoid. Well, kind of. A standard piece of homiletic advice is, "don't preach the lists." In other words, avoid using the texts that are long lists of names. Reading them out loud in worship is said to be deadly dull.
Well, reading them quietly is not much better. But here is the list, from Matthew, that we're invited to read:
An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.
So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.
We are invited to consider the real human beings with their own messy lives represented in that list, and consider the same with a contemporary list -- for example, a phone book.
But frankly, I don't find much difficulty or challenge or depth in praying the lists that way. Sure, I can hold in the light dozens of people I do not know, but I don't feel drawn into any relationship with them, any accountability toward them, any responsibility for them.
The list in Matthew, on the other hand, is intended to evoke certain memories. Check again who is in it, and who is not. Mostly it's men, but the women named or alluded to are interesting because each was extremely marginalized in her social context. There is a particularity to their circumstances that would seem to make it impossible to expect anything great to come from them. Indeed, in would be hard to imagine that anything at all would come from their lives. They would have been among the cast off and cast aside.
Why would God choose such as these?
Hm ... why should I care for such as these?
All of which brings me to my evening's activity: attending a gumbo dinner at Sojourners that raised some money for a Sojo work trip to New Orleans this Holy Week. After dinner, we watched act 1 of Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke.
The documentary includes numerous interviews with survivors of Katrina. Most of them are folks you've never heard of, just like the genealogy of Jesus. But when they were forgotten and left behind by their government, God reached out to them through the hands of thousands of volunteers. (Which does not excuse the public sector or get it off the hook in any way for the continuing disaster in many lives along the Gulf Coast.)
So, this evening, as I read the list from Matthew, I thought of the folks we helped in Mississippi in the immediate aftermath of the storm and the hundreds of thousands of others just like them. And my prayer is that I have the faithfulness to, at the very least, enable others to give hands and feet to the prayer so that lives can continue to be touched.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Take a Hike

Today's invitation begins with parts of the creation stories from Genesis, and, even as I write that I know that I am going to take a meandering detour, so be forewarned.
I read a story in the Post this morning about a "creation studies" class from Liberty University visiting the Smithsonian natural history museum.
The professor is quoted saying "There's nothing balanced here. It's completely, 100 percent evolution-based. We come every year, because I don't hold anything back from the students."
Ironic that story should appear on the day we're invited to read from the creation stories. The plurality of creation stories in scripture ought, in and of itself, tell us something about the intention of the stories, and, at the very least, ought to raise questions about the utility of employing prescientific texts in response to a fundamentally scientific question.
So, if it's not a science text, what questions does Genesis address?
Theological ones. Questions about God. About who God is and what God cares about.
God looks at creation and calls it good in the first creation story. In the second, God walks through the garden in the evening breeze and simply enjoys the creative handiwork.
This is a God of infinite creativity and joy who invites us into joy and creativity, too.
The prayer invitation today is to take a prayer walk, through your neighborhood, your yard, your workplace, or wherever. Of course, by the time I got to this it's past 9:30 and no walk is going to happen.
But I did get in a brief run this afternoon, and mostly prayed to be done!
Then I took a short bike ride with Hannah, who is just beginning to get comfortable on her bike. We rode together down to the Shirlington neighborhood -- less than a mile. I was not specifically paying attention to creation and praying for those I passed along the way, as per the instructions.
But I was open to the thrust of grace in the early spring air, and filled with joy, love and a certain yearning as I watched my daughter peddle away down the bike path in front of me.
I think that was enough prayer for the day.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Reaching ... Touching ... Healing ... Whom

Today's invitation begins with reading Mark 5:24-34.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?”’He looked all round to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’
The prayer of the day asks us to consider the places in our own lives that are bleeding, and continues with the question, "Have you judged someone for something they did to you? Your judgment can anchor their sin into your soul with a spiritual fishhook."
I've no problem recognizing many of my own broken places, and accepting the soul-freeing wisdom of forgiveness. But I believe the metaphors are mixed up and the story's real power missed if we turn it into seeking wholeness for our own run-of-the-mill places of brokenness -- loneliness, illness, discouragement, jealousy. Certainly those can be real and soul-killing. But the issue at stake in the strange little story from Mark is, well, the issue. That is to say, the woman's ritual uncleanness due to menstrual bleeding makes her untouchable and, when she touches Jesus she makes him unclean as well.
The reaching and touching in faith obliterates the social stigma at stake in the story. So the question for my meditation this evening is not what everyday brokenness do I carry with me that I need to let go of, but rather, what socially constructed marks of exclusion am I accepting unquestioningly that unjustly condemn others and leave my soul at stake? What socially constructed systems of domination am I participating in that crush my own soul and those of so many others? What powers and principalities are ruling my own heart?
So, while I certainly pray for healing of my own brokenness on multiple layers, as I read this story from Mark, I am most mindful of my need for courage to extend a healing hand to others, and to allow myself to be touched even when I'd prefer not to be.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Love Letter from God

The invitation for today is to read Romans 8:35-39, to sit with it for a while and listen as if to a love letter.
Like many pastors, I quote from this passage often: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus."
I quote it, and I find comfort in it, but I certainly don't lay any claim to understanding just what it means.
But today, having just opened an e-mail from a good friend and colleague who confesses just now to feeling panic rising within her self on a project we are both deeply involved in, I am thinking that neither hopes nor fears, nor deadlines nor permits, nor liturgies nor police, nor expectations nor disappointments, nor failures nor budgets -- nothing will separate us from the love of God.
It simply will be all right in the end. We are loved. When we live out of that love, that trust, then we are powerful far beyond what we dare to imagine.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

On the Seventh Day ...

I rested, and so should you. Heck, if it was good enough for God ...