Off the Rails But in His Plan

My “too early” morning read of Gen. 37 strikes me as one of the most pivotal moments in scripture, as well as revealing the way God works our weakness toward good.

Joseph, the “truth teller” to his detriment, brings a “bad report” of his brothers to a dad already having difficulty with his first born, Reuben who had slept with Jacob’s concubine, his other brothers’ mother! All the brothers, now turn on Joseph, plotting his death.

Perhaps Reuben sees this as a chance to win back his rightful firstborn blessing by protecting Jacob’s most beloved son, Joseph.

In so doing, Joseph’s life is spared but only to be sold to a band of Ishmaelites (remember Hagar), who transports Joseph into Egypt, where he advances to leadership and sets up the birth of Moses, followed by the famed Red Sea moment!

The Red Sea event sets the stage for a redemption narrative only to be fully revealed thousands of years later by way of the Lion of Judah (Jesus). It was Judah’s twisted idea to sell Joseph into slavery in order to avoid further conflict with the father, Jacob.

Oh yes, don’t forget the foreshadowing of Calvary in the subplot of the most precious son’s coat of many colors, dipped in blood, then presented to the Father.

You can’t make this stuff up!

If your life decisions have not always been good, take courage, The Father has a plan and your redemption is secure! You might consider sharing this with someone troubled by a life that seems to be “off the rails.”

Pain and Privilege

This morning once more, I began my annual journey through the scriptures.  As I meditated on the writings of Moses, the Book of Genesis, my mind circulated around these phenomenal past few weeks.  As a community leader, I share both the privilege and the pain of loving people.  Mainly because true love (reference the Velveteen Rabbit below) always contains an element of pain, along with the capacity love lends to being Real!

 

As late as yesterday afternoon, I seem to have been cast into an awareness of the crisis of an emerging generation, quite experienced with the drug culture, in part due to the enormous amount of prescription drugs on the market.  Our medicine cabinets are full of narcotics, awaiting innocent experimentation and eventual addiction.  Why the need for such experimentation; perhaps, it’s simply a part of growing up!   In my day it was sex and cigarettes!  However we are kidding ourselves, if we don’t recognize a growing and deepening pain in the youth of our day; one that often requires an escape, easily found in the contents of the cabinets of their parents!

 

In my day, the remedy was as easy as finding a good church!  I am learning much as I spend time with the grieving parents of those prematurely taken from them.

 

As I have tried to provide some spiritual solace for my community, my writings have been scrutinized by well-meaning “scholars” who by virtue of their self-discovery of scientific data are a part of a growing number of atheist.  Loving these folk has its own set of complications and yet I truly sense a deep love, one that makes refereeing their comments on Facebook painful.

 

In fact, last week I temporarily “unfriended” a couple of them for the sake of the emotional state of others, given their well-meaning but ruthless criticism; leveraging a grieving audience for a moment to educate others to their point of view seemed unjustifiable.  I still struggle with how I went about that.  You might sense my concern, given the privilege and responsibility for a speaking into a diverse audience, and the pain that comes from truly loving all!

 

How does this relate to my morning meditation, as I cycled back from John’s Revelation to Moses’ Genesis?  The Creation story is quite a challenge, even for me, given my lifelong study and infatuation with the sciences.  I marvel at the galaxies each morning during my early walk down the driveway to collect my morning hardcopy of news, most often read the night before online!  I really think my addiction to the Winston-Salem Journal has more to do with the thrill of my early morning gaze into the heavens, than it does any written copy inside that clear environmentally damaging plastic bag meant to protect the dry wasteful pulp inside.  I say that in love!

 

This morning I pictured a visual graphic that seemed to form in my head, with points of axis to include: inspiration; the various religions that form around such inspiration; scientific observations and theory; assumptions made based on all of the above; and the literature that emerges over time to include scripture.  One of my readers referred to me as “deep”!   I must confess that I take that to mean, that I am poor at articulating what runs through my brain.

 

 

Back to Genesis and the challenge that comes with believing that Moses could have received some divine dictation that would provide thorough insights into Creation.   Some allegorically parallel the thoughts of many creationists in the field of science, yet so contrary at other points, that the term “junk science” has emerged.  The latter is where my atheist friends, two that I have known since their childhood, seem to insist that I settle.   One even apologized for some of my writings, as they were convinced that I meant well by the community!  Maybe that is what has taken me to the point of exploring theories as to the origin of Genesis and the Pentateuch.  Here too, one must not overlook the science of archeology and the discovery of hard data from that field.

 

“Abraham came from a country where the knowledge of writing and reading was common and from an important city mentioned in the code of Hammurabi . . . In that country traditions of the creation and the flood were preserved, which have much in common with those in Genesis. That is the very country also in which Genesis places the site of the Garden of Eden and where the confusion of tongues is said to have occurred. There, if anywhere, the remains of an original revelation concerning creation and an accurate story of the flood would be handed down. What could be more natural than that Abraham carried such records and genealogies with him from the banks of the Euphrates to the land of Canaan? ‘Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac’ (Genesis 25:5). Perhaps those priceless records were among his possessions. If so, they went down with Jacob into Egypt and formed the basis of Genesis 1-11 as written by Moses. (Raven 1910: 131-2.)1

 

You might find the link below interesting.

 

Yet, what I must communicate, the driving force behind my passion for scriptures is not the hard data that supports my understanding, though I’ll admit quite far from that of my fundamentalist friends!  Rather, the love that squeezes my heart when my community is in pain.  A love that I hardly knew before a moment, which unexpectedly seized my heart the night of January 3, 1973, when I walked in on my Dad as he called out to the heavens for his wayward son!

 

That love that has soothed my heart each time that my shortcomings shamed my soul, and has pressed me onward and upward when I was tired of loving.  A love that will not allow me to succumb to my own intellect, so often challenged by the contrarian viewpoint of those not yet having experienced the deep privilege of God’s love!

 

“The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others.

He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the

seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled

out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long

succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and

by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they

were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery

magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that

are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all

about it.

 

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by

side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does

it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

 

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that

happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just

to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

 

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

 

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When

you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

 

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit

by bit?”

 

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It

takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who

break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.

Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved

off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very

shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are

Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”2

 

1 http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2005/12/26/From-What-Did-Moses-Compose-Genesis.aspx#Article

 

2 https://archive.org/stream/thevelveteenrabb11757gut/11757.txt

Oh Death, Where is Thy Sting…

 

I’m still processing the surreal dream-like moment that I experienced early Wednesday morning, following a jarring crisis within our small community; by then over a week had passed.  The unexpected loss of a young teen, the devastating potential of death within a well-loved family, and then the faithful witness and renewed revelation of the healing power of love, always reawakens me to wonder.

 

I got the call as I sat with my 92 year old Dad at the local emergency room.  A dear friend was weeping as she encouraged me to contact the family of one of our community leaders, for they had just found their son unresponsive in his bed.  As soon as possible given my Dad’s crisis, my wife and I drove over the home.  My somewhat dormant call as a clergy was soon dusted off and a very rewarding though unanticipated week long ministry journey soon became intense.

 

Unknowingly, this tragedy would open a door to the heart of this community that my three term service as mayor had not provided.  Death always brings us to a raw moment, then compounded by the insufficiency of words, we must actually do love!  Of all life’s leadership moments, the death moment is perhaps the most intimate.

 

I watched as families poured out their love, from fresh baked goods, to long embraces and a volume of tears matched only by the sweet tea that finds its way into southern homes at funeral times.  By no means am I making light of these moments, rather, attempting to transition to the critical and preventative Next Steps, we so often miss as we settle back into our routines.

 

Professional Realtors, Educators, Non-profit leadership, Chamber of Commerce, Coaches and Clergy all were there at this young man’s viewing, celebration service and graveside, with a deep openness and willingness to transfer the love of God; one that was palpable.  There were moments when all attempted to express spiritual hope, though always present, that underlying awareness that something had gone awry in this small conservative community.  An enemy of sorts had stolen valuable goods!  It was an “enough is enough like moment.”

 

Now into my 70th year, I am beginning to sense some credibility in my life experience, particularly in my faith walk.  With a high perception capacity and a brazen confidence in what God can do when one takes the risk to express their love, I am now shouldered with a sense of need to #SpeakUpSpeakOut lest this potent spiritual moment pass us by without practical life adjustments.

 

Perhaps my dream was a cerebral attempt at processing the grief felt in my heart.  Still yet, when dreams become felt long after one’s awakening, there is often meaning that still must be lived into.  This dream seems of that sort!

 

For convenience, I have copied and pasted the heart of my dream from my earlier post:

 

“I was awakened out of some color muted vortex of dry rotted clothing, commingled with last gen’s AV (not IT) technology; yet, everything appeared like new until touched. In fact, the clothing was still on racks, the technology as it were, displayed for marketing. Dated but still current enough that if salvaged, it might be of use in accomplishing what in my heart what I knew still needed to be done. Then there were people, adrift but all in the same flow, each aware of a groping need to return to something they had lost. The clothing perhaps symbolic of their materialism and the technology, their awareness of a need for better means to express their loss, to whatever audience they all seemed urgent for return.

 

Apparent by their bodily reaching back, they were knowingly adrift, yet continued as if seduced by this surplus of dry-rotted goods, which with each grasp, turned to powder like fabric that had been stored in hot attics for centuries. There was this sense of reaching forward, yet need for a 180 degree change in direction before all was lost. Yet, there seemed insufficient confidence to make that turn without ample dress and technology. I could see some returning empty handed, while other grasp at the decaying provision. Return to where, I still do not know!

 

I was one of those who kept encouraging them to grasp hold of their share of clothing and technology such that when they returned to whatever place we all knew we were headed, there would be ample means to get back into “life” as we had once been told existed.”

 

With two days of ruminating, the following comes to my mind:

 

The image of scores of human beings drifting through mid-air brings to mind the spiritual lost-ness that seems evident in a moment like this.  The groping hands, reaching for something that was just ever so distant from them, evidence of a hope though weakened by the fact that some after reaching forward without benefit, had begun to draw back, even returning from the distance from which they emerged, perhaps evidence of our humanity, the need for a return to the routine?

 

Others were close enough to take hold of the goods that floated before them, oddly enough clothing and dated technology (antiquated sound equipment vs the digital of today), perhaps indicators of a misaligned trust in status (clothing) and dated technology (religious means)?  Even those who struggled to position themselves for either a suit of clothing or a piece of technology found that upon grasping their prize, the substance deteriorated within their hands, like old fabric damaged by heat and time.

 

What they had put their trust in was no longer sufficient provision, in fact many observing the process from afar, readily turned back to their own routine, communicating personal defeat, a challenge toward which they were too spent to ever try just once more!  This brings to mind the phenomenal national decrease in church attendance among both “Dones” (folks my age) and “Nones”, (see Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope’s “Church Refugees”) who vow never again to affiliate with the institutional church (IC), though still expressing deep spiritual convictions!

 

I must compliment my good friends, senior pastors and leaders at three of the larger worship facilities in Clemmons, all offering their sanctuaries to this family given the large draw anticipated.   Maybe this is a time for the faith community to revisit a collective calling to community?

 

Those who know me are aware of my tendency to call out the IC, yet this week, I saw an across the board desire for spiritual meaningfulness.  Brian McClaren was on point when he wrote “Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope” in 2007.  Perhaps we should have listened?  My book “Repo: The Church in Foreclosure”, 2009, less the scholarship but same message!

 

Brevity is a skill set I must work on, tenacity I have!  I cannot let this go!

 

My deepest, bone marrow-like emotion Wednesday morning was an awareness of a growing futility, that unless something changes in the way we go about spiritual nurturing and parenting within our most prosperous community, a generation of could be lost with the passing of my own.  Without spiritual moorings, the grim reaper is free to temp the youth of our village with choices that inevitably make real the  agony of “gaining the whole world and losing our own souls!”

 

Whether it be evidence of the famed Opioid Crisis, now made real in our Village or a providential moment where we come together to watch “all things work together for good”, I will #SpeakUpSpeakOut!

 

“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Corinthians 15:55-57 (KJV)

 

 

#SpeakUpSpeakOut

This morning’s thoughts seem to have transformational possibilities, such that I dare not let them slip me by. What a week, filled with every possible emotion it would seem, from a dear friend and fellow leader’s premature loss of a son, to an overwhelming demonstration of love within the small community that has for 21 years held my heart!

Ironically, given my life calling, the absence of a church body fully engaged with this family, afforded me opportunity to minister almost as if I had been called to the pastorate just for them. Then there was the need to secure a large sanctuary to accommodate the anticipated community and professional following of the family, uniquely and most generously provided as well, and in a way that reassured me of the role of the institutional church.

Then there was this morning’s dream!

I was awakened out of some color muted vortex of dry rotted clothing, commingled with last gen’s AV (not IT) technology; yet, everything appeared like new until touched. In fact, the clothing was still on racks, the technology as it were, displayed for marketing. Dated but still current enough that if salvaged could accomplish what in my heart I knew still needed to be done. Then there were people, adrift but all in the same flow, each aware of a groping need to return to something they had lost. The clothing perhaps symbolic of their materialism and the technology, their awareness of a need for better means to express their loss, to whatever audience they all seemed urgent to return.

Apparent by their bodily reaching back, they were knowingly adrift, yet continued as if seduced by this surplus of dry-rotted goods, which with each grasp, turned to powder like fabric that had been stored in hot attics for centuries. There was this sense of reaching forward, yet need for a 180 degree change in direction before all was lost. Yet, there seemed insufficient confidence to make that turn without ample dress and technology. I could see some returning empty handed, while other grasp at the decaying provision. Return to where, I still do not know!

I was one of those who kept encouraging them to grasp hold of their share of clothing and technology such that when they returned to whatever place we all knew we were headed, there would be ample means to get back into “life” as we had once been told existed.

The dream was so real that I was compelled to get out of bed at 3:30, much too early given my day, lest I too lose the significance of the dream. Was there an underlying spiritual message for me to deliver, was it critical to this moment and the community which I love? I began to pray for clarity but that simply cultivated a more compelling need to write.

I always turn on the coffee, check my messages, take out the dog, and check for the paper. A man of discipline (tongue in cheek); only after that sequence, am I free to either read or write.

Each time I venture down to my work station to write, I must pass by my small Wizard of Oz collection, a favorite childhood fantasy, that I must say has influenced my observation of senior pastors along the way! This morning I picked up a novelty book purchased as a gift from my daughter, inside the cover were these words “We’re not on the ground, Toto! We must be up inside…the cyclone.”

Serendipity would have Richard Rohr’s devotional (1), aligned first on my email messages for the night. I was jarred by the possibility, like Mike Pence, that the Lord might be speaking to me.

“The insights and experiences that enable us to make this shift may arise from grief for our world that contradicts illusions of the separate and isolated self. Or they may arise from breakthroughs in science, such as quantum physics and systems theory. Or we may find ourselves inspired by the wisdom traditions of native peoples and mystical voices in the major religions . . . that reminds us again that our world is a sacred whole in which we have a sacred mission.

Now, in our time, these three rivers—anguish for our world, scientific breakthroughs, and ancestral teachings—flow together. From the confluence of these rivers we drink. We awaken to what we once knew: we are alive in a living Earth, the source of all we are and can achieve. Despite our conditioning by the industrial society of the last two centuries, we want to name, once again, this world as holy.

These insights and experiences are necessary to free us from the grip of the Industrial Growth Society. They offer us nobler goals and deeper pleasures. They help us redefine our wealth and our worth. The reorganization of our perceptions liberates us from illusions about what we need to own and what our place is in the order of things. [Moved] beyond tired old notions of competitive individualism, we come home to each other and our mutual belonging in the living body of Earth.”(2)

This all seemed so spiritual, yet stood in stark contrast with what I was experiencing in the moment, as it is easy to see where this thing is going once our community settles back into its own version of everyday love. I no longer think I will be able to handle that.

All week long I have watched hundreds of zombie like teens try to sort out what adults refer to as the Opioid Epidemic, as if some virus had invaded our land. With each new drug related death, school shooting or teen suicide, there is the same response. First an exhausting blame placed on well-meaning politicians who have taken on the responsibility of parenting our nation by way of laws and less than adequate resources. Then, in order to remain in office sufficient time for their sincere attempts at transformational impact, they are weekly traumatized by the need to rationalize their way through a maze of values that ultimately influence their access to financial resources, values much more material than spiritual.

Meanwhile the churches face a similar dilemma, maintaining either decaying sanctuaries or less expensive contemporary facilities that require more smoke and mirrors than the Wizard, as the message once captured in stained glass artistry has been removed, if not along with it, the power once demonstrated within our belief system, other than their occasional medical or financial miracle. I must wonder if Jesus fully intended us to be so distracted by his miracles? Were they simply an inescapable manifestation of the love of God, occurring wherever He poured himself into community, and we have mistaken power as God’s message more so than love?

Then of course, where the real possibility of conveying any message of love exists, in our parenting, we have become so preoccupied with material possessions, that we tend to offer teen vulnerability up as our excuse when life falls apart. We then become religious, as we often do even with our pets, assuring each other that all is not lost and that we will see each other again one day, which I too believe. We then quickly return to making an economy work in a way so as to sustain a prosperity akin to this dryrotted cloth from which everything in my dream to include the people, seemed made of.

In my eulogy this past week I quoted Franz Kafka:

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book (perhaps in this case, my dream) must be the axe for the frozen sea within us..” (3)
As I near the end of my attempts to capture the dream, still one real image stands out: it was the teen that I saw multiple times during the week, always on the perimeter, not the most attractive, possibly even one who struggled with comfort food. She always had her cell phone in hand, as if awaiting a reassuring call, but neither did I see her engaged in conversations among the huddles of students nearby her, nor was the phone placed near her ear. She was alone, but at each event, almost like she was a part of the life of the deceased but not quite sure why she was there.

What is the meaning of all this for this 70 year old, sufficiently heeled financially that no longer should income stream be a distracter; professionally networked, religiously grounded, yet apparently starved spiritually given the impact of this week on my soul.

Who is God, what is love and why are people so open in moments like these. Why do we allow such true moments of community to become so episodic, lost in the dry rotted vortex of life, always groping for the next, yet longing to return to life as we know it, so soon after we lay to rest those whom we “love”?

#SpeakupSpeakOut

1 Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation From the Center for Action and Contemplation

2 Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown, Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to the Work that Reconnects (New Society Publishers: 2014), 4.

(3) Franz Kafka

Jars of Clay

 

Kitty Mize

This morning I felt compelled to write as I read through 2 Corinthians 4:7-16:

” But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.”  Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

This has been an interesting last few weeks for my wife and I as we care for a dear friend of 45 years, a non-relative for which we have been responsible since the unexpected death of her husband.

 

In the last few days we have witnessed and amazing, if not miraculous grace over take her life.  Her very personality has changed, not that she was a difficult person, but was quite “spunky”!  We have watched her prepare her self for transition, though none us know the day or the hour!  To witness the chambers of her soul, as we sit and listen to her pray is an amazing experience, having never seen evidence of her personal faith beyond church attendance, courtesy and kindness.  As my atheist friends attest, apart from church attendance, traits not uncommon to the non-religious.

 

This evident grace, now long awaited has caused significant introspection on my part as well as with my wife.  Yes, our own clay jars are becoming a little more cracked and marred,  more evident as Paul writes that this “all surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

 

What is meant by an all-surpassing power?  The ability to be “hard pressed on every side, but not be crushed” as this classic writing describes.  To love someone for 45 years, pray for them, serve them without awareness, beyond the neighborly accommodation of time, that any of it is making a true spiritual difference in their life!

 

Yet, this week we have watched a transformation, amid the frustrating haunt that perhaps we had made the wrong decision in the matter of health care for our dearly loved friend.  Now forever I will hold a memory in my bones of laying my hands on her unconscious body and praying that because of this all-surpassing power, I might on her behalf “remit sin”, as scripture affords us power to do!

 

Somehow this past week and now this morning’s scripture read, speaks volumes to me as to the benefit of not despairing but continuing to “carry around in our body (even for a lifetime) the death of Jesus”.  That is the reality that because of what He did, His life can shine through us with tangible evidence of benefit to others.  “Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are renewed day by day.”

 

“I believed; therefore I have spoken.”

Happy St. Valentine’s Day!!

Between Two Thieves

 

 

I cannot believe how long it has been since I have posted on my blog.  As well, how the thought of “two thieves” continues to incubate in my heart.  Is it a book, an insight to be shared or a message that I should continue to ponder privately?  I alluded to it once on a post but have never wrestled through it sufficient for it to leave my spirit.

 

Processing is how I spend a large majority of my time.  Probably secondary to that is reading the Scriptures, and the writings of others regarding that mysterious text.

 

Then of course the rest of my time is giving to living according to where my heart seems to be that day, as I move out into the workplace and among my family.  My family, such a gift and yet robbed it seems of so much life experience, having watched me wrestle between two thieves most of my life.

 

By now you must have had some idea of where the thought comes from?

 

“Two other men were also led out with Jesus to be killed. Both of them had broken the law. The soldiers brought them to the place called the Skull. There they nailed Jesus to the cross. He hung between the two criminals. One was on his right and one was on his left.  Jesus said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” The soldiers divided up his clothes by casting lots.

 

The people stood there watching. The rulers even made fun of Jesus. They said, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

 

The soldiers also came up and poked fun at him. They offered him wine vinegar. They said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

 

A written sign had been placed above him. It read,

this is the king of the jews.

One of the criminals hanging there made fun of Jesus. He said, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself! Save us!”

 

But the other criminal scolded him. “Don’t you have any respect for God?” he said. “Remember, you are under the same sentence of death. 41 We are being punished fairly. We are getting just what our actions call for. But this man hasn’t done anything wrong.”

 

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Luke 23:32-42 (NIRV):

 

I must however give credit where credit is due, for my first “aha!” occurred in a sanctuary on a Sunday morning as my good friend Allan Wright of Reynolda Presbyterian unpacked his own revelation about the conversation that occurred between three men, two guilty, while one suffered with a cause that drew both blasphemy from one and repentance from the other.

 

 

Then there is Richard Rohr, to some a heretic and to others a man of tremendous insight into the gospel, with little middle ground allowed!  “The image of the cross was to change humanity, not a necessary transaction to change God—as if God needed changing! Duns Scotus concluded that Jesus’ death was not a “penal substitution” but a divine epiphany for all to see. Jesus was pure gift. The idea of gift is much more transformative than necessity, payment, or transaction. It shows that God is not violent, but loving. It is we who are violent.”

 

It would seem that the lowly birth and tragic though prophetic, death of Jesus was God saying “flag on the field” to religion and the religious; His death, an answer to the punishment sin’s guilt demanded of the sinner, rather than a means of assuaging God’s wrath!  My concern is that even with the great scriptural contrast between who Jesus demonstrated God to be, alongside the wrathful One described in the Old Testament, we have preferred some combination of the two and devised doctrines to support that perception!

 

The mystery of scripture is not in the literal text but in its ability to capture the hearts of both man and God in a way such that an ongoing revelation is possible and probable to the one whose heart is open.

 

“Jesus was killed on the collision of cross-purposes, conflicting interests, and half-truths. The cross was the price Jesus paid for living in a “mixed” world that was both human and divine, simultaneously broken and utterly whole. He hung between a good thief and a bad thief, between heaven and earth, inside of both humanity and divinity, a male body with a feminine soul, utterly whole and yet utterly disfigured—all the primary opposites.” – Rohr 7/26/17

 

Today we set inside a nation so divided that our global image of hope and the American Dream becomes more tarnished almost daily.

 

At a recent conference represented by 10 nations, I was privileged to engage in a an elevator conversation with a first generation immigrant Venture Capitalist. He was very clear about his role in aiding those pouring into our country with ideas and dreams such that they are able to get “legs under their dream” as soon as possible, thus prepared for what he saw coming to this country.  This was a brief conversation as we descended 19 floors, but as he was leaving, in a very cold but caring way, as he sensed my desire to see our country transformed, he left me with these words: “250 years is not bad for a country, you guys have had a good run!”  I was dumbfounded by his calculated realism!

 

What brought us here?  Perhaps our willingness to accommodate division as a Church, Catholic-Protestant, Charismatic-Orthodox traditional; or maybe it was by design; left brained-right brained?  Could that have been the necessity of the Trinity Concept, three in one or three that are contained in a fourth, just now being dealt with in our both and conversations of the last 10-120 years?

 

Again I found it interesting in Rohr’s timing as he used the same words in a recent morning meditation: “the crucified one” always hangs between these two thieves — paying the price within himself just as we must do.”  For context I will include his entire paragraph:

 

“If we must have perfection to be happy with ourselves, we have only two choices. We can either blind ourselves to our own evil (and deny the weeds) or we can give up in discouragement (and deny the wheat). But if we put aside perfection and face the tension of having both, then we can hear the good news with open hearts. It takes uncommon humility to carry the dark side of things. It takes a kind of courage to carry the good side, too. Archetypically, “the crucified one” always hangs between these two thieves — paying the price within himself just as we must do. (See Luke 23:32–34; note Jesus forgives both thieves.)”

 

Our political divide, even though today it seems potentially insurmountable, is one of the healthy traits of democracy, as long as civility reigns and ego’s are contained; as well, the ability to separate personal agenda from prophetic calling, and religion from divine relationship.

 

The challenge of living and dying between two thieves is quite tedious and in a pluralistic society spiritual cannibalism also comes into play.

 

So much to unpack!

Shock and Awe

Matthews’ account of John the Baptist struck a chord with me this a.m. given the recent loss of an admired believer, though somewhat distant friend.  Our lives seem disposable when one who has been so diligent in the spread of the gospel is taken out by disease or disaster, especially as young as this friend was.  We just don’t see it coming, even with the much dreaded lingering torment of cancer.

 

I have to wonder what was going on in John’s mind as he sat there waiting for his cousin Jesus to bring solution to his guiltless imprisonment by the tyrant Herod.  Even Herod knew that this precursor of the Christ had done nothing wrong, other than calling whoredom what it was! I wonder if even John had a clue as to how far his prophetic life style would take him, in preparing the way for the God-man and members of his crew.

 

I can see John, somewhat relieved as the door to his cell was opened, thinking his cousin must have come through.  The horror and disbelief that must have momentarily been his as the guard swung his blade severing his head!  What a loss to humanity!

 

Jesus himself seems caught off guard; remember this God-man was fully man!  He “retreats to a solitary place.”  Yet still the crowds are there, and unlike so many of us, his compassion overcomes his grief and yes, perhaps even his disbelief, that God would let something like this occur.  Meanwhile, His disciples are of little help in the moment other than to scorn the crowd, directing Jesus to send them away so they can eat.  These privileged few were apparently more directed by their bellies than their hearts.  That would all change soon!

 

Whether truly hour by hour or simply the way it is recorded, one’s read of Mathew 14 moves swiftly forward, and I think for a reason.  The narrative that begins with a threatened Herod, stunned by what he hears of John the Baptist:”risen from the dead!  That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”   That of course is more religious folklore than reality, but between that and John’s accusation of his Brother Phillip’s wife, he had him locked up!

 

From that point an abrupt execution occurs, leaving his cousin Jesus stunned, yet in a way we cannot conceive, his grief is overcome by compassion and another God-moment occurs in the feeding of the 5000!   “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get in a boat” where they find themselves in a storm!  Unlike anything these former fisherman had evr seen, Jesus appears out on the water.  Their first guess: “It’s a ghost.”  Of course, that is followed by the famed story of Peter walking on the water!

 

How does all this relate, perhaps we are witnessing the shift of a spiritual mantle from John the Baptist to Peter,: though unlike John, Peter, when in prison will be greeted not by a guard with a sword, but an angel who unlocks the doors and leads him to a prayer meeting where he is greeted by some of  his old “ship mates” from that very storm, now cowering in disbelief, though praying for his release.

 

We are a strange bunch and God works in even more mysterious ways to continue his work when it is time for a mantle to shift!  Peter is now emboldened in a way not seen since John, and even more so, when the One whom John prophesied had in fact risen from the grave!  The Early Church is still alive, though our response to the ways of the Lord seems eerily the same, especially when we lose a warrior friend!

 

Rest in Peace Caroline Leinbach Woo!