Saturday, February 24, 2018
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Each year I develop a soundtrack for Lent titled, Modern Psalms for the Lenten Journey. Usually they are weekly songs from varied contemporary artists, which I post here and pair with a biblical text. This year, I may only need a single album.
“The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place,” by Explosions in the Sky.*
Purely an instrumental album, each piece moves between haunting and hopeful, mysterious and soul stirring. Even the track titles bear a sacred significance, seemingly liturgical in label.
And the best part, there are no words. Because the condition of the world in the twenty-first century is in need of something more than lyrics and nuanced rhetoric. Words serve a place, especially when put to paper in efforts to organize communities, draft legislation, lobby for signatures, cry out in prayer, and call neighbors near and far to action on behalf of our most vulnerable neighbors. But our words are not enough, we need another kind of rhythm to move our souls and bodies, to link arms for causes that demand safety in our schools, enhanced legislation related to the reduction of access to firearms, fair economics, disrupted pipelines to prison, dismantled systems and institutions fueled by racism, universal provision of healthcare, gender equality, hospitality extended to immigrants and refugees, the end of sexual assault and harassment- especially in the workplace, and the stymying of wars started and sustained to pad the pockets of the 1%.
The list could go on and on related to aspirations for social jubilee…but that’s where I put on this album to center my spirit and imagination, to draw me into the Lenten story for the next 40 days. It forces me to move beyond the limits of language and towards something and Someone completely Other. Still more, I am reminded that amidst all that is wrong with the world- and there is so much that is so very wrong- this planet is still that which God so loves. So it cannot be purely a cold, dead place. There is beauty to be found if we have the eyes to see and the ears to ear. And this beauty just may be the Spirit’s nudging us to press on in our work and witness as those called out of dust and towards resurrection hope.
Paralleled Biblical Text for this Album: Genesis 1 (The Full Creation Story)
*I first discovered this album as a part of Rob Bell’s interview of a former seminary classmate of mine, Caleb Wilde, who wrote a book, Confessions of a Funeral Director. A collection of anecdotes that explores the sacred amidst death and dying, this book also makes for a great Lenten read. The podcast is fantastic, too.
Friday, January 12, 2018
The lectionary strikes again.
As if we needed another affirmation that the Spirit is always a step ahead of the foolishness of the powers that be and the chaos we create as a civilization, this Sunday’s Gospel lesson ponders the possibility of goodness, even the incarnation of God, coming from a place written off by prejudice and ignorance.
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
This is the knee jerk response of Nathaniel, one of the earliest disciples. Nathaniel was a fervent student of the Hebrew Scriptures and was waiting for God to act in a definitive way. When he finds out God has indeed acted and in a place like Nazareth, he dismisses the possibility. He reduces Nazareth and the people who call the place home to less than capable of bearing the fullness of the image of God.
It would be an overreach to make a direct parallel to Thursday's comments made by the president in the midst of bipartisan immigration talks, equating countries throughout the continent of Africa and Haiti as a $#!^hole. Frankly, there are few comparisons to this sort of insensitivity, bigotry, bravado, and ethnocentric and racial hate. There is no place for this kind of rhetoric, let alone the White House. The remarks of 45 presumes the absence of goodness in parts of the world and among beautiful people who have been making brilliant contributions in all aspects of human life for much longer than the United States. Lest we forget, this nation was (forcefully and oppressively) built on the backs of those from the very parts of the world targeted by these slanderous remarks.
If any nation’s present and past would be worthy of comparison to fecal depositories...
But I digress.
The very incarnation of Christ, especially in a place like Nazareth and in the region of Galilee, is yet another attestation to God’s preferential option for those on the margins. It could be said, God has a fondness for those who live in cities and neighborhoods, rural communities and distant nations who have been written off as $#!^holes. Even more, God putting on the skin of one from Nazareth affirms the goodness of the bodies, culture, and heritage of those Nathaniel (or anyone) initiailly deemed unworthy.
I have always wondered about the real relationship of Nathaniel with Nazareth and its residents. Had he been there? Did he know anyone, as in genuine human interactions with, those who called that northern part of Israel home? Was his opinion rooted in a real experience or merely perpetuations of racial-ethnic stereotypes? I wonder because Philip’s response to his minimization is, “come and see.”
What I have loved about the fall out from the president’s bigotry has been the way both ordinary citizens and those in the media have elevated their relationship with individuals from both African nations and Haiti. Instead of retaliating with varied metaphors aimed at the one who spoke such repulsive words, many have spent their energies to elevate the dignity of their Haitian and African neighbors, friends, spouses, children, community leaders, educators, artists, and activists who trump $#!^hole status. I could add my own personal anecdotes to these litanies of friendship and love, which mirror Philip as they invite us to come and see the goodness and wholeness in those slandered and shamed.
It is a twist of irony that these words were spoken on the cusp of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, this being fifty years after his assassination. As if we needed another reminder, the dream has yet to be fulfilled and much work is still to be done as it pertains to dismantling the divisiveness of our nation and stymie hatred that still occupies prime seats at tables of power and privilege.
And so our call, in such a time as this as with every age, is to be Philip. We are to be those who invite others, especially our children, to come and see the alternative we know to be true about where and how God is being incarnated in those all-too-frequently written off and dismissed as less than good (and worse). We are to be those who point to the beauty and brilliance, wholeness and hope, joy and generosity, courage and faith of those targeted by hate, victimized by injustice, and reduced to vile imageries of offense and ignorance. These are the places where we encounter the holy traffic between heaven and earth, the greater things of which Jesus spoke (John 2:50-51),
"Come and see,” Philip said.
I pray we do just that, no only this weekend, but also and especially every day that follows. After all, real human relationships and incarnations of diverse human fellowship are a primary way we, as both church and broader society, can overcome the excrement coming from the mouths and policies, twitter feeds and backroom conversations of those in power.
Monday, January 8, 2018
Given today is the first Sunday after Epiphany, it is only appropriate to share of my recent experience as a wondrous traveler in search of a great mystery…in IKEA. The treasure in pursuit was Minde, the product name for the full-length mirror I was to pick up when there to purchase our table, Jokkmokk. I traveled from the East, or Mt. Airy, to the town of Plymouth Meeting, where the light in the sky led me to the sacred Swedish home decor store. I went there for what I assumed would be a 15-minute stop.
I walked into the marketplace, determined that I would find what I needed rather quickly. And I did find Jokkmokk. But I still needed Minde. I asked the nearest salesperson who pointed me to the show room, where I could see a number of mirrors and even other tables, if I’d like.
I walked into the showroom and immediately was overwhelmed but still committed. So I began to follow, not a star in the sky, but arrows on the floor that weaved me through the endless display rooms like a hamster in a glass-covered maze. And there was only one route, or so I thought- follow the arrows. And Minde, according to the next nearest salesperson, was at the end of the route.
Needless to say, 45 minutes later, I found Minde, placed on my shopping cart with those 360 degree wheels that made me feel as though I was traveling on ice in bowling shoes, and headed for the checkout. I had overcome, but I was spent. I didn’t know the journey for such a simple item would be so complicated. It was supposed to be simple, quick, and easy.
The story of Epiphany begins with what appears to be a harmless and holy venture of three Magi from the eastern lands following a route prescribed by a single star in the heavens. While we are accustomed to hearing the first half of the Epiphany story and all the imagery fitting for a seasonal carol, the latter portion is far from what you would want for a holiday jingle for the last day of Christmas. This may be why the prescribed reading in today’s lectionary cuts the narrative short,* leaving off the aftermath of the Magi's thwarting of Herod's orders.
Yet today’s gospel story must be engaged in its fullness. Much like an IKEA marketplace, we cannot shortcut our way through; we have to weave through it all. Ok, for those seasoned IKEA veterans, maybe you can, but then you miss so much that’s on display. So, too, you cannot begin to understand the fullness of epiphany if you stop with the Magi returning home and tuck under a Swedish rug what happened in the verses that followed. So we won’t do that. Instead, we will briefly engage the full story by way of the common thread throughout Matthew’s Epiphany story: unsettling dreams.