Second Wednesday in Advent

"The Holy Thing" by Bruce Manwaring
“The Holy Thing” by Bruce Manwaring

“Everyone should open their heart very wide to joy, should welcome it and let it be buried very deeply in them; and they should wait the flowering with patience. Of course, the first ecstasy will pass, but because in real joy Christ grows in us, the time will come when joy will put forth shoots and the richness and sweetness of the person who rejoiced will be Christ’s flowering.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, ‘Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.’”Luke 1:26-28

The eight-day Jewish “Festival of Lights” called Hanukkah starts next week. It commemorates the victory of the Maccabees in reclaiming the temple in Jerusalem’s from the Greek-Syrian ruler Antiochus IV. As the people prepared to dedicate the temple, they realized they only had enough purified oil to kindle the menorah for a single day. Miraculously, the light continued to burn for eight days. Each evening of Hanukkah one more menorah candle is lit with a special blessing. The candles are not to be “used” for light, but only for enjoyment, savoring their beauty.

“We will prevail through the dark night,” sings Rabbi Shefa Gold in her Hanukkah song from Zechariah, “but not by might, and not by power, but by Your Spirit. These are the words of God.”

Jewish midrash tells an interesting story on how the first menorah was made. Apparently, Moses had a difficulty remembering God’s instructions on menorah making. Every time Moses left the mountain he would forget the pattern, so God engraved the design into the flesh of Moses palm. Torah scholar Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg says that after this experience Moses’ hands took on new power. Later, when Moses instructs Joshua to lead the Israelite force against Amalek, Moses does not direct with his staff but only his open hands. “In this gesture, according to one midrash,” writes Zornberg, “ Moses models prayer to his people fighting below. In a surrealistic description, their involvement in battle is refigured as a miming of Moses’ prayerful gestures: ‘they saw Moses kneeling down, and they knelt down, falling upon his face and they fell upon their faces, spreading their hands to heaven.’” Whenever the people modeled Moses, they prevailed.

What a powerful image of nonviolent resistance! In the midst of a battle, all the Israelites knelt down to pray as Moses instructed them. “As long as the Israelites gazed upwards and submitted their hearts to God in heaven, they would prevail,” says the Mishna Rosh Hashana, “and if not, they would fail.”

What healing of the masculine to you need in your life?

Ad … vent. A d v e n t (slowly breathe in on the “Ad” part and out on the “vent” part)…There! You prayed today. Keep it up!

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

Jubilee, Mt. Sinai, Humility, and Pride

Parshat Behar begins: “G-d spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai . . .” There is a well-known Midrash that explains that Mount Sinai was the lowest of all the mountains, and so G-d chose it to teach us a lesson in humility: If you want to be a vessel for the Torah, you must feel yourself to be lowly and humble.

This, however, leads to the question: If G-d wanted to teach us a lesson in humility, why give the Torah on a mountain in the first place? Wouldn’t a valley be a better representation of humility?

The answer is that we need both: the greatness of a mountain, but the humility of Sinai.

This dichotomy is expressed beautifully in the Parshah itself.

One of the main mitzvahs featured in the Parshah is the Yovel (Jubilee). Every 50 years, the figurative reset button is pressed. All Jewish slaves are set free, and all land that was sold since the previous Yovel is automatically returned to its original owners.

What is the point behind this reset? Why did the Torah institute such a mechanism, where all transactions become undone and everything reverts back to its original status? … —Sholom Kesselman (www.chabad.org)

Read the rest of the story.

Charles E. Jefferson: ‘Woe to you military experts, blind guides’

One hundred years ago today, on April 6, 1917, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to go to war against Germany and the U.S. officially entered World War I. This evening the U.S. president launched missile strikes from navy warships in the Mediterranean Sea on the airbases of the Syrian government in retaliation for the Syrian president using chemical weapons, likely using sarin gas, on civilians two days ago. Despite the Hague Declaration of 1899 and the Hague Convention of 1907, which forbade the use of “poison or poisoned weapons” in warfare, more than 124,000 tons of gas were produced by the end of World War I.

Below is an excerpt from What the War is Teaching, a collection of addresses given by Rev. Charles E. Jefferson at Ohio Wesleyan University in 1916:

“This then is the work of the Christian minister in the present world crisis. He must resist with every ounce of his strength the power of the military experts. Jesus met the hierarchy of his day without flinching. His followers must do the same. Let ministers and laymen all say:

‘Woe to you, military experts, blind guides. You bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne upon men’s shoulder’s, and you do not move them with one of your fingers.

‘Woe unto you, military experts, blind guides, you shut up the kingdom of God against nations, and you open up the empire of suspicion and fear and hate; nations are feeling after righteousness and peace and joy, and you block their way.

‘Woe unto you, military experts, blind guides, you devour widows’ houses and other women’s houses and men’s houses, you devour the proceeds of industry, and the resources of nations, you devour the money which might be spent on social uplift and for the fighting of the evils which sap the life of mankind.

‘Blind guides and fools, you work everlastingly on the outside of the cup and the platter and turn men’s attention away from that which lies within. You talk unceasingly about the material defenses, fortifications made of concrete and steel and neglect those interior and spiritual defenses without which a nation is doomed ….’”–Charles Edward Jefferson, What the War is Teaching (1916)

Charles Edward Jefferson was born in Cambridge, Ohio, on August 29, 1860. He attended Ohio Wesleyan University. He was ordained by the Congregational Council in Chelsea, MA, September 29, 1887. He found a home as pastor of the Broadway Tabernacle Church in New York City from 1898 to 1929, then was honorary pastor from 1929 until his death in 1937. His writings are archived at the Congregational Library and Archives in Boston.

Trump’s Museum Christianity vs Jesus’ Inflammatory Gospel

11-jesus-donaldIn a 2012 CBN interview, Trump said fans often send him Bibles. He keeps every one of them “in a very nice place,” he said.

“There’s no way I would ever throw anything, to do anything negative to a Bible,” Trump said. “I would have a fear of doing something other than very positive, so actually I store them and keep them and sometimes give them away to other people but I do get sent a lot of Bibles and I like that. I think that’s great.”

versus

Matthew 10:34: “Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy. I’ve come to cut—make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law—cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God.” (The Message translation)

Which one will you follow–Trump or Jesus?

Hot Off the Press! Reinhabiting Bioregional Faith and Practice

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The book is out! Great work by the one of the most innovative Christian movements today. How do we bear forward the gospel at the end of the Anthropocene? Love the watershed you’re with (to paraphrase Crosby, Stills, and Nash).

Order lots of these books here.

My poem “Prophecies from the Watershed Conspiracy” is included in the foreword, along with an essay by  Denise Marie Nadeau, a French and Mi’kmaq Canadian and dance movement therapist, who has made the Nibi ceremony for the protection of water.

This collection introduces and explores “watershed discipleship” as a critical, contextual, and constructive approach to ecological theology and practice, and features emerging voices from a generation that has grown up under the shadow of climate catastrophe.

Watershed Discipleship is a “triple entendre” that recognizes we are in a watershed historical moment of crisis, focuses on our intrinsically bioregional locus as followers of Jesus, and urges us to become disciples of our watersheds.

Bibliographic framing essays by Myers trace his journey into a bioregionalist Christian faith and practice and offer refections on incarnational theology, hermeneutics, and ecclesiology. The essays feature more than a dozen activists, educators, and practitioners under the age of forty, whose work and witness attest to a growing movement of resistance and reimagination across North America.

Contributors reread both biblical texts and churchly practices (such as mission, baptism, and liturgy) through the lens of “re-place-ment.” It’s a comprehensive and engaged call for a “Transition church” that can help turn our history around toward environmental resiliency and social justice, by passionate advocates on the front lines of watershed discipleship.

Order lots of these books here.

Video: One-Hour Bible Study on Gay Christians in the Church

Matthew Vines speaks on the theological debate regarding the Bible and the role of gay Christians in the church. Delivered at College Hill United Methodist Church in Wichita, Kansas on March 8, 2012. A one-hour bible study on homosexuality and the Bible. Matthew Vines looks at 6 critical scripture verses. Well worth the time. The transcript is also available.

“In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul writes about marriage and celibacy. He was celibate himself, and he says that he wishes that everyone else could be celibate as well. But, he says, each person has their own gift. For Paul, celibacy is a spiritual gift, and one that he realizes that many Christians don’t have. However, because many of them lack the gift of celibacy, Paul observes that sexual immorality is rampant. And so he prescribes marriage as a kind of remedy or protection against sexual sin for Christians who lack the gift of celibacy. “It is better to marry than to burn with passion,” he says. And today, the vast majority of Christians do not sense either the gift of celibacy or the call to it. This is true for both straight and gay Christians. And so if the remedy against sexual sin for straight Christians is marriage, why should the remedy for gay Christians not be the same?”–Matthew Vines, The Gay Debate

“If you are uncomfortable with the idea of two men or two women in love, if you are dead-set against that idea, then I am asking you to try to see things differently for my sake, even if it makes you uncomfortable. I’m asking you to ask yourself this: How deeply do you care about your family? How deeply do you love your spouse? And how tenaciously would you fight for them if they were ever in danger or in harm’s way? That is how deeply you should care, and that is how tenaciously you should fight, for the very same things for my life, because they matter just as much to me. Gay people should be a treasured part of our families and our communities, and the truly Christian response to them is acceptance, support, and love.”–Matthew Vines, The Gay Debate

In the Wake of Japan Disaster, Must We Accept Nuclear Power?

The U.S. Navy reported today that it had detected low levels of airborne radiation at the Yokosuka and Atsugi bases, about 200 miles to the north of the Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactors. They are moving ships out of range.

“While there was no danger to the public, Commander, Naval Forces Japan recommended limited precautionary measures for personnel and their families on Fleet Activities Yokosuka and Naval Air Facility Atsugi, including limiting outdoor activities and securing external ventilation systems as much as practical,” a statement said. “These measures are strictly precautionary in nature. We do not expect that any United States Federal radiation exposure limits will be exceeded even if no precautionary measures are taken,” it added.

News reports, scientists, nuclear energy corporate officials, and government spokespersons are reiterating that the nuclear reactor meltdown in Fukushima, Japan, is not like Chernobyl. It’s more like Three Mile Island. Apparently, this is supposed to allay public concern.

For anyone who lived down-wind of the Three Mile Island reactor when the radioactive core was breached on March 28, 1979, this news is anything but comforting. (Read “In the Valley of the Shadow: Ten Years after the Accident at Three Mile Island” by Joyce Hollyday.)

The arguments made by the nuclear industry today are that huge improvements have been made in the safety and efficiency of nuclear energy production — much of which is true. But the nuclear corporations still have no answer to radioactive waste or the multi-generational devastation to all living creatures when the unforeseeable occurs — as has happened in Japan.

Below, Sojourners reprints a commentary by Vince Books written at the time of the Three Mile Island disaster. Vince actually worked on the construction crew of the plant and eventually became a committed advocate against nuclear power:

The Metropolitan Edison Company (Met-Ed) is proud. Proud of progress on that island. Proud to be helping to solve America’s energy problems. And proud to be splitting atoms, heating water, forcing steam, turning generators, and producing electricity. It is, however, Met-Ed’s other contributions that will long be remembered. These include iodine 131, cesium 137, strontium 90, and plutonium, to be followed perhaps by an assortment of cancers and birth defects. Met-Ed is leaving more than footprints on the sands of time.

The residents of central Pennsylvania are sleeping. Or at least they were when something went terribly wrong out there on Three Mile Island. It was 4 a.m. March 28, 1979. There was a mal-function in the secondary cooling system of Unit 2. More malfunctions followed, and the trouble was compounded by what appeared to be human error. Inside the four-foot thick concrete walls of the containment building the Unit 2 reactor was heating up and beginning to destroy its fuel. A plume of radioactive gas was released. The wind was blowing north. Continue reading “In the Wake of Japan Disaster, Must We Accept Nuclear Power?”

Abbot Philip: ‘Believing without acting on the belief is not belief’

Chapel at Christ in the Desert monastery

The good monks at at Christ in the Desert monastery in Abiquiu, New Mexico, emails Abbot Philip’s weekly sermon. I especially appreciated his thoughts from Sunday, Feb 27. If you ever have a chance to visit them, please do. And donate to their life and ministry.

“Moses told the people:  “Take these words of mine into your heart and soul.” – from Deuteronomy 11:18,26-28,32

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” … – from Matthew 7:21-27

There is a contrast given to us today between the person who takes the word of God into his or her heart and soul and acts on it and the person who simply speaks the word of God but does not live it.  In our hearts there is the struggle to do God’s word faithfully. The first reading today, from the Book of Deuteronomy, puts so eloquently what God wants of us:  Take these words of mine into your heart and soul.

The author of this book goes on to give us some tips about how to remember these words so that we can take them into our heart and soul.  He tells us to bind them on our wrists and put them on our foreheads. In our present day secular culture, people often put notes on their computers or on their doors or on their mirrors.  This reading raises in us the question of how we try to remember the word of God and bring it fully into our hearts and our souls.

The Letter to the Romans, from which comes our second reading (Romans 3:21-25, 28), puts its focus on faith:  we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.  We could ask a question very similar to one that Jesus poses elsewhere:  who has faith?  The one who does the works of faith or the one who only speaks about it?  The Gospel of Matthew today also poses this same question about belief.

The Gospel tells us that doing mighty works is not enough.  Even doing mighty works in the name of the Lord is not enough.  We must believe from our heart and soul.  So today we are invited to become followers of Christ in a totally committed way, both believing and doing.  Doing, by itself, is no good.

Believing without acting on the belief is not belief.  Let us believe and do! —Abbot Philip, OSB

Where Do You Read the Bible?

St. Mary's Nashville www.justinwrightphoto.com

A shout out to John Deacon over at A Visitor’s Guide to the Homeless for clipping my Sojourners’ column Loving the World. Here’s a nice quote from John’s site:

“Exegesis is the exercise of studying the scriptures with the intent of finding their original meaning and context. It is to interpret based on what the writer would have meant rather than to interpret based on what the reader subjectively ‘reads into’ the text. (i.e. ‘eisegesis)

Hermeneutics is the meaning a community finds in scripture which becomes evident in the way they live. As I reflected back on this morning’s study, I thought of how context does affect how the Bible is understood. How much closer we are to its original meaning (i.e. exegesis)  when we are among people for whom ‘imprisonment’ is something more than merely imagined (i.e. eisegesis). Which hermeneutically speaking, means we can’t experience the real meaning of the scriptures without the poor.” —John Deacon

Joan Chittister on Biblical Women Leaders

In the run-up to the Sept. 26 “Sunday Without Women,” here’s an excerpt from Benedictine leader Joan Chittister on the power of women in the Bible.

Finding role models to live by in Scripture, if you are a woman, is slim picking. I spent a fair amount of my young life looking for them, in fact. I heard a great deal in church and school about the kings, Solomon and David. They taught us about the faithful ones like Job and Joseph, for instance, who, despite their sufferings, never cursed God. But they said precious little, hardly a word, about women. Except about Delilah, of course, who had tempted Samson, leading to his ruin, and about Eve, who had tempted Adam and left us all in ruin.

Such teaching left girls with very male images of what it meant to be loved by God, or “made in the image” of God. Abraham and Moses and any number of men–such as Noah, Jacob, Daniel, Isaac, Joshua, and Isaiah, to name a few–had been entrusted with the work of God. But you didn’t hear much about women at all, except, of course, for Mary, “the mother of God,” who was clearly too exalted, too divinized to be a real model for real women. Women, it seemed, were also-rans where the work of salvation was concerned.

It takes years for a woman to realize how effective, how distorting, that exclusion can be to a woman’s sense of herself before God. What had become clear to me, over the years, is that men got us to heaven; women went along. Men were the doers of God’s will; women were everybody’s “helpmates,” but never their leaders. Women, in fact, were seldom or never the carriers of the vision. They were almost never the speaker of God’s word. I admit to being disappointed by it all.

As a result, I did what most girls did. I looked to male figures and male saints and male spiritual leaders, for direction, for the interpretation of what, if anything, God expected of me in life. But somehow or other, little or none of it fit. Worse, all of it reminded me of a woman’s secondary status, even where God was concerned. There was something not right about that.

Then, one day, I discovered, almost by accident, the books of Ruth and Judith – two women who were strong leaders and committed followers of the Word of God. But these books had never been read in my church. I had never heard anyone even preach a sermon on them. I never saw any pictures of these two women hanging anywhere on sacred territory. But there were their stories, full and entire, right in the middle of the Bible. They were not pieces of religious fancy. These were, the priest told me, solemnly, “the Word of God.” Suddenly, things began to change.

If anything in Scripture prepares us for the Jesus who walked with women, taught women, and commissioned women, these stories are surely it. They prepare us to see, if only we will open our eyes, the place and power of women in the Work of God. They enable us to realize the message of redemptive presence that comes through the stories of the women around Jesus–Mary, Mary Magdalene, the Samaritan woman, the woman in the house of the Pharisees and all the women of all the house churches in the New Testament.

The books of Ruth and Judith are signs to us all. They are signs to men of the ministry, that they must share equally with women. They are signs to women of the ministry, for which they, too, must take clear and conscious responsibility, knowing, indeed, that God is with them, in them, calling them on, as witnesses, ministers and leaders–for all our sakes.–Joan Chittister, OSB

From Joan Chittister’s introduction to the book Judith and Ruth (Darton, Longman, and Todd, 2010)