This is a blog that I post to several times a week although not necessarily daily. These reflections are triggered by the scripture found in the lectionary used by many Christian denominations. While I am part of the Catholic tradition, these posts are not --or rarely--sectarian. I try to put myself in the space of a of Jesus Christ and listen to words that come to me as I read and pray the scriptures. Each post also includes a photograph. These rarely have any connection to the content of the post but are simply pleasing images that I capture as I make my pilgrimage through life.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Desires of the flesh...There are a lot more than I think.

Bee on fading hydrangea
"...put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh."  Romans 13:14
As we begin the new liturgical year, we are confronted with these rather stark words from St. Paul.  Taken out of literary and cultural context, these words can easily be understood as referring to sins that have to do with the body.  In fact, in the immediately preceding verse, Paul warns against "orgies and drunkenness... [and] promiscuity and licentiousness."  In my early religious formation, these were exactly the issues, sins that had to do with the body and especially sins of a sexual nature.  As an adolescent, these were really the only sins that concerned me.  My spiritual life consisted in sequentially failed attempts to avoid sexual thoughts and actions.  These and similar verses and the re-enforcement of teachers made it seem that abuse of alcohol and sexual sins were the key issues.  If one could avoid these, then one was or could lead a life consistent with the teachings of Jesus.

As a seventy five year old non-drinker, I would seem to be an exemplary Christian.  Somehow it doesn't seem right that the ravages of time and nature should be the key to living the life of a disciple of the Savior.  There must be more...and indeed there is.  That list of behaviors I quoted above actually contains two more:  "rivalry and jealousy."  Wait a minute.  Maybe jealousy but rivalry?  Two other translations use "quarreling" and "bickering."  How can these be sins on the same order as all those bodily ones, the real "sins of the flesh?"  There must be some other meaning lurking here.

"Sins of the flesh" or "desires of the flesh" is a term used often by Paul.  The key to understanding is the meaning of "flesh."  In the thought world of Paul, flesh referred to the totality of human nature.  We can hear a reminiscence of that in our use of "flesh and blood."  "Sins of the flesh" are "sins of human nature."  Left to our own devices, we desire to please ourselves, to advantage ourselves vis a vis others.  As Americans we typically see nothing wrong with competition.  In fact, to us it is the essence of achievement and effectiveness.  This is the way of the world, the way of human nature, the way of flesh.

Jesus preached a better way, the way of the Spirit.  Through the action of the Spirit, we are called to become new beings in Christ.  
"To put on Christ" is a way that Paul expressed this.  When we do this, we are called to live lives that are not oriented around the desires of human nature but the desires of the spirit.  In many places, Paul enumerates what those desires might be when he describes a life animated by the love at the core of the Christian calling.  "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."  1 Cor 13:4-7
We avoid the "desires of the flesh" by living a life animated by love.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

A reflection on a reflection

Taliesin West
They will look upon his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever.  Revelation 22:4-5
These words from the closing verses of the book of Revelation are a summary of the vocation of those who seek to follow Jesus and his teachings about a way of life.  In ancient times the forehead was the site of intelligence and insight.  The Third Eye is an example.  To have the Divine One's name imprinted on one's forehead meant that one belonged to the Divine One in a powerful and deep way.

The Divine One's "name" is another way of saying "identity."  To have the Divine One's very identity imprinted on the site of one's own identity and sight expressed an intertwining of identities.  It is another way of saying that the Divine One is in me and I am in the Divine One in a mysterious but powerful way.  That is the reality that Jesus taught when he spoke of the vine and the branches.

The Message, as it usually does, adds meaning in the way it translates that passage.
they’ll look on his face, their foreheads mirroring God. 
This is a lovely and striking image.  As I gaze at the luminous face of the Divine One, that face is reflected in my forehead, my identity.  In a strange way, I begin to see as the Divine One sees and that changes everything.  As I go through my daily life, I reflect the Divine One in my interactions with the world and all those in it.  It can, of course, be otherwise.  If I do not gaze on the Divine face but the faces of my idols, I will reflect all the dysfunction, self-centeredness, and venality which they inflict on my life.

But where and how can I possibly see the Divine face?  It can only be in prayer, the prayer of presence and stillness.  If i start my day in meditation and contemplation as much as I am able and as much as the Divine One graces me, I am more able to carry that bright shining reality into my daily life.  I am called to be a reflection of the Divine One in every aspect of my life because it is only in such reflected reality that the Divine One is active in our world.

Friday, November 25, 2016

This world--my world--is passing away.

A glen in Mt. Hope Cemetery

"...know that the Kingdom of God is near.Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass awayuntil all these things have taken place.Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”  Luke 21:31-33
This quotation of Jesus comes as he is describing the signs of the end times with a key section on the destruction of Jerusalem.  That destruction by the Romans took place in 70 AD as the Roman siege of Jerusalem was completed with the destruction of the Temple which held a central place in the Jewish religion.  That was tantamount to the destruction of the world as the Jews knew and had known it.

So when Jesus says that this generation will see these end times, the easy explanation is to take it as referring to the destruction of the Temple, which indeed take place within the lifetime of the generation to which Jesus was speaking.  But what of us?  What does this passage mean to us, to me?

The consistent message of Jesus was that the Reign of the Divine One was near.  In fact, it was already here since it is within us.  The world will pass away and is constantly passing away.  Jesus cautioned against trying to predict the exact moment of the end times by reading the signs and symbols of the age.  He did this because it doesn't make any difference.  If the Reign of the Divine One is already here, so too must be the end times.  Where should my heart and soul be focused?  On the world that is passing away or the Reign of the Divine One that is within me and every other person and thing?

The answer is obvious.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

My Babylon will come to an end, sooner or later.

Tucson Botanical Garden
"And then they will see the Son of Mancoming in a cloud with power and great glory.But when these signs begin to happen,stand erect and raise your headsbecause your redemption is at hand.”  Luke 21:27-28
In this passage, Luke has Jesus talking about the destruction of Jerusalem with allusions to the end times of the world itself.  Everything that we rely on, understand, see and use will somehow pass away.  We will have great fear because we realize that with the world passing away, we are left to our own devices and those devices seem fundamentally inadequate for our life and well being.

This echoes the reading today from Revelation where the absolute destruction of Babylon is recounted and with it the coming of "one like the son of man" to take over the world.  When I read those words about Babylon, I am tempted to think of the earthly enemies of my own culture and society and that somehow the Divine One will prevail and hold my values victorious.  This would be a misreading since any earthly power is Babylon.  In a even more fundamental sense, my own existence in the world is my own personal Babylon:  my ego, my property, my knowledge, my reputation, my creations.  To the extent that I rely on those to provide me safety, security and justification, I am relying on powers that will pass away and leave me naked before the Divine One.  That will surely happen to me because that is death.

Sometimes I feel death is too present in my life.  As I experienced close friends and family members going through that final transition, I cannot help but think about my own transition.  As I see death and destruction throughout the world--along with much that is good as well--I think about the worlds of Jesus:  all this will come to an end.  And when that begins to happen to me, I am called to "stand erect and raise my head because my redemption is at hand."

Monday, November 21, 2016

I am to give it my all

Ice sculpture from Mom's birthday party
“I tell you truly,this poor widow put in more than all the rest;for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth,but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.” Luke 21:3-4
It almost goes without saying that this little story has nothing to do with financial contributions to a church.  The macro context of the teachings of Jesus have nothing to do with financial contributions.  His teachings all describe a way of life that leads to life ever lasting.

The message here is simple but difficult.  I am called to live my whole life--every bit of it, nothing held back--in the way Jesus taught.  Whether in public or in private, in family relationships or friendships, in drudgery or creative activity, in sorrow or in joy, in prosperity or poverty, I am to live wholeheartedly the life of one who seeks and live in union with Jesus the Messiah of the Divine One.

The widow in the story commits everything she has and is.  Jesus asks no less of us, not in a financial sense but in an existential sense.  Another saying of Jesus sums this up with a rather stark saying:  Love your enemies!

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." Luke 6:27-28
Most of the time, I think I might prefer to write a check, even a big one, rather than have to do that.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Today paradise...and every day!

Market in Tubac AZ
“Amen, I say to you,today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43
Luke's is the only gospel to include these words which conclude the story about the two thieves crucified with Jesus.  One ridiculed Jesus as being unable to save himself and them while the second defends Jesus and asks to be included in his kingdom.  Jesus' words are directed to him but really to us.  Stories and words get included in the scripture because they have meaning for us, those who follow in the footsteps of Jesus even thousands of years later.

Too often I think about life after death as being something totally different from life now, and of course it is in many ways.  But there is a fundamental reality that carries on and through death.  My incorporation into the very being (body) of Jesus is that fundamental reality.

I think Jesus could have said, "today you are with me in Paradise."  Or he could have said, "today you are with me."  Or he could have said, "today you are in Paradise."  Or he could have said, "today you will be with me."  All these carry the same meaning.  What is Paradise anyway?  It is being with, incorporated into, Jesus in a way that changes our life today and continues on through and after our death.  "Being with Jesus" and "being in Paradise" are equivalent expressions.  They each define the other.

This is not something that is offered to some but to all.  The extent to which I accept that invitation and enter into that reality determines the extent of my relationship.  Prayer for me is best understood as being with the Divine One and Jesus the image of the Divine One in a way that deepens that relationship and changes my life.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

We are destined for everlasting life.

Apples at Hurd Orchard
"He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel...." 2 Timothy 1:9-10
Here is the revelation by Jesus Christ that changes everything.  We do not die even though we die.  But we do die.  In fact, we have to die in order to enter into that everlasting life within the life of the Divine One, the Trinity.  The Christian believes against any evidence to the contrary that life we experience now is both real and incomplete.  There is something else at work in us, something that we do not deserve or earn but which is freely given to us by the Divine One.

This underlying spirit of life is not given to just few but to all.  I have struggled my whole life--and will continue to I am sure--to understand or just to accept that and to live my life out of that belief.  In my best moments I can realize that this reality puts everything in life in a different perspective.  All the things I worry about--health, security, acceptance, knowledge--are not ultimate realities for me.   They are important but not ultimate.  In the end, we all die and are raised to eternal life.  Help me to live my life out of that reality.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

We are a nation of priests to rule over the earth...really?

Sunset light in Sabino Canyon out Tucson

“Worthy are you to receive the scrolland break open its seals,for you were slain and with your Blood you purchased for Godthose from every tribe and tongue, people and nation.You made them a kingdom and priests for our God,and they will reign on earth.”  Revelation 5:9-10
The daily readings continue with passages from Revelation with its poetic and hard to understand verses.  The above is the song that those surrounding the throne of the Divine One sing to the slain Lamb who has "purchased" us from"every tribe and tongue, people and nation."  We have been transformed by the blood of Jesus into priests, a holy people.  Further we are called to reign on or over the earth.

One understanding of these verses can easily lead to a conflation of religion and political power with all tis toxicity.  Examples abound:  Medieval Christianity, Islam, Israel.  The framers of the United States constitution may not have been deeply religious but they clearly understood the dangers of combining religious belief with the coercive power of the state.  They sought to definitively separate these two realms.  There should be no intrusion by the state into the religious realm and at the same time there should be no intrusion of religion into the government realm.  No matter how problematic this division might be in practice, it is clearly one of the enduring commitments of contemporary, developed life.  What we gain from this separation is much more valuable than any losses.  When the coercive force of government is used to enforce religious belief or morals, we all lose something of highest valuable.

But, of course, when we look at the macro context of the teachings of Jesus and the writers of the other books of the New Testament, it is clear that this passage cannot refer to setting up a kingdom or government ordained somehow by the Divine One.  Jesus had strong words for the dysfunctions of government and society and of religion.  Whenever these moved away from concern for the marginalized, they were strongly rebuked:  institutions, their leaders and individual adherents.

We are called to be a holy people, made holy by the working of the spirit of the Divine One in us individually and together.  This life will, almost by necessity, be in conflict with the way of the world.  We are not called to take over the world and reform it through a divinely established secular state, but we are called to do the will of the Divine One, to love the Divine One and to love all people and things as we would like to be loved, as Jesus loved those he lived with.

We do live in a new reign that exists along side of, within, underneath and all around the world as we experience it.  It is that new reign that leads to life eternal which we experience fully in our final and complete union with the Divine One.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Jesus talks like a grandmother

Sonoran Desert outside Tucson
"I tell you,to everyone who has, more will be given,but from the one who has not,even what he has will be taken away."  Luke 19:26
Sometimes grandmothers say enigmatic things with a confident smile that she and everyone who counts knows what she means.  It often leaves grandchildren in the dark, afraid to ask "what do you mean?"  Left to their own devices, they may talk among themselves about it, perhaps ask whichever parent sprang from that oracle, or just as likely forget trying to figure out exactly what it means even though it will be repeated down through the generations.  This saying of Jesus reminds me of that situation.

This saying comes after the parable about the servants who were given gold coins while their master is away.  he tells them to trade and multiply.  When he returns, two who did multiply the amount are rewarded while the one who simply kept his one coin safe lost that coin to the one who had increased his coins the most.  In that context, what is the point of this, especially for me in the here and now?

Like many of Grandma's sayings, there is something left out.  If I insert some words, does it make more sense?  "I tell you, to everyone to has [committed to living the way of grace], more [grace] will be given, but from the one who has not [committed to living the way of grace], even what [grace] he has will be taken way."  The thing about the servants who increased their amounts is that they did it through "trade."  In other words, they took risks with the investment and it worked.  The one who tried to play it safe and took no risks lost everything.

Here is another translation from The Message:

  “He said, ‘That’s what I mean: Risk your life and get more than you ever dreamed of. Play it safe and end up holding the bag.'"
The message is uncomfortably clear for me.  If I just try to hang on to the faith and grace I think I have, I lose.  If I place everything at risk in my day to day life in whatever way is possible for me, I win.

I will leave the discussion of Jesus' apparent view that this is a zero sum game to another time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Can I hear, really hear, the Divine One's judgement

Sunset outside Boulder CO
“I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit. You brag, ‘I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone,’ oblivious that in fact you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.  Revelation 3:15-17

These are the words the Divine One ordered said to the church in Laodicea but they could just as easily be said to us, to me, today.  I live a comfortable, stable, organized life insulated from the ups and downs of life by an above average affluence.  I really don't see myself as "rich" but that, of course, is a relative term.  To most people, I am; to a few, I am not.  But regardless, my life moves along within fairly narrow band:  nothing too good and nothing too bad.  Of course, there are times when events intrude.  These are mostly threatening things like the death of someone close.  Such are threatening because it reminds me that I am never far away from that very same event.

It is hard for me to see that I am "a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless."  I see people like that and they are very different from me and my protected, insulated life.  But then that is not the point.  There is the reality of the apparent world in which I live and then there is the fundamental reality of my life as a child of the Divine One.  How many times did Jesus say "If you have ears, listen."  "If you have eyes, see."  Just pay attention and the world changes.  You see your deepest reality and that is the reality in which and out of which I am calling you to live.

What I have in life--things, resources, relationships, property, knowledge, memory, creativity, understanding--do not provide the ultimate meaning of life.  All those simply define the context of my life.  In this context, I am called to do the Divine One's will:  to love the Divine One with all my heart and to love others--all others--as I would love myself.  Jesus said it simply, "Love one another as I have loved."

If I can do this, I will have "gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire," clothes designed in Heaven," and "medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see."

Monday, November 14, 2016

My first love...lost.

Mt. Hope Cemetery on fall afternoon
Yet I hold this against you:you have lost the love you had at first.Realize how far you have fallen.Repent, and do the works you did at first.Otherwise, I will come to youand remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.  Rev 2:4-5
Revelations is a tricky read.  It is filled with symbolism, allegory and hyperbole.  It uses symbolic systems which are not immediately understandable to 21st century ears and minds.  Yet, this passage from a prophecy to be made to the church at Ephesus grabbed me.  It is not symbolic and seems to speak directly to me.

This criticism follows several verses in which the Ephesians are praised for their astuteness in recognizing false prophets and for keeping the content of their Christian faith pure from the pagan influences within which they lived.  This is high praise indeed given the important role that Ephesus played in Roman world.  It was second only to Rome in terms of trade and political influence.  It was the center of the Emperor Cult and was the location of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  It was, in short, not a friendly environment for Christianity and yet the church there is praised for maintaining its integrity and not falling back into its earlier beliefs.

And yet, the church is criticized in quite a fundamental way.  It had "lost the love" it had at first.  The love not just of the Divine One, not just of Jesus, but for each other had somehow weakened and was no longer a major characteristic of the Ephesian church.  It was as though everyone was following the rules.  Everyone was careful and correct in their beliefs and religious practice.  But the spirit of love had seeped away and no longer animated their individual and common life.  Apparently they were, in fact, sliding back into a reliance on law rather than the spirit.  If that kept up, they would soon be no different than the "powers that be" against whom Jesus preached and who ultimately murdered him.

However the church at Ephesus received these words and however it responded is not the point.  These words are in the scriptures because they have relevance to me today.  To what extent have I become a proper and correct Christian without the spirit of love that animated my first glimmers of faith?  To what extent has Christianity in America become overly concerned with proper behavior, following rules, and correctness and forgotten the admonition of Jesus to "love one another as I have loved you?"  Have we become afraid of this spirit of love and feel safer with being proper and correct?

The path to reclaiming that spirit of love runs through prayer and not the rote prayers of petition or praise but the prayer of quite meditation.  As difficult as it might seem, the emptiness of meditative prayer will fill us with the spirit and love of the Divine One.  That fullness will bloom in our lives as fruit appears in an orchard:  naturally and timely without any concern for correctness or propriety.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Context is important...actually essential

Autumn afternoon in Mt. Hope Cemetery
In fact, when we were with you,we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work,neither should that one eat.We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in adisorderly way,by not keeping busy but minding the business of others.  2 Thessalonians 3:10-11

The first verse in this quotation from Paul has, from time to time, been used to foster a political position in the United States about "welfare."  In fact, some translations use the term "freeloaders" which further encourages this.  Sometimes this expression gets reduced to "If you don't work, you don't eat."  Unfortunately it is a short step to excoriating groups of people who are "welfare recipients," food stamp users, "welfare mothers" and others who are seen as freeloading on the hard work of the rest of us.  This verse has been used to support government action to deny or reduce financial support to those who do not work as an expression of God's will as discovered in the Christian scriptures.

Understanding this verse shows how important it is to look at the context of the quotation.  First and perhaps most important, we need to look at the global context.  Early Christianity as it is described in the Acts of the Apostles was clearly an egalitarian if not socialist society.  We know that at least in Jerusalem Christian community, the one closest in space and time to Jesus and his ministry, property was held in common and used for the good of all members of the community.  Whether one was rich or poor, working or not, did not seem to make any difference.  It is fair to note that the Jerusalem community expected the imminent return of Jesus and the conclusion of the world.  This belief changed the way they looked at everything including possessions and wealth.  Still, there is a principle embedded in that belief.

And that principle is certainly consistent with the life and teaching of Jesus.  He described a way of life that included all, rich and poor, working or not.  He extended healing to all.  His Sermon on the Mount in Luke clearly focuses on those who have been left out and excluded.  They are the ones who will be enriched by faith in the Divine One.  His consistent message opposed the unequal social and economic arrangements in Jerusalem and was probably the reason for his public murder and disgrace.

With all this, how are we to understand these lines from Paul?  "If you don't work, you don't eat" just does seem consistent with that global context.  There are two things to remember.  First, the Greek word translated above as "unwilling" actually more properly means "did not desire."  Frankly our modern usage in the United States tends to use "unwilling" as suggesting that there is work but one is unwilling to do that work.  "Not desiring to work" suggests a more general notion that regardless of the work available, one is just not interested in it.  Perhaps in that case there is reason to suggest such a person not be supported by the work of others.

Second and more important, Paul is addressing issues within the church in Thessalonica and in this case the issue is the amount of gossip generated by busybodies who spend their time sticking their noses into other people's business instead of working.  His suggestion is simply to make clear to those people that choosing not to work in order to devote your time to disrupting the community will not be tolerated.  It is a very pragmatic solution to a real problem.

It is always dangerous to "cherry pick" verses from scripture and then apply them to contemporary life.  It is important to understand both the global and more particular context before we try to apply them to our life.  In this case, the relevant application is that I should focus on my work and avoid useless and destructive gossip about others.  It has nothing to do with assisting those who cannot provide for themselves and their families

Friday, November 11, 2016

What are the vultures in my life?

Fall morning in Cheat Lake, WV

They said to him in reply, “Where, Lord?”  He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will gather.” Luke 17:37
This verse comes at the very end of Chapter 17 of Luke's gospel.  Jesus has been sharing several sayings and stories trying to help his disciples get clarity about his message and his mission.  This final section recalls the stories of the Great Flood and the destruction of Sodom as cautionary tales for his followers.  Life goes on as it usually does until a cataclysmic event happens that destroys everything.  He looks froward to the disclosure of "The Son of Man," a title drawn from the Book of Ezekiel which Jesus uses for himself.  That disclosure will be as destructive as the two historic events and it will be just as selective.  Those who hear his message but fail to change their lives will be destroyed and those who listen and change will be left with life everlasting.  It is a stark choice and Jesus uses stark language.

Just before the verse quoted, Jesus voices once again a message of the Great Reversal:  "Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it."  Those who seem so full of life with possessions (even more than they need), achievements, wealth, power, influence, knowledge, reputation are the ones who run the risk of losing everything even their very life if they become so focused that they lose sight of the reality of the family of the Divine One within them and within everyone and everything.

As we have been reading Luke during this Ordinary Time, we have been reading about Jesus journey toward Jerusalem and the reality that awaited him there.  He had a strong sense that his life of preaching and living the law of love would bring him into conflict with the "powers that be" in that urban center and further that the conflict would likely result in his death.  Throughout this journey, he was constantly choosing his path which meant that he was constantly choosing to focus not on his life but on the deeper reality of his membership in the family of the Divine One and the implications of that reality for his day to day living.  He is asking his followers and me to make the same choice today and every day.  He is asking me to live as though my divine son-ship (adoptive though it may be) is the only reality of my life.  In short, to live the life of love that 2 John speaks of in today first reading:
But now, Lady, I ask you,
not as though I were writing a new commandment
but the one we have had from the beginning:
let us love one another.
For this is love, that we walk according to his commandments;
this is the commandment, as you heard from the beginning,
in which you should walk.
 When the disciples ask him where all this is going to happen, he answers with this enigmatic saying about vultures and dead bodies.  The exact meaning is certainly unambiguously clear but a meaning that has significance to me does.  Where will this death occur in my own life?  His answer is simple:  Look those areas of my life where I seek to preserve my safety and security and I will see vultures circling this refusal to lose my life in order to gain true and eternal life.  Look to those areas where I seek to preserve my comfort.  Look to those areas where I seek the approval of others.  Look to those areas where I crave success.  Those are the areas where the vultures are circling what will become sooner or later a lifeless carcass.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

It is already here!

Mt. Hope Cemetery on election day 2016
Jesus, grilled by the Pharisees on when the kingdom of God would come, answered, “The kingdom of God doesn’t come by counting the days on the calendar. Nor when someone says, ‘Look here!’ or, ‘There it is!’ And why? Because God’s kingdom is already among you....The arrival of the Son of Man is not something you go out to see. He simply comes."  Luke 17:20-21; 24  The Message
How tempting it is for me to think of the work of the Divine One as something that gets done "out there."  Somehow the public arena, the world of affairs, becomes the focus of living a Christian life.  These words of Jesus are a corrective.  It is still true that even these words, however, can hide a fundamental reality.

While "God's Kingdom" had a definitive meaning to those people whose social and political lives were structured by kings and their spheres of influence, that is thankfully no long how most of us live.  In the world of the followers of Jesus, it was a given that they would be part of a kingdom.  The changing reality was the identity of the king.  One kingdom after another had taken control of the land that Jesus walked.  Most were brutal conquerors but not all.  The message of Jesus was that all human kings were replaced with the kingship of the Divine One who had sent Jesus into the world to announce that very reality.  That message certainly did not mean that there would not be human kings.  Jesus did not come to establish some kind of theocracy to replace human organization and governance of social life.  Jesus came to announce a deeper, more fundamental reality.

To people whose reality does not include kings and their kingdoms, this language can distort the message.  Think of it this way:  Jesus came to announce that the Divine One had decided to extend the divine family to include all of us and all that is.  Families are social organizations that exist at a deeper level than political arrangements.  They continue regardless of the political and social arrangements of our public life.  (Admittedly some political and social arrangements are more or less conducive to this dynamic.)

We are not called to establish a divine kingdom.  We are called to recognize our membership in the family of the Divine One and to live out those values in the day to day life we lead.  Without that fundamental understanding any kind of political involvement of people of faith simply becomes co-opted by the "powers that be" in their agendas.  By attending to this deeper reality and identity, The Son of Man "simply comes."

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Think of others first? How odd.

San Xavier del Bac
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory;rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,each looking out not for his own interests, but also everyone for those of others.  Philippians 2:3-4
This verse capsulizes the problem and opportunity for contemporary Christianity in America.  No one can doubt that the earliest Christian communities as described in the New Testament took this message to heart.  There was a fundamental and defining egalitarian spirit in those communities.  Maximizing of self interest was seen as not only detrimental to the way of Christ but unalterably opposed to it.

Contemporary American Christianity, for the most part, enjoys a position as integral element in contemporary culture.  Indeed, it often seeks to express this in political activism by allying itself with existing political parties and movements.  In doing so, it run the risk of being co-opted by these political forces for their own purposes and goals.  As a result, contemporary Christianity can lose its egalitarian soul while fighting for specific "ethical issues."  Marriage equality and attitudes toward LGBT people are examples.  It becomes very difficult for such Christianity to stand apart from a culture that prizes individual freedom and economic achievement over a more communitarian concern for others, especially those who "are not like us."

Even within the modern cacophony of America's media drenched culture, however, it is possible to find examples of individuals who took this scripture to heart and made it a guiding principle of their lives and the work of organization they led.  Every time I go into a Wegman's, I see the words of Bob Wegman who took a single grocery store founded by his father and uncle and turned into a multi-store chain that is recognized as the top food retailer in the nation.

"Never think of yourself; always help others.”