Friday, October 27, 2006
For those of you who have not read Gulliver’s travels, it is a satire of the European culture in the 18th Century. This is the same time that John Wesley trotted around on horseback to put it into perspective. Europe was colonizing the world with questionable motives to claim land and make fortunes out of those they claimed to have “conquered.” Anyway, by the end of Gulliver’s travels through fictional lands with the strangest of people, big and small, he lands up hating humankind. When he returned home he sat the furthest from his wife at the dinner table, and spoke as little as he could to her. He must have looked a sight, as he stuffed his nose with lavender and tobacco leaves to avoid the smell of humankind. The reason why he acted in such an anti-social manner was that in his last journey to a society of noble, rational and peaceable horses he had encountered the “Yahoo’s” which roamed the land. They were a bunch of degenerate life forms. They were filled with every vice known to Gulliver, the men were hairy, the woman had long droopy breasts, and they were as promiscuous as ever. This was reprehensible for Gulliver, but the fact they were proud of their ways made him detest them with all his might. The Yahoo’s were actually a satire of the human race in all their murky darkness. The sadness is that Gulliver does not come to terms with his own Yahoo characteristics and thus he pushes his loved ones away thinking he is better, and greater than they are. Jonathan Swift the author was in many ways an anti-social too, but he was an ordained minister who felt a deep conscience for what his kind were doing to the world. We are always making other people different from ourselves in order to rule over them and have power over them. The next time we call another person a “Yahoo” or a “Fool” in order to feel superior, remember that you too may look a little like Gulliver with tobacco leaves stuffed his nose. Wielding power in your own subtle but Yahoo way.
Monday, October 23, 2006
A gospel story I haven’t read for some time (Luke 7: 36-50). A remarkable story of an “immoral” woman washing the God-man’s feet with tears and perfume in the house of a pompous religious man. The man called Saviour confronts the self righteousness of this “religious bore” for his inability to perceive love staring straight at him. The little parable of universal truth Jesus gives, is that the more one is forgiven and or loved, the greater the debt cancelled and the escalation of appreciation you experience. This woman in comparison to the “all knowing” man was at his feet weeping, but he could hardly entertain his guest with the least of civil respects. A beautiful ‘forgotten’’ story in our liturgy of worship. Our return to God and the reasoning behind many religious hearts that cannot truly find that place of worship where they “feel” the integrity of heart with God. Where tears are shed in a more spontaneous and unadulterated stream. Where tears are not mustered, nor brought on by fantasy or the flicker of a screen. The kind of tears that heave inwardly with the echoes of primal destiny and cutting need. To be forgiven Greatly is the only true worship known to God. The self important man I doubt could wash anybodies feet, he could not greet another less perfect with a kiss, or comfort a child with a soothing balm. He did not understand the ignorant desert of his mind, the acres of barren worship as tatty as a scarecrow and unloving as a starving crow. The God-man had the Way of building up tears that could flush this wasted land to green. Summer tears that could wash out the pith and ghostly forms of our loveless-love. To be Greatly loved is always to love Greatly.
(Note: Those who were on retreat last weekend - note how similar this is to the Prodigal son story. The “responsible” brother compared to the self righteous Pharisee. The “irresponsible” brother compared with the immoral woman?)
Thursday, October 19, 2006
It is uncharacteristic of Jesus to get into an academic debate. The logical process called “reason” has a short lifespan. It rarely brings about a spiritual dimension. The problem with reason is that it is only satisfied with the obvious and the status quo. It cannot gather things outside of its grasp. These things it calls nonsense, rubbish or unbelievable, are so named because they are not named. The questions we ask of God are much the same. “Who is my neighbour?” and by that we assume we will get a list of people, fat, thin, grumpy, and funny. A tight list, all nicely cut, dried, and tied up with string. It is what we like you and I? A + B = C. Aristotle would have been proud with an introduction, argument and a conclusion but not the rough parable speaking Rabbi called Jesus. I love this God-man Jesus, he puts our thinking to other uses. He transports us from logic to love as quickly as a mother puts her child to sleep with a story. He is very good with stories. A road traversing the steepest of mountainside is cavernous with the meanest of thief who bashed the living daylights out of an unsuspecting traveler. For what reason nobody knows, but the man lies naked, red in dust with only a vulture for hope. His only rescue comes when he feels the shadow of a man pass cold over him, but before the word can come to his tongue the shadow has passed as fleeting as the bird cries ahead. Another came and went, a trail of lame, unloving holy prayer, leaving only the bitter scent of betrayal. That is until another shadow fell upon his body that did not move, it stopped, a voice, a touching hand, and an ointment searing but soothing the fleshy wounds. When at last Jesus finished his story at a nearby inn, the shadow was none less than the shadow of the man you would least expect. That person whose kind you had never shared a meal with. The one who others called a traitor, an enemy, an outcast, a man whose faith you often scorned. Jesus redefined this shadow into the face of mercy, and we the listeners, as those before us sit back aghast, to throw our reason to the wind. There is no rightful reason not to have mercy, there is no religious reason to define who belongs and who doesn’t belong. In all this the great story teller is helping us take our fence cutters and eliminate the confounded boundaries that stagnate love and grace. We need to look at each other unhindered and allow the mercy of God move freely between our communal needs.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
I am today again stopped in my tracks with knowledge that ought not just transform thought but attitude and behaviour. About 40 000 children under 5 years of age die each day in the world with symptoms of malnutrition. That is roughly about 40 million children a year. The part of this “pandemic” that I find more cutting to the conscience is that this train of death is not the result of a rampant virus but the disease of the human heart. Poverty is the result of not just the absence of money, but the breakdown of a community through years of human darkness. The virus of greedy exploitation and the cancer of moral breakdown brings a nation, a family, a child to its knees with all for its longing tongue but the “fly” of death stuck dry. How far does our community reach I wonder? John Wesley said “the World is my parish!” and I think today I am of the same persuasion.
Monday, October 16, 2006
The God-man Jesus washing Peter’s feet has always been an “example” passage for me. Go and do likewise – be a servant as I was. Surprisingly, a virtual shift with Peter throws new light on an already well trod story. Unless our names mingle the message is somehow lost. The heart of the message is how difficult it actually is to dangle ones toes before God. I tried, and I didn’t realize what a struggle it would be to sit down and ask the God-man to wash my feet. I can imagine there to be many different reasons why my feet are not in the place for cleansing. My feet are often running away for fear of being exposed. My feet are skeptical of some loony trying to manipulate and control my life. My feet are dumbstruck that somebody of so much importance would want to spend so much time with me. Could God really find time to serve me, to think about me, to care for my toes? This Christian concept is a phenomenal leap in spirituality. The unexpected intimacy of created and Creator around a towel and dirty water. The upset of ordained hierarchy as a cracked heel is soothed. A God-man prepared to bend, to kneel before a human-man. No other Religion I know has such a thought in its library. It is bound to make one feel special, needed, it makes one important in the ever expanding universe of atom and sunburst.
Friday, October 13, 2006
I am sure the stories of the ancient are laced with a touch of hyperbole to drum home the unbelievable nature of God. The impossible is possible and the creator is able to do and undo the created time and space at whim. A difficult concept for the faithful of this century to anticipate. Can God move you through walls, break chains that bind you to captors, liberate you to victory in unbelievable acts of salvation. Well it was not that unbelievable to those in a century where Darwin was still to be formed from dust and Einstein was yet to grow his hair. An unbelievable Universe is the Universe of the Christian. The hope that the "Artist" can take his finger and smudge the paint of the artwork and allow the unplanned happen before a re-touch. Creation, the Mona Lisa removed from the cloister of her temperate cocoon to have a make-over before so many scrutinizing eyes. The image of creation always seems to stare with impossible and irremovable eyes and smile, but even the scrutinizing eyes will know that with "match and bellow" the persistant paint will crack, melt and blacken and canvas will reveal the fleeting, dancing, nature of what we call rock solid and eternal. It is all in motion, from glowing lava to racing thoughts, so how impossible can it be for a God to brushstroke impossible acts and for us to see its affects?
Thursday, October 12, 2006
I am reading the book by Eugene Peterson: “The unnecessary pastor.” Only in so far as the introduction and first chapter and it feels as if I am identifying with his thoughts already. The “Christian leader” today may have been domesticated by the cultural to the extent that they are not being affective for the real work of God. The church can mould its minister into the model that looks good in the eyes of other churches, and the secular world. The CEO, the expert, the trained theologian, the trained marriage counselor, but what about the leader who walks the path of Jesus. Christianity at its core is counterculture and resistant to the status quo. The leader should not be measured according to the prowess of his or her skills, abilities, education, and expertise. It would seem so looking at the criteria church’s ask when interviewing a new minister. I was in a leaders meeting as an expectant minister and they shared with me the kind of minister they were looking for. The list looked like the list of a corporate business trying to find a Messiah that would do what they wanted more than what God wanted. I shudder at how the Church forgets its heritage to dress itself up as more of a pacifier than a agent of God’s revelation. Look forward to the rest of the book.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
It is only with the divine Grace that we can make our moral disciplines beam love. Only the spirit in worship with The Spirit of creation that helps us move from a heart of cold stone to a heart of flesh. The integrity that comes from living successfully by rules is cheap and nasty. The integrity that comes by living within loving relationships for which all rules are made is the integrity of a deeper and healthier person.
A balance I struggle with at times. (Not that I am even doing much prayerful discipline, in fact peanuts in comparison to some.) I am just horrified to see what it can do, it can bring hardness and coldness that speaks nothing of all one is trying to achieve. I am assured that it is much harder to love people I don’t like, than it is to prayer - much harder to care for people I am bored with, than to explain the hidden meaning of scriptures - much harder to share what I own than it is to meaningfully worship on Sundays. The discipline of Loving is too often ignored for the vain quest to live only in its religious shadows.
Friday, October 06, 2006
“Life of Pi,” by Yann Martel. The book is riddled with hidden nuance and thought provoking "brain" material. The concept of “territory” in Religion is an interesting provocation. Who owns what, and who dares to own God. The main character of the book “Pi” belongs to Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. The leader’s of each holy place don’t know the other allegiances, until one day they all converge in a park. Nobody likes the idea, you cannot belong to the one or the other. Martel does not go into the details, but he provokes deeper thought. The parallel story is the zoo. The way in which animals find their territory outside of their natural habitat. The way in which animals are able to live side by side and find unique relationships. The Rhino was able to find company in a herd of goats. A mouse was able to find company with a pit of adult vipers who for some strange reason did not eat the mouse, that is until the junior viper not knowing the deal, quickly gave himself a mouthful. The fascinating concepts of anthropomorphism and zoomorphism are approached. The danger of humans personifying animals, and the way animals relax their natural instincts to help others species survive. The dog rearing lion cubs; the strangeness of seeing domestic cats and dogs lying asleep on top of the other. This got my brain going, as Martel loosely associates the Religious territorialism and that of Zoomorphism. Is there a way of religion finding places of convergence whereby they can be the example of the “lamb and lion together.” Martel does not deny the carnivorous plight of the earth. His illustration of a carnivorous algae island floating in the sea is a superb illustration of seeing the earth as this place whereby all is there to consume and devour. The island turns acidic at night and eats the fish trapped in its fresh water channels and caverns. It is worth the read. The thoughts he stimulates are the coming together of Religious thought and institution within this world. How similar are their prejudices aligned to the carnivorous capacity of all other things. However he redeems religions quest for "another way of life" in the earlier part of the book, in Pi’s insatiable belief that there is one God for all. Pi’s travels at see in a life boat with a large orange tiger called “Richard Parker,” is a sure test for all Martel’s thoughts. (Will call my next cat Richard Parker for sure.)
The soul ought stand guard, ready in discipline and love. Who knows how much darkness has been avoided by those hours in prayer and careful meditation? How many hooded thoughts come uninvited through the back door and rob your house of order and the soul’s treasures. What strangers of imagination have been welcomed with careless judgment, to live out a lie of friendship in the heart that one day robs you blind. The disciplined heart stays awake at night, midday until the last sighting of the sun. The soul stands guard but not for the thief, this is incidental. The soul is waiting for the hope of love, the confirmation of its salvation, the readiness to serve its master, but most of all the reward of love that has been done.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
I am reminded again today of living the "here and now." Our minds are so fractured, so many angles of light displaced, and notes some harmonious and some discordant. To find a place called “now” is not that easy. Our thoughts leap from one branch to the next, the branch called tomorrow, the branch called yesterday, the branch of whenever. Is it not true that when you hold onto “now” in meditative prayer, simplicity of doing things - one at a time is the steady pace of fulfillment, follow-through, and accomplishment?
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
The image of the martyr Stephen is helpful when others sin and darkness are thrown like stones against one. The martyr was looking up in faith, convicted of his innocence within, and forgave those whose stones hurt, for they did not know what they were doing.
Monday, October 02, 2006
The anxiety we awake to each morning to achieve something new could blind to us to the diamonds we already possess. Much of our world is burning away, being cut away, thrown aside, hurded into zoos in order to survive - just because we always want something new every day. What would your world look like if we just polished the valuable items we already have?