Relating, Creating, Transforming

Archive for November, 2015

Rocks

Mark 13:1-8

rocks

Did you ever skip rocks as a kid?

Did you ever collect rocks on the beach or in the forest or near a stream?

Did you ever climb a tall hill or a mountain and stand in awe of it?

Have you ever been drawn to rocks?

As a kid, I loved finding strange and interesting rocks. My parents used to take us to places like Colorado where I could find all kinds of beautiful and mysterious rocks in caves and around mountains. Geodes were my favorite.

geode

Geodes are geological rock formations which occur in sedimentary and certain volcanic rocks. The exterior is generally limestone while the interior contains quartz crystals and/or chalcedony deposits.[1]

There many types of geodes. First Nation groups in Oregon called one geode type “Thunder Egg.”

thundereggFire agates come from Mexico and Arizona. Commercial deposits exist in China, Mexico, India, Madagascar, and the U.S. along the shores of Lake Superior.

The outer surface of an agate is rough, pitted and ugly. It masks the beauty of the crystal inside. However, the crust is weak and somewhat fragile and over centuries it is washed away allowing the gemstone to be discovered along rivers and streams.

Geodes look cool and they’re beautifully complex. But it’s more than just their surface appearance that attracts people.

Many, many people, across the globe, are drawn to rocks.

Psychologist Carl Jung believed that rocks were one of the primordial symbols of eternity. He wrote:

Many people cannot refrain from picking up stones of a slightly unusual color or shape and keeping them…without knowing why they do. It is as if the stone held a mystery in it that fascinates them.[2]

Jung said that each of us has inherited this ancient human tendency toward seeing–or rather, feeling–the sacredness in rocks. It is true that long ago, our ancestors around the world believed that rocks were filled with gods and spirits. It is for this reason that today we pile rocks on graves or create tombstones—because our ancestors believed that rocks could hold or release a person’s spirit.

sandlwanamassgrave

Most religions and spiritual movements of the world consider rocks in some way as symbols of faith, spirituality, energy, healing, foundation, or strength. In Buddhism, rocks are considered, in their essence, collections of vibrant energy rather than just inert lumps of matter.

Quantum physics agrees.

So what see with rocks is both modern science and ancient spiritual practices coming together. Rocks are energy; we have been and are drawn to them.

Rocks frequently take center stage in the New Testament’s Gospel stories.

In this Mark story, Jesus’ disciples are marveling at the great temple in Jerusalem, the one built by King Herod in possibly around 19 BCE. It was marble and gold and about five football fields long. It was awesome.

HerodsTempleSo it’s no surprise that the disciples gawk at the thing:
“Dang…look at those massive stones!”

Of course, Jesus is not in awe as the disciples are. Keep in mind here that Mark’s gospel writer has the luxury of writing this story after Jesus’ death and during or shortly after this Jerusalem temple was actually torn down and destroyed. So this story is contrasting the awe of the disciples with Jesus’ disdain at the corruption and oppression that happened within the temple during King Herod’s reign.

When Mark’s Gospel was written, it was a tumultuous time. War, violence, upheaval, etc.

The story then shifts to the Mount of Olives, positioned opposite the temple for dramatic effect.

MountOlivesSome of the disciples ask Jesus what will happen and how will they know? They are worried about the future and they’re scared.

Jesus’ response is to be wary of those who provide easy answers or try to lead them astray—people who claim to be great rulers or leaders. Jesus does not ignore that there will wars and upheaval and even famines. But this is just the beginning, meaning that all this craziness and uncertainty is not the end.

Something good is actually here AND on its way.

You see, Mark’s apocalyptic/end of world sayings are meant to be good news and not depressing.

How? Because the things that societies and nations and people often exalt and glorify like empires, kingdoms, and beautiful buildings don’t last forever.

Which brings me back to rocks.

A rock can keep energy from the sun’s rays even after other things give way to the dark and cool. Pick up a rock in the sun; it’s warm. And it stays that way. Rocks, unlike kingdoms and empires and wars and upheaval—they are forever present in the world, remaining long after we are gone.

So yes, a rock can actually be a comfort. Jesus of Nazareth was called the cornerstone of a whole new world. He wasn’t a king, a religious ruler, or even a political leader. He certainly did not represent the great temple and what it stood for. Instead, he was a different kind of rock—one who encouraged those left on the outside of society to cry out, to make themselves heard. He welcomed children, widows, lepers, the poor, the marginalized. And if anyone tried to silence them, the rocks themselves in all of nature’s beauty and mystery would cry out.

The rocks themselves would cry out.

So I’m thinking that we could all use a little time with rocks.

We should be children. We should pick them up and curiously look at the strange and odd ones. We should feel them—all their smoothness and roughness. And in the midst of a chaotic and often violent world, we ought to remember what really lasts.

We shouldn’t stand in awe of great empires and governments, marveling at their reach and grand towers and temples. Instead, we should remember that they won’t last forever. Eventually, they will fall down or be torn down. And yet, in midst of all this, the rocks all around us remain constant.

They comfort; they heal; the revitalize.
This is more than just hope; rocks are tangible.

They can be a sign to remember the tangible presence of the Divine in all living things, and even the seemingly unmoving things like rocks.

God’s constant love and presence in the lives of all people everywhere.

[1] Gerard V. Middleton: Encyclopedia of Sediments and Sedimentary Rocks. Springer 2003

[2] Man and his Symbols, Carl Jung

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Powerful & Prophetic Women be Heard!

Mark 12:38-44

Ruth

WomenPower

It’s important to recognize that all sacred books are grounded in a certain time and place. In the case of the Bible, it is also important to accept that the writers of the NT books and the Hebrew Scriptures were most likely all men. Women’s voices [and even their names] are not as prevalent as those of men. This is not an opinion; it is fact.

So, yes—often we have to look deeper at scripture stories to hear the voices of women and to hear the wisdom within their stories.

One rare story in the Hebrew Scriptures [OT] is that of Ruth.

RuthFieldThis story is all about a female protagonist. Sure, there are some men involved, but for the most part, as a reader, we want to know what happens to Ruth, what she’s thinking, etc.

I encourage you to read the whole story yourself. That way, you can notice certain details and let your imagination go to work. Read Ruth like you would any short story.

But for the sake of this conversation with you, we need to at least summarize the story:

Ruth, the Cliffnotes Version:
Once upon a time, there was this nice Jewish family. But they had a problem. A famine had hit their hometown. So the heads of the household, Elimelech and wife Naomi, moved east to Moab with their two sons to find something to eat. In Moab, they established roots. They ended up staying there for about ten years. A lot can happen in ten years. Their two sons met two girls from the area and they got married. Their names were Ruth and Orpah [not to be confused with Oprah]. Everybody was pretty happy in Moab. But then….

Those two now-married sons, one by one, passed away; so did Elimelech. None of them left behind good life insurance policies, so the three women were in trouble financially.

So Naomi decided that she should go back to her hometown of Bethlehem; maybe the famine would be over? Her daughters-in-law Orpah and Ruth packed up and started to go with her. But Naomi didn’t feel right about this and she asked the two women to stay in Moab. Orpah took her advice and went right on back. But Ruth stayed with Naomi. She even pledged her devotion to Naomi, deciding to leave her religion and her culture to stay connected to Naomi. What could Naomi say? She let Ruth join her.

Once in Bethlehem, things didn’t get any better. Naomi was depressed. Ruth was working a manual labor job in the barley fields for very little pay.

But as it so happens, while working out there Ruth met a famous rich guy called Boaz. Boaz thought Ruth was pretty hot [apparently] but also respected her enough to give her special privileges at the workplace. Ironically, Boaz happened to be related to Naomi’s late husband Elimelech.

Naomi figured it out. Boaz, by family law and custom, would be obligated to marry Ruth. So Naomi had a plan. She told Ruth to visit Boaz at night in secret and to lie at his feet. Yes, this is a PG-13 reference. It’s an erotic move.

Ruth did what Naomi asked and actually, Boaz was a bit surprised that Ruth had any interest in him at all. He was happy, though. He told Ruth that he would really like to marry her, but the problem was that there was another relative with even closer ties to Ruth’s in-laws. But Boaz had a plan. He would meet with this close relative to see what was up.

It’s high drama. Everyone’s holding their breath.

What Boaz found out was good news. The close relative was more interested in buying Naomi’s land than marrying her daughter-in-law. So a win-win deal was made. The closer relative renounced his obligation to marry Ruth, freeing Boaz to marry her.

So they get married.

This made Naomi really happy. Later on, Ruth and Boaz had a son and named him Obed. Obed, just for history’s sake, would eventually be the grandfather of King David. The end.

I said in the beginning that we have to keep culture, place, and history in mind when we read stories in sacred books. In 2015 you may see the story of Ruth as quite patriarchal and male-dominated. After all, Ruth [and other women] were just like property. We cannot deny that.

And yet, there are particular moments in this story that are rare examples of lifting up women as more than just wives for men who have babies and keep a house.

I’m struck by the comments said by the women in Bethlehem about Ruth. They tell Naomi that Ruth who loves her is of more worth than seven sons.

Now that’s a strong statement, for women’s worth was not a common subject. In this case, though, Ruth as a character is given her due. She’s more than just loyal, she’s full of love as a friend and committed to staying connected to that friend. She pushes aside even her religion and her homeland in order to stay connected to Naomi. She has no obligation to do this. Naomi tells her to go back. But Ruth insists on staying with her out of love. This is significant.

Ruth is a role model. Love is only mentioned once in the story, and it’s the love of Ruth for Naomi.

It’s that deep, devoted friendship that exists not out of obligation, but empathy for the other.

Thanks, Ruth!

widows-miteStory #2 I’d like to look at is in the New Testament in Mark’s gospel. It begins with Jesus of Nazareth warning anyone who will listen about pompous scribes who parade around in long robes screaming “Look at me!” and feel entitled to the best seats in synagogues and parties. They ignore the plight of widows [and even gain from their misfortune] and in the end, they say long prayers in public, for people to see and hear.

This warning is followed by another woman’s story. This time, she is not given a name. We only know that she was a widow, which also meant that she was poor.

She could have been Ruth.
Or Orpah.
Or Naomi.

Jesus sat outside the temple, staring at people putting money into the temple’s treasury. It was a charity box, supposedly. Rich people came and put large amounts in the box, for all to see. But then a widow approached the treasury and put in merely two copper coins. Barely worth anything.

After seeing this unfold, Jesus called his disciples together and made his point.

The widow, to the world, was only worth a few pennies. That’s it. But Jesus disagreed. She had actually put in more to the treasury than all of the rich people combined. She was worth so much more. She didn’t contribute out of obligation or abundance, but simply out of love. She gave all that she had—all that she was.

It’s not a stretch to see these two ladies, Ruth and the poor widow, as sister stories. Both were widows; both were poor; Ruth was also a foreigner and of another religion. Both were ignored, manipulated, forgotten. And yet, both were lifted up as prime examples of how we are supposed to live.

Both women were and are models of love and giving.

What stands out for me in both cases, what is prophetic about their stories, is that both of them overcame so much: a patriarchal system that was set up to oppress them; a lack of financial means; no significant place in society; tragedy and isolation.

In spite of all of that, they showed love. But it was real love, because they weren’t obligated to do so. They chose to love.

They chose to have empathy for the people around them.

They chose to call the other “my people” instead of other.
They truly loved.

And so I’ll stop now, and be quiet. May these women’s voices be heard! May their legacy live on in us.

Calling Out and Seeing

Mark 10:46-52

Have you ever been shushed?

You know what I mean.
Has anyone ever told you be quiet, to silence your voice, bite your tongue, or even worse—

Shut up!

shush

Sure you have.

All of us at one point or another are silenced.
Sometimes, we think it happens mostly to kids. You know, the annoying boy kicking your seat on the airplane and saying “Noooooooooooooo” like a siren to his mom.

Shut up!

Or the little girl incessantly singing the same song over and over again from Frozen.

Shut up!

Or the three-month-old baby who finds it convenient to cry loudly every night at 3am. And then again at 5am.

Oh…..just shut it!

But it doesn’t just happen to kids, now does it? Teenagers get shushed too. I remember, and I still see it. A junior high student raises her hand without being called on and asks a question about the current homework assignment, not really assigning blame to the teacher, but simply challenging its validity and whether or not it’s busy work.

shushyou

Or, the four teens who request to meet with their church’s board to remark on the drab, boring, and unwelcoming worship service, lack of service projects, and lack of young people in general?

Oh, just shut your trap!

But for adults, it applies, too. How many of you have sat in meeting with an idea or a question, only to be told to be quiet? Or maybe you were just completely ignored?

Have you wanted to say something true [but also uncomfortable], only to be silenced by your own family or friends?

And how many men and women, living on the streets of our cities and towns, have spoken or even cried out, only they are never heard? How many black voices, in our cities, towns, and suburbs, only wishing for people to acknowledge the pain and discrimination they have felt, are silenced  [BlackLivesMatter]? How many children, youth, and adult voices are silenced when war breaks out and homes are burned and families displaced? How many farmers and migrant workers, who toil in the land and pick fruits and vegetables, are silenced when they speak out against the unfair treatment they receive? How many battered women, who have been abused and trapped, when they cry out to their families, friends, colleagues, and churches—how many of them are heard?

It’s true, isn’t it?

We silence voices all the time.
And we all get shushed.

That’s why I will argue that Bartimaues’ story is worth checking out.
Bartimaues is called the son of Timaeus. Okay, time to analyze that.
At first glance, it’s easy.

Bar-Timaues.

Bar is like son in Aramaic.
It’s like the Mac in MacDonald.

And there’s the Greek Timaues, which means someone to honor.
So…son of Timaues, someone to honor, right?

But…..

Mark’s Gospel is writing to a Greek audience.
Why would he combine Aramaic with Greek, and by the way, when you do that in this case, it’s redundant.

So what if????

What if the second part of Bartimaeus is not Greek but instead derived from a Hebrew word, טמא (tame)?

Puzzled male shrugging wearing lab coatWell, then everything changes.
Tame means unclean.[1]

Aha!
So, consistent with Mark’s story, could it be that Bartimaeus is a name that means “son of the unclean?”
Why does this matter, you ask?
Because the Gospels rarely name people who are healed. And this story is not just in Mark—it’s in Matthew and Luke, too. But the blind man is not named in the other two. Mark’s Gospel, however, goes out of the way to make sure we remember and hear this name:

Bartimaues, son of the unclean.

That sticks with me—say the name.
Say out loud the names of people who are voiceless.
Don’t be silent. And stop silencing people.

Say their names.

And then notice what Bartimaeus does. He calls out to Jesus.
No one can keep him silent.
People tried to, but to no avail.
He cried out even louder: have mercy on me!

Jesus stood still. And then he called to Bartimaues.

We don’t know who it was who told Bartimaeus to shush up; but we do know that Jesus instructed people to call out to Bartimaues.

Take heart, get up, he is calling you.

Bartimaues didn’t hesitate to cry out; neither did he hesitate to spring up and throw off his cloak. Throwing off one’s cloak was a sign in the Gospels of someone deciding to follow the way of abundant life and mercy.
And contrary to an earlier story, in which a rich man came to Jesus and asked Jesus for the keys to eternal life, Jesus asked Bartimaeus:

What can I do for you?
And Bartimaues said: let me see again.
And he regained his sight and went on the way.
Seeing in the Gospels is also a sign that a person had turned things around, woken up, experienced an enlightened moment.

What a story, right?

I asked early on, have you ever been shushed?
I know that you answered in the affirmative.

So, I think the challenge is clear.
Will you cry out?

Will you cry out in honesty, say what needs to be said [no matter how difficult], will you speak the truth when it’s unpopular and when others shush you? Will you?

Secondly, will you stop silencing others? I mean it. Will you stop silencing others? Don’t try to filter people’s thoughts or responses. Look, I understand tactfulness. I get political correctness. And of course–words that are meant to hurt or disparage another human being have no point to them. I get that. But too often we are silent or we silence others, just because we think it’s the “nice” thing to do.

But really it’s the comfortable thing to do.
There’s nothing nice about it. If you have something truthful to say, say it. If someone needs to express him/herself, even when it’s difficult stuff to hear, let them say it.

Let them cry out.
And you should cry out, too.

Why?
Because the response is clear.
God is not interested in well-parsed words aimed to pacify or avoid confrontation.

God is interested in honesty.
When we call out, and when we allow others to call out, good things happen.
Healing happens.
Names of people forgotten and ignored are recognized and said out loud.

And when you cry out, you are called to.
Whatever you’re going through, you are being called to.
Your name [and life] matter.

You matter.

So don’t be silent when it matters; when justice is absent.
Don’t shush others when they have something to say or do.
Don’t be afraid to be honest.
And expect mercy; expect guidance for your path; expect wholeness; accept healing.

[1] Spiros Zodhiates (The Complete Wordstudy Dictionary).

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