Relating, Creating, Transforming

Archive for February, 2019

Casting into the Deep Water

Luke 5:1-11   

As human beings, do we remember that we are part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space? We often forget. Instead, we often experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of our consciousness. And this delusion can be a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. So said Albert Einstein, the Physicist & Nobel Laureate. And he also said that our task then is to “free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Image result for einstein

This is what I would call a paradigm shift—a movement away from what society conditions us to believe about ourselves.

See, most of us are socially conditioned to believe that the family we are born into is where we belong and it defines who we are. We also are conditioned to view others who look different as the other—not related to us. And, as we grow older, our personal desires [or individualistic impulses] can dominate our thinking and living. We also tend to show the greatest care and affection for those who are in our small social circles—particularly those circles in which people look similar and behave in a similar manner. We may wade in the waters of diversity and difference a bit, so to speak, or dip our toes in the water, but we won’t actually dive in to immerse ourselves in difference or diversity.

Not if we buy into the identity that society assigns us.  

And this is where we are today, is it not? We live in a world [and society] in which people are afraid of other types of people. People have a different skin color—someone else fears them. People live out their sexuality or their gender identity or expression differently—someone fears them. People practice different religions or no religion at all—someone fears them. Rather than seeing all of these human beings as part of this thing we call the universe, of which we are also a part—we end up being afraid of each other and seek isolation in our small, homogeneous social groups. And by doing that we are unable to empathize with other’s feelings and hopes and dreams and fears. We only see, hear, and feel our own. And eventually, we de-humanize those who are different.

And in the process we de-humanize ourselves.

That is why Einstein’s words are completely relevant today, about widening our circles, embracing all living beings, and the whole of nature and its beauty. In essence, we need to go much further than just testing the water of diversity, but we need to immerse ourselves in it.

We need to venture out into the deep water.

Now consider an interesting fact about water. If a body of water is shallow, it’s loud. Have you ever gone swimming in the ocean? Well, you know that closer to shore it’s tough to swim. The waves are crashing again and again, tossing you about. It’s fun, of course, to ride those waves, but not great for swimming. But have you even ventured out a bit further? If you have, then you know that the deeper you go the less you are tossed about. In fact, I have been in some oceans where the water was calm. I could swim easily. I didn’t feel the undertow. I glided across the water. It was quiet.

Image result for still waters run deep

There is a well-known phrase which I’m sure you’ll remember.

Still waters run deep.

It originated as a Latin proverb and lives on in English as an idiom.

Do you know it?

Still waters run deep.

Simply put, it means a mild exterior manner (“still waters”) may hide a more passionate or dangerous internal nature (“run deep”). For example, it can mean that someone who is quiet still contains great wisdom or a deep understanding, or that someone who seems so passive and shy is instead plotting world domination.

What you see on the surface doesn’t tell the whole story, in other words. 

Stay with the mental imagery of a body of water that sinks to great depth—it shows no flowing movements on the surface. You don’t see it moving, but it’s deep.

Let’s stay in the water and invite Jesus into our conversation. Luke’s Gospel tells a story about Jesus and the lake of Gennesaret. By this point in the story, a crowd was pressing in on Jesus. Luckily, he was able to get on a boat that was on the shore of the lake. He used the boat as his podium to teach the crowds, asking a man named Simon to push out a bit from the shore. Distance from the crowds. Jesus needed space. And after he taught them, he then engaged the local fishermen in conversation. He asked Simon to cast out his nets into the deep water.

Simon wasn’t convinced that this was a good idea. They had already worked all night long but hadn’t caught any fish. Notice he didn’t say that they had cast out into the deep water yet. He just said that they hadn’t caught anything. But eventually, Simon agreed to give it a try.

So he cast his nets out into the deep water.

Image result for cast nets into deep water

And they caught so many fish that their nets started to rip. They had to call the other boat to come out and help them haul the fish in. Even so, the two boats were so full of fish that they started to sink. The people were amazed.

See, I know that oftentimes this story is used as some kind of evangelical tool. Go out and catch people. Convert them—that’s what Jesus was telling us.

Well, I’m not sure. What I see here instead is Jesus using extremely symbolic water as an invitation to a big paradigm shift.

Because society conditions us to stay on our side of the lake, to stay in our lanes, to not reach across lines of difference.

Don’t venture out to the deep water. The self-fulfilling prophecy we are given is that we should limit ourselves before we even try. We usually ask: what can or can’t I accomplish” meaning that we’ve already accepted the boxes we’ve been given. The fisherman only saw themselves as fisherman. And so they went through their routines and caught nothing. They assumed that this was their lot in life. This is who they were. But the paradigm shift came and they were challenged to cast their nets into the deep water, into places unknown, and to discover a part of themselves that was there all along but was never fully embraced. Jesus was pushing them to stop asking limiting questions like “what can we accomplish or not accomplish” and instead to ask “What do I want to accomplish?”

They moved from “I can’t catch any fish after a whole night’s work” to “I really want to catch fish so what avenues have we yet to explore, can we go deeper?”

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Reaching Outside the Lines

Luke 4:21-30     

Dear Readers,

Quick question, and please be honest.

Are you hearing any prophetic words, seeing any prophetic justice-action these days that are reaching across lines of difference, welcoming the marginalized, and standing up to hate and injustice and privilege? Are you? If so, please share in the comments.

And now…Luke’s version of Jesus’ prophetic voice taking flight….

Jesus of Nazareth had just read from the Isaiah scroll, which said: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because it has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. I’ve been sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Then Jesus just sits down, drops the mic in the synagogue and says that this is fulfilled simply because the people heard it.

Hearing is an intimate thing.  You gotta lean in. You gotta pay attention. You have to notice body language and expression. The words you hear literally come all the way inside your body where they are then “processed” and understood through your neural connections. If your language is ASL you hear just as intimately, by noticing so much more than words, but intention.

So the crowds of people hearing this were amazed. Wasn’t this Jesus bar Joseph from Nazareth? Wasn’t he the same kid from their small town?

But Jesus wasn’t fooled by their amazement. They wanted Jesus to do some miracles or something—prove that he was magic or could do the stuff they had heard about him. More importantly, they wanted their own personal blessing—for the families, for their town, for Jesus’ hometown. Hey Jesus, homeboy, spread the love to us!

Jesus knew his hometown fans were definitely fairweather fans.

Image result for fairweather fans

They could turn on him at any moment, especially if they found out that this justice and freedom and acceptance wasn’t specifically for them, but was for all those who were oppressed, imprisoned, poor, or marginalized.

Jesus then provides two examples, well-known in Israel, of the prophet coming to the aid of outsiders:  the Zarephath widow and Elijah, and Elisha and Namaan the Syrian (1 Kgs 17:8-24, 2 Kings 5: 1-19).  In both cases, a prophet came to the aid of a gentile when other people in Israel could have also used the help. 

Luke’s author wants us the readers to know that the widow was on the margins of society and undoubtedly poor.  Naaman, though powerful as an army commander, suffered from leprosy, so he was unclean. 

In both cases, a prophet reached out to them on the margins [Elijah and Elisha]. See, Jesus was being prophetic by telling his hometown that they weren’t going to get special treatment.

This of course didn’t go over well. The people of Jesus’ hometown turned on him. Not only did they want to throw him out of town, they wanted to throw him off a cliff! Yeah, that’s not good. But somehow, in Luke’s version of this story, Jesus is able to get out alive, without the people getting to him, thus recalling to mind the scene from A Christmas Story when the leg lamp is broken and Ralphie’s father heads out to the store to get some glue to try to fix it and in his frustration, he can only utter: “Not a finger!!!” Yeah, they couldn’t lay a finger on Jesus.


But I digress.

This story is pretty clear, especially in today’s context. Look, I’ll be frank. Christians [especially the U.S. brand] deserve all the bad press they get. Honestly, American Christians have earned the bad reputation. I’ve been in rooms, halls, sanctuaries and in public spaces with self-proclaimed Christians who quote all manner of scripture they claim is holy and the word of God, but do they hear any of it? Because after they read it they say horrific things about gay, lesbian, and bisexual people and then deny the existence of transgender people. Then, they call immigrants “Isis” and Muslims “anti-Christian” and “against Jesus.” They camp out in the alleyways of Planned Parenthood near the back door so they can heckle doctors, social workers, and any women who receive services. They hold up incredibly triggering and hateful signs using words I won’t utter here [and not because I’m PC, but because they are hateful words]. They say they know who’s going to hell [not them of course] and who Jesus loves and who Jesus hates. They say they are “hearers” and “doers” of God’s Word, and well, I [and most of the rest of the world] call BS.

They are chasing Jesus out of his own town, hoping to throw him off a cliff.

Because Jesus of Nazareth doesn’t bless them like they want to be blessed. Jesus doesn’t favor them. Jesus sees their privilege and their hate and their greediness. Jesus reads from the justice prophet, Isaiah, and the Christians don’t listen or hear or care. They have their own agendas. And anyone outside of those agendas either is against them or doesn’t exist.

And this, my friends, is why Jesus of Nazareth gathered people to his side who would follow him to do justice and to love those on the margins. This is why Jesus even rejected his own town and his own religion so that he could be part of something good in the world. This is what we are prophetically asked to do. Religion has failed us. It’s okay to admit it, because we don’t need to be loyal to a religion.

The way of justice and love is not tied to a religion, a country, or even a sacred book.

Doing justice and loving others across lines of difference is a choice we make. It is a difficult, but I argue, a compassionate and wonderful choice. And yes, sometimes this means we’ll have to leave behind religious ideology or traditions that keep us from doing justice and loving others.

As a general rule, I look at any religious practice or ideology and ask: does it exclude people, separate them out, marginalize them? Then it doesn’t come from anything sacred.

Then I ask: does it reach out to those who are hurting, on the margins, oppressed? Does it take no issue with their nationality, orientation, gender, language, or color of skin? If not, then it’s worthwhile, it’s sacred, it’s useful, it’s prophetic.

So I ask you: how will we listen to the prophetic voices and be inspired to do justice and to love people as they are, to reach outside of boundaries and borders and differences? And how will we be prophetic in our words and actions?

Intimate Hearing, Radical Living

Luke 4:14-21  

Image result for echo deaf superhero

Echo [Ronin], a deaf superhero

Hearing is one of our senses, along with seeing, tasting, smelling, and touching.

Now, let me ask—how many of you are deaf or have a close family member or friend who is deaf?

As a hearing person, I am amazed at how in tune deaf people are with their surroundings and also, how well they communicate with others across a wide range of cultures and languages.

Case in point–my Grandpa M. He was deaf for most of his life. He read lips. I remember as a kid that when we talked with Grandpa, we needed to make eye contact, to face each other. I also remember reading the closed captioning on the TV and thinking that was cool. But to be honest, I never felt hindered in my conversations with him. In fact, to this day I still feel that my Grandpa sometimes communicated more effectively than we did. My grandpa used body language and facial expressions to communicate, as well as his words.

Deafness, unfortunately, is often viewed by hearing people as a deficiency rather than a separate linguistic context, worldview and culture, which people of the deaf community would like us to know that it is.

I asked my friend Jamie Lynn Hill, a freelance ASL interpreter, about her years of working with the deaf community. This is what she shared:


Body language and facial expressions are heavily integrated in their language and in the signs themselves so they’re used to REALLY looking at someone when they speak. Both because they HAVE TO (they can’t hear them) and because sometimes the sign alone doesn’t convey the full feeling, so you have to pay attention to the whole thing. And, as a side note, because you have to LOOK AT ONE ANOTHER to talk, you can’t be on the phone, or watching TV, or surfing Facebook and just be nodding and “uh-huh”ing. And I think that that also makes them better communicators and closer to one another. They always have each other’s full attention. 
Secondly, they really say what they mean. The double speak we use in English doesn’t translate into ASL the same way. It translates into a much more direct and clear statement. You are never left wondering how a deaf person “really feels about you”. Their community is unique in that they are very quick to let you in and share their lives but they can also be very passionate and very protective of themselves and their community. It almost seems like they went so long without having people to communicate easily with that they don’t have time to waste playing games. They want to talk, and share, and be involved in each other’s lives and if you’re willing to be a part of it, great, and if you’re not, fine.

In their history they spent a lot of time not being allowed to sign. Being in families that didn’t learn it, or allow them to learn it. Being shipped off to places for “disabled people” and it’s only in the last couple generations that they’ve been treated remotely like the rest of society. And I think as a result, they really value that communication with one another
And still I know, sadly, of a lot of people who are deaf–kids I’ve worked with, whose families don’t sign at home, and who therefore don’t have the same access to the everyday “how was school, how are you feeling” mundane conversation we take for granted. So when they find themselves surrounded by people they can fully express themselves to and understand back, they just don’t take it for granted.

Thanks, Jamie. What catches my attention is how deaf people have this ability to really listen.

Actually, did you know that research shows that only 7 percent of our personal messages are conveyed by words, 38 percent by tone of voice and 55 percent by facial expressions and body language? That is why nonverbal communication is so important.

See, we can get caught up in the 5 senses [especially hearing and seeing] and then look at others who are deaf or blind as having a disability. But if we do that, we are missing something. They are gifted. And they are often more in tune with their senses than we are. Our senses are miracles—especially when we pay attention to them. Those who are deaf can see more than we can imagine. Those who are blind can hear beyond what we think. Our senses are miracles when we use them.

So I want to try something. I’m going to say [write] less, and then let’s allow for our senses to be heightened, let’s be present in this very moment, and then let’s see what happens.

In Luke’s Gospel story, Jesus of Nazareth has become a teacher–his new profession. Jesus returned home to Nazareth, his home town to do some of that teaching just as he was doing in other synagogues outside of Nazareth. So Jesus read from one of the prophetic scrolls, this time Isaiah. He read famous words that everyone would have known—about an age of jubilee when justice would reign, and marginalized people would be welcomed back and healing would occur for many. Prisons would be emptied. People without sight would see, oppressed people would have freedom. He read from the scroll, rolled it back up, gave it to the synagogue attendant, and sat down.

Silence. People stared at him. Their body language anxious, curious, wondering. What would he say? How should they react?

Silence.

Until—just a few words.
“Today this has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
By simply hearing it—fulfillment.

But what does it mean to truly hear and see it fulfilled in action, in living?

Is it enough to just hear, or do we need to lean in, make eye contact, read lips, facial expression, body language, gestures?

Is intimate hearing actually active listening? Not just using our ears to hear, but our eyes to see, our tongues to taste, our hands to touch, and our noses to smell? To take it all in—to truly sense and be present. So that, in the act of being fully present, and aware and awake, we process what was said/expressed, and then it changes us.

May we learn from all the gifted, incredible people in the deaf community. May we recognize our lack of listening skills. May we put down our phones and turn off our devices. May we look each other in the eyes or read lips, or notice body language and facial expressions.

May we actively listen to each other.

Any time of jubilee and justice–an era during which the marginalized are welcomed and balance is restored will only happen if we listen to each other.

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Saving the Best for Last?

John 2:1-11     

Image result for israel vineyards

Winemaking was a practice in the ancient world we now call the Middle East and parts of Africa. Wine was made in the triangle of the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea and Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee—consider eastern Turkey, Georgia and Armenia. Then the vines made their way to Egypt. There wine’s importance was first documented. The vines also passed through Canaan and ancient Israel. After that, Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans brought the vines to what is now Western Europe and North Africa and then the Spanish brought it to the Americas.

Wine figures prominently in the Bible—both the Old and New Testaments. Prophets like Isaiah use wine frequently as imagery in prophecy. Prominent characters like King David, Moses, and many others were wine drinkers. Noah was the first recorded vine grower. He planted his vineyard where the ark came to rest on Mount Ararat. Back in Jesus’ day, people drank a lot of wine because it was often safer than water. Wine was also a disinfectant for wounds, an agent for dying, a digestion aid, and an instrument for religious ritual.

Image result for ancient israel wine

Making wine was a family enterprise. Everyone would have a role in the harvest. People carried grapes in baskets and then put them on the floor of the winepress and then they pressed the grapes with their bare feet. Finally, though wine was stored in pottery jars–

Image result for ancient israel wine jars and skins

When people traveled, they would put the wine in animal hides [often goat]. These wineskin flasks allowed for the wine to keep fermenting while it was stored.

Image result for ancient israel wineskin flask

So fast forward to Jesus of Nazareth, and let’s be honest—Jesus was a typical Nazarene Jew who enjoyed wine. He was referred to as the one “who came eating and drinking, a gluttonous man and wino, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”

Sounds like my kinda dude.

How many times have you ever considered that Jesus may have been really fun to hang out with? Hmmmm….

Anyway, we find ourselves in a John Gospel story that is often referred to as the first miracle story. But let’s bring it back down to earth. Jesus and his fam and some of his followers are at a wedding in nearby Cana of Galilee. It’s a party. Now at some point, they ran out of wine. And that’s bad news for a wedding reception. How are grandma and grandpa going to do the electric slide without wine?

Image result for electric slide

So Jesus’ mom tells Jesus as much: “There’s no wine.”

At first Jesus seems a little put off. I mean, is it really his problem that the hosts ran out of wine? But Jesus’ mom knows what she’s doing. She’s savvy. She’s in on the joke, you see. She tells the servants to do whatever Jesus says. Then we get some important details. There are 6 stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification. Aha! Let’s explore this. In Jesus’ day, the Jewish people had developed water purification rituals before entering the temple or other religious rites. They would submerge themselves in a mikveh, a collection of water similar to a pool.

Image result for mikveh

So those 20-30 gallon jars were for purification purposes. You sensing where this is going yet? I don’t need to fill in the blanks, right?

Consider that Jesus of Nazareth had recently met up with crazy John the baptizer at the River Jordan to be submerged in the water, baptized. It was a ritual cleansing for “reorienting” [repenting]. So now Jesus has the people fill those empty purification jars with water. What was supposed to hold “holy” water would now be party juice. They do it and then they draw some out for the chief steward. He takes one drink and is like: “What is this? It’s gooood…” See, usually you serve the good wine at the beginning of the reception and then people’s taste buds get numb so that at the end of the night you can serve the bleh or meh wine.

But the opposite was true—the best wine for last.

So let’s review the opposites at play here:
-best wine served last, not first
-religious, ritual jars filled with secular juice
-divine to profane
-clean to unclean

There is so much to say about this story. What stands out to me is the interplay of water as a purifying, cleansing, blessing agent and wine as coming from that water and bringing about joy, and existing in the everyday lives of ordinary people, and quite frankly, reminding us that all our religious rules and rites can blow up at any moment.

And it’s a world of opposite possibilities:

Exclusion to Inclusion
Division to togetherness
Walls to open spaces and welcome mats
Hatred to Compassion
Judgement to Acceptance

It’s a world of possibilities and the world of incarnation—of the divine and human coexisting just like water and wine coexist. It’s a world that exists in each one of us, the possibility to make change. You know, Martin Luther King once said:

Image result for mlk always time to do the right thing

There will be resistance to us turning water into wine, friends. There will be people with red baseball hats that call certain others unclean and shout hateful and harmful rhetoric about making things great again, but we’ve learned from this story, haven’t we? Being great isn’t about power or sovereignty or control. We don’t get to say who is clean or unclean. At any moment, things can flip.

See, greatness is about serving others in love.

For if our actions are generated by love, we will make change. We will change water into wine. We will turn the tables in ourselves and in the world. Salud!

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