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Posts tagged ‘Mark’

How Do We Measure Success?

Luke 10:1-11

Speak Peace
This story, in my opinion, is about how one defines success.My initial thoughts on the background of this Luke story: it’s originally a Mark story, but instead of Jesus sending out 12 [as in Mark], Jesus sends 70, or is that 72? Some Bible translations go with 70, while others say 72. Why? I don’t have time to go into all that, but let’s just say it’s all about one little Greek word that appears in some of the copies of Gospel manuscripts and whether or not that particular manuscript copy changes the number, but it’s not really a huge deal. In my perspective, either 70 or 72 leads us right to the Old Testament, and more specifically, to Genesis 10. Often called the table of nations, Genesis 10 reveals all of Noah’s family and offspring. That family, of course, eventually led to the story of Moses, who in Numbers 11 appoints 70 elders and then two more. That’s 72. And these people were filled with “spirit.” Seems like a pretty strong connection to Luke’s Gospel story. The number 70/72 makes Jesus’ calling and sending of disciples a universal action and not some regional movement.

Those people are sent on the “way” to be with other people. They are sent to treat all people with equal respect, to heal social divisions, and to create and participate in open tables. They are “lambs in the midst of wolves,” which reminds them of their vulnerability. If they are to do this work, they will need to be vulnerable with the people they meet and accept their hospitality.

Without community, this work will not happen.

And so, away they go, in pairs. They are to speak peace to every house, which is shalom, the wholeness. If someone reciprocates that peace, peace will rest on that person. If not, the peace comes back to them. Finally, they are to heal the weak. We’re not talking about sick people as we often assume. Healing the weak entails addressing the unjust societal structures that separate people and oppress. Healing can be physical, mental, spiritual, or societal, or all of the above.

So in short, this mission, this living out the Reign of God looks like this: eating, drinking, healing, and fellowship. Oh, and also not dwelling on those who reject the peace and the healing. Shaking the dust off of one’s sandals, in my view, is about moving on and not resenting people, even if they reject you.

In Luke, this is Jesus’ version of success. How does it compare to what churches actually do and say? Hmm…..

I think it’s obvious that most churches today are more concerned than ever before about measuring success. How many people sit in the pews or attend worship? How much money are we taking in? How many new members did we receive last month? Do people remark about our beautiful building? Are we well-respected in the community? I could go on, but you get the idea. The institutional church bases most of its measurement of success on business models or societal structures. For generations, the U.S. Christian church was a standard, old reliable institution in each town, city, and suburb. Then post-modernism came and went. People in those towns, cities, and communities began to see the church institution as no different than any other. Where was the meaning? What made the church uniquely wonderful and different? In fact, most people saw or experienced awful and hurtful things in the church. No wonder they left. No wonder the institution started to decline and continues to decline.

But the institution is not the church, and thank god.

The church is community.

As Jesus sent out people to heal and reconcile, he sent them out in community to be community. Buildings didn’t matter. Strategic financial planning or marketing didn’t matter. What mattered was community, and what that community stood for: justice and peace.

As such, any faith community is our group of 72. We are not in this alone. Faith and spirituality are communal and we make a huge mistake when we try to make it isolated, like when people say: my Bible says, or my God does or says…In our church structures, we struggle the most when our leaders and volunteers are completely autonomous. We become fragmented, burned out, and disconnected. Why? Because that’s not how it’s supposed to work. We are supposed to be a community of staff, volunteers, leaders, etc. Males and females, non-binary zes, children, teenagers, young adults, older adults, people behind the scenes and people in front, creative and visionary minds and detail-oriented and task-oriented minds. We are supposed to be radically together in community. This means that every little and big thing we do in our faith communities is for the good of the whole, for something bigger than ourselves.

How do you measure success? It matters how you answer that. People struggle their whole lives trying to achieve goals they never reach and end up feeling tired, disappointed, and out of balance. But what if this story offers us some insight? What if success is not measured by numbers, money, degrees, and prestige?

What if success is measured by community, and how people treat each other within that community?

What if success is welcoming all to the table?

Consider this from St. Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out to the world.
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless others now.

Note: next week I’ll post something about Luke 10:25-37 and ask the question: Who Are Our Neighbors?
I’ll say right now, however, that #BlackLivesMatter!
BLM
And all who are ignored, discriminated against, treated as lesser, and all who are the targets of racism and prejudice, we won’t stand by and watch it happen; we won’t be silent. You should have the space to express your anger, frustration, and sadness. We love you. We will stand with you. Let’s put an end to this sick, institutional, societal racism. And let’s stop saying that if we support Black Lives Matter that we are “against” the police or “against” others. That is not only false, it is also harmful. We can be “for” the just treatment of Black people everywhere and also “for” those in law enforcement. We can be “for” the honesty of admitting that the U.S. has deep, racist roots within its systems and society. And at the same time, while we support Black Lives Matter, we can also support the just treatment of undocumented immigrants, transgender and non-binary folk, the poor and homeless, the abused, and all else who deserve our love and attention. Of course we can.

Room in the Tomb, Room in Us All

Luke 24: 1-12
Empty-tomb

I’ll admit it. During this particular Holy Week and then, on Resurrection or “Easter” Sunday, I didn’t feel so up to painting eggs, eating candy, or singing hallelujah, Christ is risen! My role here is not to be a Debbie Downer–it’s just to be honest. I’m not up to it. Because, doesn’t it just seem like yesterday that people were changing their Facebook profiles and creating Twitter hashtags like #jesuiparis [i.e. I am Paris], after terrorist attacks?

jesuisparis
And then the attacks in Brussels. And then another attack outside of Baghdad, Iraq at a soccer game; a bomb in Turkey; and then, on Good Friday, bombs in a Nigeria mosque that take the lives of worshipers. And on Easter Sunday, a bombing in a park in Pakistan where Muslims and Christians [many of them children] mingled and played and enjoyed the outdoor festivities.

pakistanLike the Paris attacks, Brussels was trending on Twitter and on the news–along with some guy named Ted Cruz, another guy with a squirrel on his head, a Spice Girls reunion, and peeps. Lots of peeps.

peepsBut Baghdad? Turkey? Nigeria? Pakistan? Not so much. Really, I’m not bringing this up to bring you down. I’m just being honest.

So before I seemingly ruin your holiday, let me explain. This is not about despair, or pointing fingers, or whatever else.

This is about being honest and being connected.

We live in a world with many people in it, who speak different languages and practice different religions [or no religion] and who eat different things and wear different clothes. It’s always been like that. This is humanity. When we get into this kind of violence and fear is when we forget our humanity.

When we think that “our” way is the best way, or even worse, the only way, we impose that way on anyone who gets in the way.

And let’s not go down this road of accusing Muslims or Arabs for being the group of people that is doing this the most. It’s not true. Anglos in America have done it [and do it], Europeans do it, too. You can blame whole religions if you wish [though it’s misguided], because people kill others because they choose to, or are moved to by charismatic, evil-crafty leaders with authority, power, and money do it. Individual people decide to commit violence, and yes, some are desperate and destitute and coerced into it. But we can make no blanket statements anymore. When we accuse a whole religion [or cultural group] of something as terrible as these violent acts, we show our ignorance and unwillingness to embrace a difficult truth: we are all connected. So if we propagate hateful and prejudice rhetoric about ANY group of people, we are contributing to this awful mess.

So don’t do it.

This is why I refuse to stand by and watch while many people [whether religious or not] give into fear. This is the last thing we should do. Fear only creates more fear, and then more misunderstanding, less connection and cooperation, and more violence. In wake of such violence and tragedy, fear should not be an option. Understanding, relationship-building, and cooperation are the options. For as much as we move from hashtag to hashtag and headline to headline, we are not governed by these things. We choose whether or not we will know our neighbors and even those outside our neighborhood and community. We choose whether or not we shrink back in fear or whether we respond with love and empathy.

In this very moment, there is a Muslim refugee family from Syria that just arrived in the Warminster, PA area. The United Church of Christ in Warminster and other congregations and non-religious folk too will be involved in helping them get settled here via co-sponsorship, housing provision, transportation, language courses, job assistance, etc. So they feel welcome.

This is a choice.

And on resurrection Sunday, there is a story that presents a choice as well. Most of you have heard or read this story in the four Gospels, so it may seem familiar. This time, we’re in Luke’s Gospel, pretty similar to the oldest Gospel, Mark, but with its own nuances. The story begins as all the resurrection accounts do–without fanfare and quite gloomy. Women go to the tomb where Jesus’ body was placed for burial [which is a cave] and they come with spices. They see, however, that the protective stone placed in front of the tomb has been rolled away. So they go in. To their surprise, the body of Jesus of Nazareth is missing. Luke offers no details here and leaves room for us to ask questions like: was the body stolen by fanatic followers of Jesus? Was the body removed by the Romans? Or the temple authorities? Was the body ever put in that cave in the first place?

As we are asking these questions, two men in shining clothes appear to the women and ask a different question: Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here; he has been raised. REMEMBER what he spoke to you, in Galilee? It is necessary for the son of man to be delivered into the hands of sinful human beings, and to be crucified, and on the third day to rise.

And now, Luke’s author is making us do our homework. First, the two men in shining clothes are JUST like Moses and Elijah in the story of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain that Luke told in chapter 9. So it’s an identity moment for Jesus. He’s on the same level now as those great prophets.

And then, the questions. The women are asked to remember. In Luke, remembering is a constant theme. Jesus asks his friends the disciples to remember, time and time again. Now, the women are asked to remember. The son of man [i.e., the son of adam, or son of humanity] is delivered into the hands of sinful people, and crucified, and then will rise on the third day.

Consider that for the entire Gospel of Luke, the sinners were always the ones who hung out with Jesus–the marginalized, the oppressed, the left out. Now, the sinners are the authorities who led to Jesus’ death.

The women choose to remember.

So they don’t stay in the tomb, crying out of sadness. They don’t shrink away from the situation out of fear. Instead, they leave the empty tomb and tell the disciples about it. They are named: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary of James, etc. These courageous women are met with not only skepticism, but are considered crazy by some of Jesus’ closest followers. In fact, the only guy who considers their story is Peter. He goes to the tomb [running] and finds linen burial clothes [but no body]. And he leaves the empty tomb wondering what actually happened.

Here’s what I take from this story, and I don’t know if what I say matters, but I do think the story can matter, that is, if it moves you to do things in your life that matter. Ultimately, how we decide to act–how we treat people, matters the most. So here goes:

Why did Jesus die? A question we have to ask if we plan on talking about resurrection. Why did he die? I’m not one who thinks that he had to die. I know that many, many people will disagree, and that’s fine. But I don’t think his dying was the whole point. I think he died because he was a threat–not as a violent revolutionary, but because Jesus of Nazareth challenged the whole societal system of violence and death. Jesus preached a different way of life that he called the reign of God. It wasn’t based on fear, death, or violence. Rather, it was based on faith, hope, and nonviolent love.[1]

Ask yourself: what do violent religious fanatics, power-wielding authorities and fear mongers have in common? They attempt to channel our fears against certain groups of people, separating us and creating more chaos and less cooperation. Rather than raising our children to be peacemakers and to have friends from a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds, we are told to be fearful and to shrink back, protect our own, and to shelter children and youth from the world. What killed Jesus was indeed fear.

But this story tells us that we are not supposed to give into that fear.

The resurrection story isn’t flashy at all. Maybe that’s why the bunnies and baskets and painted eggs and peeps need to be there. Because really–the tomb is empty and we’re left to ponder: what happened? The real symbol of Easter is the empty tomb. No pageants, no lights, no trumpets or angels. Nobody is exchanging gifts under a tree or singing old songs.

The tomb.

Is.

Empty.

We are left with emptiness.

The emptiness makes space for us in our distress and sadness about what’s happening all over the world. The emptiness leaves space for us to ponder like Peter: what happened? The emptiness leaves space for us to make decisions. How will we react? Will we respond out of fear? Or possibility, promise, new life? Will we react like Mary Magdalene, the one who kept on searching for the face of mercy and love, in spite of the uncertainty and despair all around?

Friends, there is room in the tomb for your doubts, your questions, and even your despair. But there is also room for your dreams, your joys, your whole selves. What will we choose? There is room. There is room. There is ALWAYS room for you. Love is that big, that wide, that accessible. So make room in yourselves for new life, for love, for mercy, for empathy, for light. Find yourself and embrace your uniqueness.

And always make room for others–all others. Make the choice to work for peace and cooperation, and empathy. Speak life to the death of prejudice and violence.

May every day be resurrection day.

[1] Ericksen, Adam, Jesus Was Killed For National Security Reasons: Good Friday, Fear, and Muslim Surveillance, March 25, 2016.

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

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).

Dare to Serve

Mark 10:35-45

questionsQuestion of the day:
Who was one of the most effective leaders you have ever encountered?

Go ahead—think about him/her.
Now name some of his/her characteristics.

Okay, now examine those characteristics.

How many of them are related to strength, certainty, might, power, and authority?

And how many characteristics are related to humility and servanthood?

There are million books about leadership. Each one tries to make its case as to how leaders ought to be, what’s most effective, and why certain leaders are successful. I’ve ready my share of those books. I’m certainly interested in, no, fascinated by leadership. Why? Because leaders move people and things in this world—for good or for bad. For example, if an organization, be it a company or a nonprofit has poor leadership, they mostly fail in what they are trying to do, it’s a toxic environment, and they usually don’t survive. Likewise, if an organization has effective leaders within it, things thrive, the environment is positive, and people enjoy being part of it.

In college and in graduate school, I studied about leadership. I learned about the so-called greatest leaders of all time around the world who moved people and things [and even whole countries] to success, peace, safety, and community. I also learned about the infamous leaders throughout history who brought about war, poverty, destruction, and pain. So yes, leadership has always mattered, and it still does.

I’ve always found it quite curious, as I read leadership books and observe leadership in the world, that a large number of people still equate leadership with strength, muscle, and authority. It is still a quite popular belief that leaders have so-called masculine qualities and thus, people trust the leader, follow him [typically gender-specific and male], and will do as he says because…
He’s an effective leader.

oppressiveleaders

I’ve never really bought that perspective, because far too often I’ve seen such “strong” leaders throw their weight around, intimidate, and manipulate. I’ve also seen people cower when certain leaders entered a room—silencing their voices out of fear of offending him or her. Sounds too dramatic, but it’s real. Those who follow such leaders often do so without limits. They are willing to follow said leader to any place, and they are willing to do anything, because they believe that the leader is right and will lead them to success.

When I first started working in the church as a pastor, I’ll never forget some of the comments that adults made in my first couple of years. They would say things like:

You’re just not cut out to be a leader. You’re too nice. You hang around kids and youth and listen to them too much. You’re not strong enough. You need to tell us what to do. Leaders lead, they don’t follow. They should be sure and narrowly focused on the goal.

I thought it would change as I gained more experience in my vocation, but it didn’t. Every place I’ve worked, there have always been plenty of people who have repeated those same things, but now they mostly say them because they want me to tell them what to do, or they want me to change something they don’t like, or they want to get rid of someone they dislike, or they want to be in charge of something that is currently under shared leadership.

This is not to say that leaders shouldn’t make decisions or suggestions or envision a goal and help people set out to accomplish it.
But we’ve foolishly accepted the status quo ideas of leadership that have unfortunately lived on throughout history. Perhaps this is why I found yet another book on leadership to actually be refreshing.

dare_to_serve-300x300

Dare to Serve: How To Drive Superior Results While Serving Others, written by Cheryl Bachelder, details how embodying certain servant leader characteristics has helped her to achieve dramatic results in her vocation and in her life. When Bachelder was named CEO of the fast food chain Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen, things were bad. Store sales were negative. The company and its franchisees were practically coming to blows. Today, however, Popeye’s market share has grown from 14% to 21%. Margins have increased from 17% to 21%. And the franchisees are so delighted with the turnaround they’re taking an active role in remodeling the restaurants. According to Bacheldor, the difference-maker is servant leadership. In her book she shows how she and other like-minded CEOs have applied a concept often derided as weak and sappy to deliver superior business results and supercharge employee retention and customer loyalty. If you love leading, Bachelder insists, you must love serving.

If you love leading, you love serving.

I LIKE IT!
Some notable quotes from the book:

Leaders are courageous enough to take people to a daring destination, and humble enough to selflessly serve others on the journey.

Leaders have the courage to set big goals and the humility to put the needs of their followers above their own.

For sure, I would consider Jesus of Nazareth to be this type of servant leader. And if you read the Gospel stories about him and his followers, you also get the sense that his own disciples viewed leadership as more of an authoritative position and not so much about serving others. It’s for that reason that James and John approach their teacher and ask him to grant them a lofty position. They have no idea what they’re asking for. Jesus clarifies by reminding them that following the way is not at all about obtaining lofty positions for yourself. It is instead about serving others. If James and John wish to follow Jesus, are they willing to drink from the same cup and be baptized in the same way as Jesus?

empathy_symbolEmpathy.
The cup is a reference to what is to come in the story—Jesus’ symbolic gesture with a cup of wine in Jerusalem, while dining with his followers. The cup is suffering, but not for the sake of suffering. The cup represents suffering with people in the world, the empathy of that act that can encourage and heal.
immersionImmersion.

The baptism reference is of course to the way Jesus was baptized by John—immersed in water just as so many others were, in the river Jordan. If you recall, John did not want to baptize Jesus because he felt that he was unworthy to do so. The fact that Jesus insisted upon it shows again Jesus’ emphasis on servanthood and the rejection of authoritative, lofty status.

James and John are surprisingly confident that they are able to do what Jesus describes. But sensing that they are still more worried about status, Jesus reminds them that not even he has the ability to grant them a seat at his right or left.

This whole conversation angers the others disciples. Were they mad because James and John were bogarting their rabbi? Or were they also trying to figure out how to get the same lofty status? It’s not clear in the story, but what is clear is Jesus’ idea of what leadership looks like. He mentions the typical, status quo type of leaders who lord over others and are tyrants. And then he contrasts those hierarchical leaders with the servant leaders.

For Jesus, a leader doesn’t come to be served, but to serve.

If there is any authority or greatness in leadership, it comes from serving others. Therefore, any dominant or oppressive leadership denies everything that Jesus taught and lived.

This is counter-culture, to be sure. But I think it is a life-giving mentality, if we choose to listen and then apply it in life. Many of us may feel like we’re not leaders because we’re too introverted or shy, or because we don’t like to take charge, or because we prefer collaboration to authority. But you can be leaders, and more than that, you can make a positive impact by being a servant leader. You can shun the spotlight and instead shine light on others.

spotlightsYou can listen carefully, and cooperate. You can help make decisions that serve the greater whole rather than a select few. You can encourage and build up.

So in this life, what kind of leader will you choose to be?

Will you dare to serve others? Will you dare to go to risky places?

Friends, in your home life, at school, at work, at church—wherever you are—be courageous to walk with others to daring destinations, and be humble enough to selflessly serve others along that journey.

It’s All About Relationship

Mark 10:2-16

Take a moment to think about the important relationships in your life.

Now, think about the boundaries and rules you set in those relationships.

Do those rules and boundaries enhance your relationships or hinder them?

Obviously, society as a whole sets rules and laws. Such rules are supposed to keep people safe and to enable a higher quality of life. Families do the same thing. Parents set rules for their children—supposedly for the same reason. We set rules and boundaries with our brothers and sisters, our partners and spouses, and even our friends. But…

Do our rules actually help us connect to each other in healthy relationship?

This is an important question to ask, because relationships move the world.
Relationships really matter.

And in a world in which violence, political posturing, religious propaganda, and materialism continue to drive and distract people—relationships could very well be the salve that leads us to healing and community.

In this Mark story, we find Jesus of Nazareth in a crowd of people, once again facing his religious peers, the Pharisees. The Pharisees were testing Jesus by asking him somewhat absurd and impossible-to-answer questions. Imagine much of what political debates look like. Candidates are paraded in front of us and asked a barrage of questions—many of them not really having the ability to answer them. In the end, it is often which candidate looks LESS foolish who wins such debates.

Town-Hall-Debate-Meme

It’s a setup. And often, the real questions that could lead to some positive changes are never asked. For example, after yet another shooting in a school in the United States [in Oregon], how many concrete questions will be asked of presidential candidates regarding swift and federal gun laws that could combat this sad and horrific violence? Most likely, the questions will be ambiguous as best, and each candidate according to his/her party line will vaguely address it. But they will never get to the point.

It’s about relationships. Gun control laws have nothing to do with politics, or religion, or freedoms, or any of the absurd back and forth with the NRA.

It’s about relationship—protecting vulnerable children from such violence; raising youth to consider alternatives to guns in order to resolve arguments in the street or the classroom; giving incentive to gun shop owners to respectfully and honestly run their businesses without fear; pushing aside partisan politics to curb gun violence and to promote more…

Relationship building.

But that’s not what happens. And that didn’t happen when the Pharisees debated Jesus.
This is why, I think, that this part of Mark’s Gospel is so often misunderstood.

First of all, context alert. We’re talking 1st and 2nd Century Israel and Palestine.
And, we’re talking about Jewish subcultures. Men married women.

Women were property and so were their children.
Men could remarry or marry more than one woman.
Women had no rights.

And now we rejoin the story. The Pharisees are asking Jesus about marriage laws.
But there’s a twist. Remember John the Baptizer, the guy who baptized Jesus in the River Jordan? Jesus’ cousin? Well, he was killed by Herod Antipas for saying that Herod’s divorce and remarriage was not lawful.

So the Pharisees ask Jesus this question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” anticipating a response that might make him guilty of treason.

whaaat-2That was the political distraction.

The religious distraction goes all the way back to the book of Deuteronomy [the last book of the Torah]. There were different schools of thought in Judaism about divorce. Some thought that a man could only divorce a woman if she committed adultery. Others pretty much said that a man could divorce a woman if she looked at him and made funny faces or burned dinner.

Jesus choose not to answer the Pharisees’ question. He asks them a question!
“What did Moses command you?”

This is was a trick question, because Moses never did actually command anything about divorce. Instead, the book of Deuteronomy was created as a guide and interpretation to life in that era and part of the world. As every religion does, Judaism adapted to societal changes and thus, rules changed. Deuteronomy reflected that, and so technically when the Pharisees respond with: “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her” they were making the legal argument, according to religious law.

But Jesus flips it over.
“Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.”

The Pharisees may have been very good at quoting scripture and trying to make others look bad, but they were now grouped together with the Egyptian Pharaoh, the arch enemy of the Israelites in the Moses story, who also was hard of heart.

Well, that must have embarrassed or at least royally ticked off the Pharisees.

Jesus isn’t done.
He moves on from divorce to marriage itself. He talks about God’s creation and instead of referencing Deuteronomy, he quotes Genesis.

Jesus reminds them that from the very start of things, God created “them” male and female. There is no hierarchy.
A man leaves his father and mother and joins with his wife.
They become one.
And what God has joined together, let no one separate.

I’ve heard this quote a million times—either as part of a wedding, or in some hateful, misguided propaganda against gay and lesbian couples.

Leviticus

But I said that we’d not let ourselves get distracted with those things and that we would focus on relationships instead, because that’s what Jesus was doing here.

He shifted the whole conversation from religious divorce laws to relationships—relationships God intended to be important and life-giving.

But let’s not dump on the Pharisees. Jesus’ own followers were still harping on the dogma and doctrinal laws and missing the point. After the Pharisees scene, Jesus is with the disciples in a house, and they are asking him again about divorce.

Jesus’ response is tricky, if you don’t know the context.

Basically, his statement: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” is flipping the script again. Remember that in this culture and era men had all the rights. Adultery was defined like this: if a man had an affair with a married woman he committed adultery against that woman’s husband; if a married woman had an affair with anyone, she committed adultery against her husband. In other words, women were always to blame, and neither could they divorce their husbands. So Jesus’ words were blasphemous for that group to hear.

But his point was well-made: if God created humans equally male and female, why are women so powerless and considered property of men?

Likewise, why were divorced women left to suffer and starve, isolated from society?

Why were so-called “followers” of God’s law disenfranchising people, dehumanizing them, and pushing them to the margins?

And he drives it home when he welcomes children.

Children were [and I would argue that they are] the most powerless in the world. They don’t ask to be brought into this crazy mess of a planet, but here they are. Often they are neglected, abused, ignored, and considered property.

Side note: many last week were gushing over Pope Francis’ baby kissing episodes and the little girl from California who ran out to meet him, eluding security guards, delivering her personal letter to him. Consider, though, that many people were surprised, shocked, amazed even that the Pope would pay attention to children, as if it were something extra special or supernatural. Really?

It seems that many of us in the world don’t expect adults [especially religious rock stars] to embrace children.

Further, how many of you really know why the little girl ran to the Pope? The letter was about her parents who are undocumented. They have been living and working in the U.S. for years—picking fruits and vegetables. They are in real danger of being deported. Her letter was to ask the Pope to consider the many human beings who are mistreated and discriminated against because of outdated immigration laws. As a child, she was simply asking for religious people [who claim to love Jesus and love children] to work towards immigration reform so kids like her can be with their parents.

In spite of what some have said, I don’t think that Pope Francis welcoming her and receiving her letter was at all like the scene of Jesus of Nazareth calling the children to him. The kids in Mark’s story didn’t have to evade security guards and secret service; they only had to deal with annoyed disciples.

Further, when the disciples tried to shoo the children away, Jesus was furious. He called them out. He told them: Do not stop the children; for the reign of God belongs to them—not because they’re cute or good press or promote my agenda, but because they are the least. They are the women who are left out; they are lepers pushed away from society; they are Samaritans who are hated; they are the little ones, and you should bless them and love them.

It’s about relationships.

Friends, do this, please!
Any time someone or some church tries to use scripture as a way to exclude people, or disenfranchise certain groups, or to promote a political or even a religious agenda—redirect the conversation.

Don’t feel that you have to answer trap questions.

Instead, you ask the questions.

When someone claims that gay or lesbian people are outside of the Bible’s definition of marriage, and therefore, God doesn’t approve, ask them a question:

What did Jesus command?

When someone asks how your church could accept transgender people, or those who are in gender transition, or those who are still discovering themselves, ask them a question:

What did Jesus command?

When someone wonders how any American Christian could be friends with a Muslim, ask them this question:

What did Jesus command?

That question will most likely lead to silence, because people who use religion to justify their prejudice aren’t thinking about loving their neighbor as they love themselves.

And then, when children’s voices are silenced by guns; when women are made powerless and stripped of their human rights; when refugees are turned away; when addicts are locked outside the church; when people without papers are discriminated against and called names;

Remember, it’s all about relationship.

We are all related to each other on this planet. We were made that way. In all the craziness of culture, religion, and politics, it’s easy to forget that. But remember, we’re all related to each other. And the more we emphasize our connection to each other, the more we will find our way, the more we’ll show compassion and understanding; the more we’ll share; the more we’ll learn and grow.

It’s about relationship.

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