Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘prophecy’

The Power of Love: a Different Joy

Zephaniah 3:16-17; 19-20a

Resultado de imagen para no mud no lotus

You know it must be Advent if on the in later December we’re reading from another minor Hebrew prophet, in this case Zephaniah. It would be a stretch to say that many people know the book of Zephaniah well [Jewish or Christian alike].

Though, come on–I mean, he was the son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah, born in the days of King Josiah, son of Amon of Judah—and no, I didn’t make up those names, and yes, it sounds like something from Lord of the Rings, and sure, some of us who went to Divinity school memorized that.

Resultado de imagen para lord of the rings characters

But all kidding aside, as with other Hebrew prophets of ages long past, I do think good ol’ Zephy has something to say to us today.

A little context please? Okay, yes.

The cliff notes version of what scholars say about this prophetic book: when was it written? Somewhere in the neighborhood of 698 BCE-586 BCE, depending on who you talk to. Where was it written? Jerusalem. What was going on? Well, lots. First off, the Israelites were being bad, apparently; they weren’t obeying Yahweh’s commands as they were supposed to. Maybe they were just settling back in after a few generations of exile? Whatever the case, Zephaniah’s author called attention to the Israelite’s behavior as making Yahweh mad. So the book’s tone is ticked off, and it’s spelled out with these sections: the coming judgement of Judah, the great day of the Lord, judgement on enemies, wickedness of Jerusalem, and the punishment of nations. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

The perfect prophecy to read on JOY Sunday…not.

Resultado de imagen para let me think about it...no
But Zephaniah ends differently. The book closes out with God/Yahweh being much nicer, less angry, and dare I say—loving and gentle? Yahweh is present, protective of Israel, and happy to welcome people back. Apparently, Yahweh has a lovely singing voice too and will be showing off the holy pipes.

Resultado de imagen para jesus singing karaoke
More important than the Holy Karaoke, people will be healed, the homeless will find places to live. People who were hated will now be accepted. Everyone comes home. It’s a celebration of great joy! Now that’s more like it, Zephy…

And that’s what brings me to why I think this minor prophet still has something prophetic to say to us today so many years later.

See, we’re living in a Zephaniah world.

Some of us have been exiled and know what it feels like to be marginalized or excluded. Some of us have lived though times of great suffering, loneliness, and despair. Some of us are going through that right now. Still others find very few reasons to live any longer. And many today are just tired—tired of a depressing and heavy news cycle that continues to make us aware of the great pain, suffering, and injustice in the world. A 7-year-old girl from Guatemala dies simply because she can’t get enough water to drink while detained by U.S. immigration enforcement. Large groups of humans sprawled out on top of steam vents all across Philadelphia, just to stay warm. Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, and others specifically targeted by violent people. Individuals still left out, refused jobs, discriminated against in hospitals and other public spaces, simply because of who they love or how they identify or express gender. The Christian religion on the whole, has become known more as a perpetrator of hateful rhetoric and alliance with political leaders and lobbying monies and ignorance of child abuse and discrimination than it is known for love, peacemaking, and service to others.

Yes, we live in Zephaniah’s world.

Yahweh might as well be the same kinda angry at Western Christianity and at society in general. We’re not really fulfilling our part of the bargain—to heal the sick, give homes to the homeless, gather in the outcasts, and love each other.

Sure, we can put up pretty lights and sing carols and talk about joy, but I would argue we can’t. Not until we admit where we are, in Zephaniah’s world, in this world. Not until we recognize the deep suffering going on. Not until we are incensed by the injustice in our world. Not until we talk about our own feelings of despair, heaviness, and apathy. We have to go there, if we truly want to get to the joy part.

Rumi, the brilliant Islamic poet, wrote of sorrow being the prerequisite for joy. Sorrow makes space for joy to enter in. Old roots are pulled up within us and new growth takes place. Only then will joy flow through us like a river.

We’ve been talking the last two weeks about the promise of inclusion, about what it looks like/feels like to be excluded and then finally accepted and invited in. And that this promise of inclusion is a powerful promise to believe in, because if we do, we will seek inclusion for those we see on the margins.

See, it’s a decision to believe in the promise of inclusion. And it’s a decision to think about joy as rising out of sorrow and suffering.

And I think what bends us towards those decisions is an understanding that love itself is not an emotion, but an active choice as well.

In the world of Zephaniah, Yahweh made a love-deal with the Israelites. But the moment they started mistreating each other and oppressing people and manipulating, there was no more Mr. Nice Yahweh. Because love for Yahweh and for the Israelites has to be an active choice, not just a feeling.

And this is why love has tremendous power to create a better world—in ourselves, and on this planet. There is great power in sitting with someone in their grief, with loving patience and a loving ear with loving acceptance. There is power in standing side by side with someone who feels pushed down, choosing to love by standing with them. There is power in treating newcomers with loving hospitality, power in lovingly learning about someone’s culture or religion; power in mentoring children and youth with loving patience; power in lovingly lifting up or even carrying those who are experiencing extreme mental or physical challenges; there is power in choosing to lovingly care for the earth, the animals, trees, and ecosystems. Love as an action is powerful.

And this is what brings true joy into our lives.

Advertisements

Shiny Faces & Propheteering

Exodus 34:29-35   and Luke 9:28, 29; 37, 38

What does it mean to have a shiny face?

Okay, think about it.

shine.jpegShiny face is real. By midday, your face just might have a little sheen. It’s called sebum [combo of dead skin cells and lipids]. This sebum protects your skin from drying out. But it can look oily and make your face shiny. Over-exfoliation?

I’ve had that problem before. After running outside in the cold winter weather, I’m not sweating as a normally do, but my face gets really shiny. My skin is overcompensating for the dry weather. My forehead is shiny. Or, sometimes I over-moisturize with face cream and, shiny face. And finally, if I get some nice sun, could very well be…shiny face.

This is not about complexion, pigmentation or whatever. Everybody can get the shiny face. Even light reflecting off of you the right way can give you the shiny face. It’s hard to photoshop, too.

Apparently both Moses and Jesus had the shiny face issue.

Now in American Christianity we don’t talk much about the Moses-Jesus connection. But we should. The two characters, though centuries removed from each other, have a lot in common. Both were considered prophets. And in this story, both got shiny faces when they met up with God.

Also keep in mind that Luke’s Gospel is not hiding the fact that the Jesus story is parallel to the Exodus story. Moses and the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. Then, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt to Jerusalem. After that, the Israelites were exiled to Babylon and other places. Jesus, a Jew himself, would now return to Jerusalem. It’s a full-circle moment. And of course it’s clear in this particular story in Luke that the author is making connections between Moses and Jesus. Moses appears in the story, on the mountaintop, with the other prophet Elijah. The story tells us that Moses led the people to freedom and now Jesus will do the same—albeit via a different road. Luke even starts his story saying that Jesus, Peter, John, and James went up the mountain eight days after a series of teachings. This is to indicate the wholeness of what was about to happen—for the eighth day in Hebrew tradition, was the day of new creation.

Just like Moses on Mt Sinai, Jesus is changed by light. Luke uses the Greek word heteron which means changed, different, other. But Luke adds a detail that the original author of this story, Mark, doesn’t say. Mark says that Jesus was transfigured before them. Luke says that the appearance of Jesus’ face was changed. It’s Moses all over again. His clothes also turn a dazzling white. Maybe like a really good Elvis impersonator? But this time, there was no veil, nothing to cover up before the presence of Divine Light. Jesus shone brightly and then they all had to come down from that mountain.

Inevitably, once you come down from any mountaintop experience, reality hits quickly. And so it did. Just as soon as they are down on the ground, a great crowd comes. And then a man shouts out: I beg you! Help my son!

The transfiguration story can be interpreted in a lot of ways. Here’s what I’m thinking this time around. I’m seeing prophets and shiny faces.

Let’s talk a bit about prophets and the idea of someone being prophetic or engaging in propheteering [hehe].

There are two extremes in Christian traditions in regards to what it means to be prophetic. First, there is the common-held belief that prophets tell the future or predict things. They have special knowledge. Thus, we have thousands of books written by people who claim to be prophetic. It’s pathetic.

prophecyOn the other hand, some Christians hold the view that being prophetic means being social-justice oriented or political.

It’s important to be familiar with the extremes and then to encounter a more balanced and grounded perspective about prophets.

For example, I appreciate what Jewish Rabbi Abraham Heschel and NT scholar Walter Brueggemann have to say. First, Brueggemann. He wrote The Prophetic Imagination, in which he writes, “The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.”[1]

For Brueggemann, a prophet should not only criticize social and spiritual deficiencies, but he/she should also energize people with the hope that alternatives are possible. Again, he writes: “Prophetic ministry seeks to penetrate despair so that new futures can be believed in and embraced by us.”[2]

And then there is Abraham Heschel, who wrote The Prophets. He states: “The prophet was an individual who said no to his [or her] society, condemning its habits and assumptions, its complacency, waywardness, and syncretism. [The prophet] was often compelled to proclaim the very opposite of what [his or her] heart expected. [The prophets] fundamental objective was to reconcile [humanity] and God.”[3]

So in both cases, being prophetic is about bringing people together. It is about reconciliation. In both the Testaments of the Bible, the prophets spoke out against the ills of society and did not avoid controversial subjects. Yet at the same time, they offered hope and a possible path to wholeness, peace, and reconciliation.

And this leads me to shiny faces again, for prophets are certainly not superficial and they seek to get to heart of the matter.

We tend to see the surface and superficial side of things more often than not. Shiny faces are, well, shiny faces because of oily skin or overexposure to the sun. But that’s not what the symbolism is all about.

Shiny faces reflect light because of what is inside.

In the case of both Moses and Jesus, their faces shone because of the light within them. And it certainly became contagious. Eventually, other people started to recognize the light within them–that they were worthwhile, and capable, and even possibly prophetic if they chose to be.

On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, people smear ashes on their foreheads in the shape of a cross. It’s a visible thing that people see. It’s fine, I guess, but it’s not enough. Because you don’t really need to smear ashes on your forehead for others to see.

But it really WOULD be something if your face was shiny for all to see. If the light within you became visible to others—spreading hope, love, mercy, and peace and reconciling rather than separating.

Wouldn’t that be something, if our faces shone with the light that comes from within?

We’re all capable of the shiny face, you know. We all have light within us. We just need to nurture it, let it breathe and grow, let it flourish freely. If you think that you’re not someone with light in you because you’re going through some difficult times right now, or you have incredible challenges, or you just don’t feel light at all. Remember this Leonard Cohen lyric from the song Anthem: There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.[4]

So may all the cracks in your life remind of the light that lives within you. May your light shine through your face and your life. And may all the prophets and reconcilers and bridge-builders and truth-tellers show themselves.

[1] Brueggemann, Walter, The Prophetic Imagination, 2nd Edition, June 1, 2001.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Heschel, Abraham, The Prophets, 1962.

[4] Leonard Cohen, Anthem.

Tag Cloud

Cranky But Cultured

Home of horror, literary, and romance author Lucas Mangum

My Journey 2 My Peace

Overcoming Anxiety and learning to live Positively

Deeper in me than I

eloquia oris mei et meditatio cordis mei

Mind Squirrels

Religion | Education | Health

ArabLit

Arabic Literature and Translation

Silence Teaches Us Who We Are

Silence, Centering Prayer, Contemplative Prayer, Jesus, God, and Life.

Casa HOY

On the road to change the world...

myrandomuniverse

a philosophical, analytic, occasionally snarky but usually silly look at the thoughts that bounce around....

"Journey into America" documentary

Produced by Akbar Ahmed

Interfaith Crossing

|||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

Prussel's Pearls

An Actor's Spiritual Journey

a different order of time

the work of a pastor

learn2practice

mood is followed by action

Imago Scriptura

Images & Thoughts from a Christian, Husband, Father, Pastor

the living room.

117 5th Street, Valley Junction__HOURS: M 9-5, TW 7-7, TH 7-9, F 7-7, S 8-5, S 9-4

the view from 2040

theological education for the 21st century