Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘prophet’

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?

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How Are We Clay?

Jeremiah 18:1-4

potter
I don’t know how many of you have ever made pottery or at least watched someone else do it. It is a fascinating process and one that requires great patience, care, and creativity. Also, at least in my case, pottery-making involves A LOT of mistakes and starting over again.

Perhaps this is why many people in the Christian and Jewish traditions embrace a very small portion of an otherwise-ominous book of Hebrew prophetic scripture called Jeremiah. In general, most of the prophetic books are ominous and quite pessimistic, but in all fairness, it makes sense. I mean, consider Jeremiah’s context. These prophetic writings were penned over about four decades of not-so-great times in Israel, starting with the thirteenth year of King Josiah (627 BCE) and finishing with the eleventh year of King Zedekiah (586). In short, Jeremiah experienced the time in Israel just before, during, and after the fall of Jerusalem when the Babylonians took over. So obviously, Jeremiah’s words are generally pessimistic.

What is interesting theologically about Jeremiah is the tension between what is called “temple theology” and “covenant theology.” Real quick explanation. Temple theology says: nothing bad will happen to us [in this case, Israel] because Yahweh will protect us and the religious temple of Jerusalem. Covenant theology, on the other hand, says: Yahweh will reward us for our obedience and punish us for disobedience. It is “if-then” philosophy, i.e., if we do this or that, then Yahweh will do this or that.[1] 

This tension, I argue, still exists in modern theology today. Some people [across religious traditions] believe that no matter what, a higher power will save them/bless them/protect them. Many times they believe that because they assume that the higher power accepts their religion as the best one or the truest one. And then contrarily, there are some who believe that this higher power will reward and punish them based on their obedience or disobedience of particular religious rites and rules. Okay, still with me? Do you identify or resonate with either of these viewpoints? Were you raised to believe something similar?

As you think about that, now consider the allegory/image of the potter. Within this image are these two viewpoints, and I will suggest, an alternative viewpoint as well. First, consider what a potter might have been in the time of Jeremiah. Judean ceramic pots, in Jeremiah’s image, would not have been ornate, decorative works of art. These pots would have been functional, made of cheaper materials, and expected to last only a short time. This is why when YHWH calls on the prophet to visit the potter, this is normal and something that he would do quite often. Time for another pot as the last one no longer was usable. But don’t let this fool you. The old pots and the clay, for the potter, are not trash.

The potter is constantly interested in recycling and reuse.

For example, those of you who are potters know that a potter will periodically start a project and then decide that the project is failing and so they will abandon the original idea and start something new. I have heard that potters keep containers of scraps of clay and even pieces of old projects. These discarded pieces can be used or reclaimed as usable clay for new projects. Considering that, this is where I find an alternative to the temple and covenant theology I mentioned early.

I am not one to believe in a Yahweh/God/higher power /presence that punishes and rewards people according to how much they obey or disobey certain rules or moral codes. Neither do I buy the idea that the Divine favors one religion or nation over others, no matter what. For me, it’s all about the potter and the clay—very simple. Potters don’t waste clay. They recycle. They rework the clay. It’s not punishment or reward. It’s not favoritism.

It’s love of the art, the creative spark, and the hope that even discarded pieces from failed projects can be a part of something new, wonderful, and whole.

The discarded clay can be part of a new ceramic vessel and hold something important like wine, water, or oil.

So what do you think? How are we clay? What are your thoughts about this image?

[1] See Alphonetta Wines, “Thinking the Unthinkable: God as Enemy—An Image of God in the Book of Job and Other Books of the Hebrew Bible” (PhD diss., Texas Christian University, 2011), 58.

Hope on the Journey

Isaiah 60:1-5 (NRSV)

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice…

rekindle
How do you define hope?

This could be a trick question, but thinking about it will lead you to some wisdom. How do you define hope?

For many people [myself included], hope can seem like an insufficient thing. After all, look at the world. It’s easy for someone to tell another to hope when she is suffering or being discriminated against, or if she is stuck in a terrible situation. What do you tell Syrian refugees who are torn from their homes, only to be turned away by others? Should they have hope? Really?

Seems insufficient to me.

What do you tell the mother of the child who is gunned down randomly, for no reason, other than the fact that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time? Do you tell her to hope?

What about the young woman who is dying of cancer. She knows she’s terminal; the doctors say so. Do you tell her to hope?

I’m just being honest. I think sometimes we use the word and concept of hope to try to answer questions we cannot answer or to try to make us feel better about horrible situations.

So, that being said, here is what comes to my mind when I ask myself the same question:

How do I define hope?

I define hope as imagination.

Maybe that makes sense to you, maybe it doesn’t.
I define hope as imagination.

Because I’ve seen people in horrific situations exhibit an incredibly creative and healing form of imagination. They don’t just hope things will get better. They imagine what good could possibly come out of a horrific situation. They imagine whether or not anything good at all could happen.

But they are not just imagining about the future; they are imagining about this very moment. Can it be possible for the Syrian refugee to find a new life, or safety, or community? Can it be possible for the grieving mother to find joy and purpose again? Can it be possible for the terminal cancer patient to enjoy her life and positively impact others?

These kinds of questions are not superficial. Neither are they cop-outs like hope statements are sometimes. These questions are honest, messy, and real. It takes time to ask them and the process can be long and even painful. But when people ask themselves individually what they can imagine about their current situation, they are building within themselves the capacity to move forward.

The Hebrew prophets were doing the same thing, you see. Prophets like Isaiah weren’t really predicting the future, as some might claim. Neither were they sharing history or documenting what was happening in their time. Prophets were imagining what things could be like in the world. None of what they imagined was realized. Isaiah, for example, most likely written by a variety of Israelite priests, was put together over a span of years, some of them during the Babylonian exile.

In other words, we’re talking about war, and people being ripped from their homes and exiled to a foreign country. Mmmmm……

So it’s not a “hopeful” book, really. Isaiah IS an imagining book, though. The authors imagine what good could possibly come of this situation. They imagine what their reality would be like if people actually loved G-d in the way they said they did and loved others also. They imagined if justice reigned over injustice. They imagined if poor people were actually lifted up and encouraged and given food and shelter. They imagined if wars would cease and people would stop killing each other over religion, land, and power.

Yes, go ahead. Insert your John Lennon reference here.

Imagine.

And so, have you reflected on how you answer the question?

How do you define hope?

I encourage you to use your imagination. Don’t be superficial or seek easy answers. Let the question hang there for a while. Let your imagination go crazy. In this current moment, in your life, what can you imagine? How can things be joyful, peaceful, and fulfilling?

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