Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘prophets’

A Fragile Peace

Isaiah 11:1-4a

stump_jesse21
It is December. It’s colder. The leaves are on the ground. Winter has come. Animals know it. They sense it—they go about their business getting ready for colder nights, gathering food and making more stable shelters. There is so much movement in nature at this time of year if you pay attention to it. Scurrying and gathering and preparing. Animals know a lot; they are obviously so much more connected to this good earth than we are. They understand instinctively that winter will come, but it’s not so bad. It’s necessary. Good stuff happens in nature during winter. There is a dormant period for plants and other living beings. But…in just a few months, just when all the humans like you and I are more than ready for winter to just GET IT OVER WITH PLEASE!….something happens. It starts with a bud—small and inconspicuous. It starts with tiny plants peeking out and then animals, both small and large, emerging earlier and later to drink water and find food. They know it’s coming. Spring is coming. The roots of the earth are strong; they will soon emerge and all of life will…be replenished, renewed, and delightful.

preparing-for-winterThe images of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah are indeed beautiful if you just embrace the metaphors of nature and life itself. Keep in mind the historical context of Isaiah and it becomes even richer, if you ask me. As I always say, if you identify as a Christian, do not be so quick as to jump to conclusions when you read Isaiah. Don’t make quick and easy connections between what Isaiah wrote so long before Jesus of Nazareth was born and the stories of the New Testament. Instead, embrace the beauty of Isaiah’s message and then understand why the New Testament Gospel writers [and even Jesus himself] borrowed from Isaiah.

This prophet, though writing during an incredibly difficult and bleak time for the ancient Israelites, Isaiah planted seeds of hope, of peace, of renewal. Too long had the Israelites experienced war, famine, and isolation. The stump is injured. But a root now grows out of it, then a branch. Of course, Isaiah was referring to a new leader of the Israelite people. Notice, though, the great disparity between Isaiah’s leader who comes out of a stump and what we typically would assume a “leader” would look like. This branch is wise and delights in knowledge, has understanding. This branch looks to the poor, the marginalized, and not to the rich, powerful, and privileged. This branch out of a stump seeks peace for all living beings.

I don’t know about you, but honestly, I don’t see this branch as being Jesus of Nazareth. Otherwise, the lion and lamb would be hanging out together with no Ultimate Fighting going on and our nations would stop killing each other and our communities would stop hating and targeting certain people.

Evil still exists in the world, poor people struggle more than ever, predators prey on the weak.

In this time where peace can seem incredibly far off; when LGBTQ beautiful people feel afraid and are targeted, when Latinx kids and youth are made fun of and told to “go home” and when Native Americans are sprayed with tear gas and hoses in the freezing cold as they seek to protect their lands, what do we say about Isaiah’s image of a peaceful world? Well, we say that it’s not yet here. We tell the truth. We say what is happening in our communities—what is not right or good or peaceful or loving and we say that this is not the Divine’s desire for the world.

We say that, but then we have to do something, too.

For while Jews waited for [and still wait for] this Messiah, Christians do, too. We wait for the same thing, for the world to change. To be a loving, accepting, and beautiful place as we believe it is meant to be.

So then, buds and branches of a broken stump we call the world, how will you bring peace to the world around you? How will you love people who feel unloved? How will you stand up for those who are bullied and marginalized? How will you be a part of Divine intervention, considering that we are all connected to this desire, to create and live in a world of peace, of understanding, and of love.

How will we create this together?

Matthew 3:1-6
Turning Around to Face the Light & the Dark

I’ve mentioned this before, but just as a reminder, the word repent in the Gospels is not a word telling you to get on your knees and say: “Please, Jesus, forgive me!” It’s not a formulaic faith affirmation either. Repent means turn around. Reorient your life path.

What a great message for all of us this season. So, here’s the thing–John the Baptist was craaaaazy. Yep. People thought he was nuts. He probably was. A little bit. But he quoted Isaiah, so at least people thought he might know something. The voice in the wilderness is important to note, because the wilderness was a metaphor for a time of introspection and a bit of wandering. You’ve had those times, right? When you weren’t sure where you were in life or where you were going? Maybe you are there now. The wilderness. A voice literally cries out and says: PREPARE! Make paths straight! Okay, so…what? Go back to Isaiah and the idea of a peaceful world. Remember that John’s Gospel was written long after Isaiah…people, we are talking more than 800 years, okay? Yeah. So the peaceful world that Isaiah envisioned didn’t happen in Jesus’ time, and it didn’t happen after Jesus’ death, and it didn’t happen after the Gospels like John were written. Get the picture? John wasn’t so crazy after all. He understood, right, that the world was still in need of more love, and peace, and connection? He said to anyone who would listen: turn around, it’s never too late.

Change your life path if you need to.

Yeah, I don’t know where you’re at today, but I’m realizing the need to face myself as I am. It’s not just the recent Presidential election, though that’s part of it. It’s everything. I’ve been asking myself: What am I really doing? Who am I? Who do I want to be? I’m trying my best, and failing a lot of the time, but I’m trying to face myself. I’m facing the darkness in me, my desire to give up sometimes, my fears, my heaviness. And I’m also facing the light within me: my desire to keep standing up for justice and peace and love, the creative imagination that lives within and the freedom to let go of the things that hold me back. I want to turn around, to reorient myself every day. I don’t always make it. But this is the path.

May you see yourself as you are; may you find ways to love yourself and be at peace with yourself; if you need to turn around from things or relationships that hurt you or isolate you, do it; and be free to love, be free embrace all of your darkness and light. In doing so, I tell you this—you will encounter other people doing the same. You will connect to them and it will be marvelous. You will find love, acceptance, and peace with them. And then we create this reality together.

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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.

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