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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Lord, I Don’t Think You Understand How this Game Is Played


And the people brought their little ones to Jesus, for him to lay his hands on them and pray, and to give them a break for a few hours.  The disciples scolded them, but Jesus said, “Let the little children alone, and do not stop them from coming to me; I will teach them one of the games that we play in the Kingdom of God.”

“First he said we put out a circle of chairs – one fewer than our number – and then we play some music.” Jesus winked to the kids. “Perhaps Simon Peter will sing a song for us, one of the fishing songs.” The children giggled. They knew that Peter did not like to sing.


“Then, as Peter sings, we will walk around the chairs. And when he stops singing we will all scramble for a chair…”

Andrew interrupted. “Jesus. We know this game too. It’s Musical Chairs.”

“Of course,” Jesus said. “So let’s play.”

Jesus and the children made a circle of chairs and Peter sang for them as they walked around the circle (though he sang like a distressed mule).  And when he stopped, Jesus and children all clambered for a seat. One boy missed out and ended up sitting in the dust. Everyone laughed.

“Great. Great.” Jesus said. “Now round two, we add another chair.”

Andrew interrupted again, “No, Jesus. You mean we remove a chair.” 

And Jesus said to him, “In the Kingdom of Heaven we always add a chair and another player with each new round. There’s always room for one more.”

But Andrew said, “Lord, I don’t think you understand how this game is played…”

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Earth Is Patient


The Earth is as patient as it is old, but it is tired. It is worn.
An involuntary subject of another’s will,
the Earth knows futility.
The Earth knows frustration.


With ineffable, tectonic groans
and tidal sighs
it waits for liberation,
for salvation.

It was said once that
The day will come when the vines will grow with ten thousand shoots
and each shoot will have ten thousand branches
and each branch will have ten thousand twigs
and each twig will have ten thousand clusters
and each cluster will have ten thousand grapes.

And in that day humankind will be pressed out.
Make no mistake – the natural world is not neutral. 

(See Romans 8: 18 - 27 and II Baruch 29: 5)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Like a Gentile or a Tax Collector



“Jesus,” I said, “I can’t stand that man. He lies to me. He lies about me. I can’t stand him.”

Jesus nodded and said, “Jeff, I understand your frustrations and sympathize with your hurt. I know the pain of calumny.”

“Yes, Lord, I’m sure you do. But this guy is the worst. I want nothing to do with him, anymore.”

“Jeff, if someone wrongs you, you should go and have it out with him – privately. Alone. Between the two of you.”

“Yes. Jesus,” I said. “I have gone to him alone and asked him to stop. But he continues. Can’t I just dislike him?”

“If he hasn’t listened to you, then you should take one or two others with you to speak to him. Everything should have a witness, two or three witnesses would be even better.”

“Jesus! Yes. Yes. I’ve done this Jesus. But he still lies about me. He’s never going to change. He’s just an evil, terrible person.”

“Well then, Jeff,” Jesus put his hand on my shoulder. “If you’ve talked to him alone, and if you’ve tried again in the presence of witnesses, then bring your concerns to the community.”

“What then, Jesus?” I asked, impatient now. “What should I do if he refuses to listen to the church?”

“Then, finally, you may treat him as a gentile or a tax collector.”

“Then I can hate him and shun him?” I asked.

“No! Good God, no!” Jesus snapped. “Don’t you remember how I treated Zacchaeus and the Roman Centurion?”



Matthew 18: 15 - 18

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Trump Is Not a Christian.



I ruffled some feathers and poked the badgers on Sunday when I posted the following on the Twitter machine:



Some, in the time since, have argued that no one except God can judge another person’s heart,that I have decided to “usurp the judgment of God Almighty.” But, while we may not be able to know the inner thoughts of another, we are called to make judgments about our fellow believers. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians explicitly says that immoral behavior within the body of believers is to be judged. (1 Corinthians 5) It’s even in the paragraph titles that many Bible translations supply to the text. (“Sexual Immorality Must Be Judged” – NRSV)

And I do not believe that I have usurped the prerogatives of the Almighty for myself. In fact, I very rarely – almost never – I think this may be the first time – say that Person X is not a Christian. I am reluctant to make such a claim because I know how hurtful such a statement can be. 

So let me be clear about what I mean when I say that “Trump has only a pretense at faith.”

I am not saying that President Trump is not a Christian because I dislike his political agenda. I know and love Christians across the political spectrum. Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, Communists, Libertarians, Anarchists… I do not say this because I didn’t vote for him.

Also, I am not saying that President Trump is not a Christian because I disagree with his theology. (In fact, I think you’d be hard pressed to identify his theology.) I know and love Christians across the spectrum of theological interpretation. We debate. We argue. But I don’t dismiss their faith; we can debate and still be brothers and sisters in faith.

I'm reluctant to say Person X is not a Christian because I know, from personal experience, how much that hurts. I’ve been told that I’m not a Christian because I’ve voted democrat, or because I accept the label of Socialist. I’ve been told that I’m not a Christian because I’m a pacifist and because I think that LGBTQI persons should be fully welcomed into our congregations. I was even once told that I can’t be a real Christian because I don’t like Southern Gospel music. (True story.)

But if it doesn’t look like a duck, swim like a duck, or quack like a duck it’s probably not a duck.


Maybe we should bring back the old youth group chestnut: If Donald Trump were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict him? The answer has to be no. If God is love, and Jesus is God incarnate, and Christians are called to love – ask the questions: Is President Trump patient, or kind? Does President Trump put away envy? Does he refrain from boasting? Is he not easily angered? Does he keep no record of wrongs done to him?   - And here’s the kicker – Does he rejoice in the Truth? (1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 7)

Even the 81% of Evangelical Christians who voted for Donald Trump should be able to recognize that there is nothing in his actions, his behavior, his words, or his attitude that reflects the person or love of Jesus Christ. (Some few do, and I appreciate their willingness to admit that Trump does not reflect their values or ethics.)

Now, again, this is not a condemnation of those who struggle to put their beliefs into daily practice, or those who fail to live up to the standards of their convictions. This is all of us. We fail, we fall, we get up and try again.

This is not a condemnation of those who doubt, or waver, or even of those who wander into the darkened corners at the edge of faith and belief. These are real, even if variable.

But this is not Trump. He has only a veneer of godliness. He is a whitewashed tomb. (Matthew 23:27)

And my critique of Trump’s faith (or – more accurately – lack thereof) and his Presidential call to prayer is not a dismissal or rejection of prayer itself. I do believe in prayer and that Christians should pray for those who are hurting.

But again, the words by themselves are nothing. If we pray, “Give them peace, keep them warm and fed” but we do nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:16) (And that very question – that Scriptural question – is a value judgment question…)

Faith without works is dead. (James 2: 17).  Even more, the profession of faith, the pretense of faith without any works, any evidence, any substantive action is a corpse, and it stinks.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Purple Bouquet 2




Purple Bouquet by Jeff Carter on 500px.com

Tell Me, What Is the Name of Your God?



Moses walked a few silent steps behind the large bearded man that was his father-in-law, Jethro. Jethro had come to him in the early morning, still before dawn, well before Moses would have risen to lead the family’s herds of sheep and goats out to the pasture land.

“Get up, Moses. Today you will come with me,” Jethro said in the stuffy darkness inside Moses’ tent.

“But the sh- sh- sh- sheep, father…” Moses objected.

“Nevermind the sheep.” Jethro told him. “Today I take you to the shrine of the Midianites.”

Jethro led him to the coastal city of Aqaba. “I come here four times each year to participate in the sacred rituals. I am a priest of Midian. This is my noble duty. While we are here I will instruct you in the proper way to worship.”

And, true to his word, Jethro shared the secrets with his son-in-law. “First, I will teach you to pray,” he said as they stood at the bottom of a flight of stairs that led up to a long narrow temple built of simple, unornamented, dressed stones.

“We kneel here,” he said and, placing his hands on Moses’ shoulders, gently pushed him to his knees. “And we pray this way: 

“To the god who is unknown, I pray.
To the goddess, the mother-goddess who is unknown, I pray.
To the god who is angry with me, I pray.
To the mother-goddess who is angry with me in this place, I pray.

My transgression is unknown to me.
The sin I have committed, I know not.

May the unknown god give me a good name.
May the mother-goddess I do not know pronounce for me a good name.

If I have eaten the food of my god unwittingly,
if I have drunk the waters of a cesspool without knowledge,
If I have done what is forbidden by the mother-goddess unwittingly,
I beg mercy.

God, known or unknown, my transgressions may be many.
Mother-goddess, known or unknown, many may be my sins.
I seek help. Where is the one who will take my hand?
I have wept. Where is the one who will come to my side?
I utter laments and shriek my grief. Where is the one who hears me?

Mankind is dumb and cannot speak. He knows nothing.
The sin I have sinned, turn it away.
The sin I have sinned, blow it away in the wind;
transgressions seven times seven, forgive.

And may my heart, like the heart of my mothers, be brought to the place of return.”

Moses listened carefully to this prayer and then said, “E- e- e-excuse me- me- me, father Jethro, bu- bu- bu- but there seem t- t- t- to b- b- be mu- much that you do not kn- kn- know. What is it you would te- te- te- teach me?

“Yes," said Jethro as he stood up from the steps.“I am ignorant of many things. But tell me, Moses, who came to my tents as a stranger, fleeing the wrath of the Egyptian Lord, and who has married the eldest of my seven daughters, tell me what you know.  Tell me, what is the name of your God?”

Moses did not answer.

“Go on, Moses, foundling and fugitive, tell me the name of your God,” Jethro pressed.

“I d- d- d- do not kn- kn- know.” Moses stammered in frustration.

“You do not know.” Jethro shook his head. “And can you recount for me the great things that your god has done? Tell me of his mighty deeds? What great things hath he done?”

“I d- d- d- do not kn- kn- know.”

Jethro scowled at his son-in-law. “Well then, maybe you should listen to me. I may have much to teach you yet.”



**

The religion of the Midianites is largely unknown. Jethro’s prayer is adapted from a Sumerian “Prayer to any God.” (Thomas, 111-117)

Thomas, D. Winton. Editor. Documents from Old Testament Times. New York: Harper Torchbooks. 1958. Print.


The Gospel of Trump on Prayer


“And whenever you sign a National Day of Prayer Proclamation for a very special day, be sure that you are seen by others. Surround yourself by noble witnesses, Evangelical leaders, and television cameras so that everyone may see your piety. Truly I tell you, you will received your reward. You will be applauded and praised by lovely people for your leadership, and they will thank you for your personal works.

  “When you are praying, you should heap up phrases like, “our hearts and prayers are with you” for you will be heard because of your many great words, you have all the best words.”








Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Vain, Insubstantial Imaginings of a Nameless Paranoiac.



It was weird, right? I mean, you saw it too… Didn’t you? I can’t have been the only one to notice. I can’t believe that. The universe can’t be that strange. The planet doesn’t just wobble on its axis without notice. The poles shift, the stars move and someone, somewhere notices. Mrs. Lewis, sitting on her front porch in Farmburg, Iowa, looks up her crossword puzzles to the night sky, then nudges her husband, and says, “Would ya’ look at that, Hal?” And Hal looks at where she is pointing, just to the left of where the moon should be and says, not without some incredulous awe, “I have never seen anything like that, my dear. Never.”

But it is observed. Things like this are noticed.

If they’re real, of course. If they are real, then things like this are noticed. But maybe they’re not real. Maybe the universe really is stranger than I give it credit.

Maybe it’s like that scene in North by Northwest. I’ve seen that movie at least thirty times I know its every scene. I know its every line. And you know the scene I’m thinking of. Towards the end of the film. Everyone knows that Alfred Hitchcock had the reputation of being a meticulous director. A perfectionist director. But there it is. I’ve seen it at least thirty times: the kid clearly puts his hands over his ears before the gunshots. Such an obvious lapse, such a glaring error. It’s real.

It must be real, right? I’ve seen it. Every time I watch the film I see it. But no else seems to notice. I’ve tried pointing it out to my wife, but she refuses to watch movies more than once. “I’ve seen that movie,” she says and, “I’ve not seen that.”

Maybe the earth does wobble. Maybe the poles do shift and the stars do move. And maybe no one notices. And maybe that’s why they can get away with it all. Maybe that’s why they can get away the lies and the slander and the election of feckless miscreants. The animal is sacrifice upon the altar, its guts are pulled out but no one can see find its heart.

The decline of civility, the collapse of the Roman republic, the rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem, the failure of slave uprisings, and the House Un-American Activities Committee – all of it unobserved, unnoticed, unremarked.

No one sees…

There and not there. Real and not real. The vain, insubstantial imaginings of a nameless paranoiac.

But I’m sure I’ve seen them. I’ve seen this movie.

I’ve seen the lizard men in silk suits. I’ve seen the liars crowned with green cash laurels. There are monsters, and they are real – but they don’t need to hide beneath your child’s bed, or in the closet. The real monsters walk the halls of Congress, and sit in front of television cameras to tell us lies.

Why does no one smell smoke? Why does no one hear the screaming sirens at night? I have gashes on my right arm and blisters on my feet that say this is real. Blood and water are real.

My face is hot. I feel flush. I must lie down now.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Purple Bouquet



A dried bouquet of flowers I bought for my wife, a macro lens attachment, and a piece of translucent, blue plastic I rescued from the trash...


Purple Bouquet by Jeff Carter on 500px.com

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