Monday, July 21, 2014

It's been a hard week in the world


It's been a hard week in the world.  A Malaysian aircraft goes down over the Ukraine. Israel enters Gaza. The 2000 years old Christian community in Mosul, Iraq is over., driven out by ISIS. And it is estimated  that in 20 years, one out of 5 the world's species will be extinct. Tough time to bring good news.

Jeremy and I start the  morning  by working on Jacob's Ladder. And I may even try Precious Lord, take my hand. (where's Andre when I need him?)

We've got a new visitor from the neighborhood.

This week we read all the passages first before any conversation. Genesis 28: 10-19A, the Jacob's ladder passage. Psalm 139, God everywhere. Romans 8: 12-25, creation groaning in birth pangs. And Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, another sower parable with wheat and tares. But we pause first to do Jacob's ladder, quasi Springsteen, quasi Seeger style.

First, I talk about that rough week. How disturbing it's been. We start with Genesis. We remember that last week, we had the Jacob and Esau story. Jacob winning the birthright through trickery. And that here we have Jacob being told that he will be a blessing. Point being, our blessings do not always come from whom or where we expect. Jacob is far from exemplary as a human being. But will be the patriarch of Israel. My favorite line is verse 16: Surely the LORD is in this place — and I did not know it! Sometimes we don't recognize the presence of God in  the place where we are. 

A point made clear by Psalm 139, which presents a no place you can run, no place you can hide image of God. I remembered with a laugh when Jim Costen, former President of the Interdenominational Theological Seminary in Atlanta, was Moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly. We kept running into each other all around the country, then in Mexico and finally in Jerusalem. In the Holy City, he threw up his arms, laughed and said,  Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? and then we both laughed.

Romans speaks of the suffering of this present time (18) and a creation wait(ing) with eager longing (19) and that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains (22). What we know when we look at our present world is that things must change. Things cannot remain this way. If this  is indeed a groaning, let it be for the birth of something new

Ultimately, the passage leads to a discussion of hope. . (24-25) and as I have so many  times before, talk of hope as a radical theological  category, not optimism.  It's King saying that the  arc of history bends towards justice. Or Jim Wallis' classic definition, Hope is in believing despite the evidence and having the courage to work to make then evidence change.

Finally, Jesus' second sower parable. Admittedly, it' a tough one with it's talk of wheat and weeds. (Tares, in the King James version.) If there is a  Good News point, it is that we can't go trying to tear out weeds because they're so similar to the wheat, it would destroy the wheat too. (Like Israeli smart bombs taking out 4 children on a beach...) It's not our job. We're all a mixture of weeds and wheat. And if there is this weeding out at the end, that's God's job, not ours.

Marsha quickly points out that issues with this passage. The fire and brimstone angle. But more, even in my good news version, there's a movement towards passivity. Certainly the Wallis quote about hope asks us to have the courage to work to change the evidence...And the wheat and weeds imagery has dangerous repercussions in the real world.  Israelis and Palestinians demonize each other. And Jeremy is deeply disturbed by the  death of Eric Garner. A large African-American man, Garner was a victim of Police Commissioner Bratton's broken windows law enforcement policy in which small crimes are aggressively policed inn order to prevent larger ones. Garner was a well known loosie (as in loose cigarette) salesman, an inevitable business in a city where packs of cigarettes can run $13 a pack.

Police were attracted by the commotion of a fight Garner was breaking up, he had that reputation in the neighborhood, a peacemaker. But the police went after  his stash of loosies. He held up his hands, resisting cuffs. A choke hold was applied. He went to the ground, died shortly later. He was a married father of 6 children. Something has to change.
                                                                 Eric Garner video

Martha, our visitor, talks about journalism and control of the news and how can we judge wheat and weeds without information. And I recall visiting with my son when he lived in Ramallah, his highly watching of BBC, AL Jazeera and Russia Today and realizing how uninformed we are as Americans. And how ironic it is that our most reliable news sources tend to be comedy shows, eg, last Sunday's John Oliver Show focusing on income inequality. 

Can we get back to the Good News?

Marsha mentions our American obsession with end times, the rapture, etc. So I talk about the new TV show, The Leftovers. A scenario in which, in one moment, 2% of the world's population vanished. The show begins 3 years later, while people are still trying to deal with it. Understand it. A celebration has been planned to honor our heroes, a statue commissioned. A slightly unhinged Episcopal priest with a small, dwindling congregation (I'm sympathetic already) has taken on the task, is obsessed with the task, of researching those who disappeared and proving that this was no rapture. How this one abused children, this one cheated on his wife, this one sold drugs. He is clearly not popular. If we can't separate out the good from the evil, then all meaning is lost, he says.

And he's right. There is that which is clearly evil. Even though discernment can be difficult, we are called to resist. The message would appear to be that it is our means of resistance that makes all the difference. That's what we'll leave with today.

Jeremy had persuaded me to try Precious Lord, take my hand. And I do.Not my best, but I keep working on expanding my range. 

The Session meets. Approves a job description for our administrative position. Sadly, Danielle will be leaving in the middle of August. It's hard for me to imagine doing this without her. 

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