Sunday, January 27, 2013

But Wait! There’s…

 Every September for years, Judy and I would make our way to the LA County Fair and walk through exhibits of craftware and prize winning animals. Mostly, we were killing time until it was appropriate to discover the year’s newest deep-fried mystery – chocolate bars, candy, jello – or the food court’s most outrageous combination – bbq’d bacon-wrapped turkey leg was this year’s winner, hands down – a solid pound or two of heart attack on a drumstick.

Eventually, however, we would find ourselves wandering the aisles of building after building, looking for the breakout product that we simply could not live without, listening to the all too convincing sales people promising the dawn of a new age in convenience and savings. I am fascinated by people who appear to believe in what they are saying and so, often, I would be drawn into the demonstration of a new knife, or chopper, or duster, or shower-head, or blender, or…  Well, you get the idea. And, inevitably, just as the demo was drawing to a close came the words we were all waiting for – “But wait… there’s more!” And out would come a whole other set at no additional cost – or a spare set of blades – or a year’s subscription to a magazine full of recipes – or… Well, you get the idea.

On more than one occasion, I found myself doing the “its too good to pass up!” And so, in cupboards, on shelves, in boxes in the garage, are stockpiles of the “more” I had to wait for. I invariably discovered that the more was really less – that the promised time saved rarely balanced out the time needed to clean, adjust, replace, maintain, repair, find, and learn. The promise of simpler, faster, better is much easier than the fulfillment!

It turns out that most of life’s promised “more” is like that. The cost of the “more” over time is far greater than any benefit it brings. Time savers don’t. Space savers don’t. Efficiency tools aren’t. Shortcuts aren’t. And worse, the “more” takes! Life gets doubly complicated and crowded trying to negotiate the “more”!

Already a few weeks into this new year, it appears well on the way to being another one in which voice after voice calls out from the sidelines of our lives – “but wait, there’s more!” And not just for products and services! And into the middle of the manipulative pitch comes a still, small, voice almost whispering, barely audible through the barking – “Come unto me. I will give you… less.”

Listening to Him, watching how He lives, looking into His eyes, I am coming to believe He’s onto something. And that His less is more.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Dreaming a Dream

There is a wonder in this day of double celebration. The words of a black president’s second inaugural address sound out on the Mall, mingling with the echoes of a decades old but still vibrant dream. And the dream still calls – not satisfied with elected position when the core of it remains but a hope.

On this inaugural day it is, in a not insignicant way, a mark of the dream’s progress that the president is censured or lauded more for his policies and initiatives than for the color of his skin. I am not na├»ve to the pockets of racism that remain and serve to motivate some of the politics of negation. Indeed, that is the only way to account for the tone and vitriol with which otherwise respectable positions are less argued than shouted. But there are those, simply convinced that the president is wrong on the issues, who have arrived at that conclusion without any consideration of his race. It is some progress, I think, when reasonable people can disagree agreeably, and without reference to non-germane characteristics.

That said, the prejudice seems to have shifted from race to political affiliation. To be opposed to, or for, some elements of gun control, some limitations on abortion, some restrictions on government intrusion, some reasonable care for the disenfranchsed and poor, some restructuring of entitlements, some religious accomodation – is to be immediately labeled and treated with contempt – as if to think something with which I might disagree is to be less human that I think myself to be.

It is easier to speak and think without nuance. But that is not the way of responsible freedom. Nor is it sustainable over time. It is not just politics that is the art of the compromise. Life with less than perfect human beings requires the same. And more than that, the ways in which we treat one another say more about ourselves than about the other. To villify, to ridicule, to treat with contempt another of those created as part of the Image of God, is to side with the one being who, according to scripture, exists to be adversarial, to be oppositional. When we do his work, we act in oppostion to the way of Jesus, Who challenged as disagreeable a group of people as ever there were, to love one another. As He had loved them.

So, on this day, I am reminded to not lose hope for another day – a day of dreams come true. Not simply those of a weary preacher, but those of a wonderful Savior.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Jesus the Raconteur

It was an honest question, especially in these circumstances. He had been listening and heard something in tone or lilt or lift of voice that spoke of something – someone – unusual. There was no shortage of teachers, but they all said more or less the same thing in the same tired ways. But this one…

And so, as he had been trained so far to do on his road to mastery of the law, he asked. That was how one was to approach a teacher. The question would let the teacher know you were interested – prepared to learn – wanting to learn. It was, as well, a way to test a teacher – to find out where he might fit alongside the others.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” An simple, testing, respectful question, seeking an honest answer. One which any teacher ought be prepared to give – this was, after all, their stock in trade. “How, in your teachings, does a person come into the life of the Kingdom of God, the life the Age soon to come?” This is what he was asking.

As expected, the question was returned. “What does the law say? How do you read it?”

Speaking out of the center of his being, formed in him since he was a child learning Torah from his father’s songs in the night came the daily answer. “Love the Lord Your God – and Love your neighbor as yourself.”

There ought now to have been another question, a pressing in, an exploring, a teasing out of meaning. That is what teachers loved to do – make you think. Instead, “Exactly right. Do this. You’ll live!”

Immediately he saw the trap. Too late. The Life of the Kingdom was not to be found in debate about the life of the Kingdom. Only through love expressed in action does life come. It was so simple, a child could understand – but it would take a lifetime of loving to learn.

He was rocked back on his heels. Wanting to save some shred of his inquiry, he pressed in. “Who is my neighbor, then? Who may I love in such a way as to be helpful to my cause?”

And then, a story that turned his question – and his world – upside down. At end, the point of the Kingdom life he was seeking is not in finding someone to love, but in being someone who can love the one who is found – discovered, as it were, in one’s path. And again, the words – spoken with a smile and twinkle in those black eyes. “Go, and do the same.”

Sunday, January 6, 2013

I Can See Clearly Now

Today, January 6th, is Epiphany – the 12th, and last, Day of Christmas. It is holy day celebrating the appearance of God to human beings – a day of awareness, of revelation. In the Western church, it commemorates the visit of the Wise Men, bringing their gifts to the young child Jesus in Bethlehem, after first having gone to Jerusalem where they reasonably expected the new king would have been born. Their mistaken assumption set in motion the fulfillment of the prophecy – Ramah weeps as innocent children are executed by Herod’s jealous fear. Their gifts – gold, frankincence, myhrr – tell the story of this young child – royalty, deity, and deep grief are the marks of His life. Their very presence in the most Jewish of the gospels marks the  inclusion of the Gentiles in the Good News of the Incarnation. God has come for them, as well. Ironically – prophetically – the gentiles are wise in the understanding of the way of God in a way that the jewish leaders of the day were not. Thus, epiphany – a deep, revelatory awareness – God is present with us!

In the Eastern church, Ephiphany is the feast that focuses on the baptism of Jesus, a trigger event fulfilling righteousness, and signalling the transition from the way-making ministry of John the Baptist, Elijah come at last, to the Way of Jesus – which, as it turned out, was confusing even to John, not being quite what he expected. On the river bank, John sees his cousin in a new light – Jesus is the Lamb of God, come to take away the sins of the world. Thus, epiphay – a deep, revelatory awareness – God is acting to save us!

But what is the point of the seeing if it doesn’t enable the living? And so, Epiphany also marks the end of Christmas and ushers in a lovely time in the church calendar year called Ordinary Time. It is fascinating to me that it should be called so. Surely, the time lit up by the stunning revelation of God with us and God for us would fit whatever criteria might exist for catapulting right into Extraordinary Time! But no. This is what Ordinary looks like. This is the new normal. This is now business as usual. This is the gift of God come down.

Those to whom revelation has come – those who experience Epiphany – may now walk out their ordinary, every day lives, vibrating with the full awareness of the deep mystery of redemption at work in the Universe. They are never alone, in spite of the pain. They know Who is Who – and what is what! Meaning has come flooding back. God has come in love and mercy. The new normal. Ordinary time – filled with sufficient grace. No big deal.