The blog of a lutheran pastor, writer, and political animal.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A review of Trevor Noah's Born A Crime

Born a CrimeBorn a Crime by Trevor Noah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I definitely recommend Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood”.
Now, if you’re looking for laughs, being that it is written by a comedian, this is not the book. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of funny analysis and lines, but Trevor covers many serious topics, Apartheid, the criminal system, matriarchy and patriarchy, and both spousal and child abuse.
I love the set up of each chapter, there is a short description of some phenomena in South Africa, followed by the chapter where Trevor interacts with that thing.
One of his best observations is that criminal racial calcification actually made catching him committing a crime harder, because a black and white camera made it appear that the suspect was white, and he wasn’t. I also especially appreciated his descriptions and thoughts on being a consistent outsider.
Again, really interesting, intense, good stuff. Read it!

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Samaritan Woman, a skit

Samaritan Woman!

(SAMARITAN WOMAN, holding a jar is seated ENTER JESUS who sits next to SAMARITAN WOMAN)

          So Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 
          Jesus was resting on the wrong side of the tracks, the bad part of town, a gay couple accidently attending a service at Westboro Baptist, a Jew in Samaria... have you ever felt out of place—that’s this moment!

Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
          A small detail, but not that small. For John the Gospel writer, night indicates unbelief, day belief.
          A small detail, but not that small. Women go to the well when it is cool out, not at noon—unless you are an ostracized, unwelcome, out of place, woman.
          A small detail, but not that small. We’re going to see a story of belief! We’re going to see a story about an outsider.
          Give me a drink.

(To Congregation)
          What’s he on about?
          I’m a Samaritan, he’s a Jew.
          I’m a woman, he’s a man.
          The wrong gender.
          The wrong religion.
          For this…
          How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?

          If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.
(To Congregation)
          Have you heard of living water?
          The Rabbis recommend it for ritual baths.
          The Early Church will recommend it for baptism.
          Fresh and clean.
          Bubbling, clear, living!
          From God’s good earth—a sign of God’s goodness.

          Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?"

          Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.
(To Congregation)
          Think of it!
          To be filled with a life flowing!
          Flowing from God’s good earth
          You, a sign of God’s goodness!
          A living, clear, bubbling life
          Fresh and clean.
(To Congregation)
          What’s he offering me?
          You know…
          I’d take one less backbreaking job
          Out here in the heat
          Fetching water at noon
          Is not a sign of God’s goodness,
          But society’s stubbornness.
          I’d settle for slaked thirst and less monotony
          But, I think he’s offering me more.
          Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.

          Go, call your husband, and come back.
(To Congregation)
          He didn’t just go there!
(To Jesus)
          I have no husband.

          You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!
(To Congregation)
          Five husbands.
          Everyone jumps to adultery
          I guess that’s what people do when there is a woman involved…
          But that’s not it
          It’s abandonment

          And again
          And again
          And again
          Left to fend for myself
          To carry my own water
          Left in the noon sun
          Left to grow hard
          But he knows, and… wants to know… what kind of man is this?
(To Jesus)
          Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.

(To Congregation)
          Peter won’t even top this!
          Nicodemus was blind,
          But this woman, she sees.
          Sees me in the harsh noon light
          We’re both exposed here
          Exposed for who we are
          I named her and she named me.
          We see each other here at Jacob’s well.
(To The Woman)
          Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

You’re a prophet, but not of my religion… so… brass tacks.
The place between you and me.
The space between Mount Gerezim where I worship and Jerusalem—Mount Zion, where you worship…
What of it?
It’s nice to say it isn’t about place, but by what authority do you say it?
          I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.

          I am he, the one who is speaking to you.
(To Congregation)
He doesn’t say I am he…
English communicates this poorly
He says “I am”
When Moses spake with the burning bush
The bush said “I AM”
I am. With a period after it.
No genealogy, but Genesis instead
The origin
The formation of it all
It all flows out from this
He says I AM…
          Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, "What do you want?" or, "Why are you speaking with her?"
(Exit JESUS and SAMARITAN WOMAN—leaving her jar behind)

SAMARITAN WOMAN (to congregation):
          Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?
My question mark is a shepherds’ crook
One leading us
Like Moses with a staff
Miriam’s song at the river
I’ve found the One Who Fills the Water Jar
Fills is forever!
I’ve seen one who sees me
He knew me and saw me!
In the noon sun
I saw him!
Come and see!

          They left the city and were on their way to him. Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, "Rabbi, eat something."

          I have food to eat that you do not know about.
          So the disciples said to one another, "Surely no one has brought him something to eat?"
          My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.
(To Congregation)
          Sometimes my disciples don’t see…
          Even in the noon sun
          They don’t see!
 Do you not say, 'Four months more, then comes the harvest'? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.
(To Congregation)
          She sowed
          She sowed with her words
          Sowed in the noon sun
          Sowed because she saw me
          My disciples did not labor
          But they will reap
          Because SHE sowed
          Here in the noon sun.

          Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony, for she said:

          He told me everything I have ever done.

          So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world."
          They came to see
          In the noon sun
          Bright with belief
          These Samaritans
          Stayed with the Savior
          Seeing him
          Because she sowed
          And said
          And suggested
          And saw her Savior!


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

My Review of "The Confessions"

ConfessionsConfessions by Augustine of Hippo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I recently read The Confessions as part of my morning devotions. The autobiographic portion is really good, his philosophical reflections on creation, are good for what they are, but didn’t move me the way the first 9 books did.
I love that it is set up as a direct confession to God, rooted in the Psalms.
His strange relationship with the Theater kept popping out to me, as did his attacks on the Manicheans.
He also interacts with scripture and the science of the time in a way that would make American Fundamentalist squirm—and he was writing around the year 400. That alone is worth the price of admission.
If the Confessions shows nothing else, it is that Christianity is best spread through kind ongoing relationships—caught not taught, as some people say. Between his mother Monica and Ambrose he is able to see models of Christian life that aren’t bizarre or horrible or unkind. I love his description of Ambrose, “I began to like him, at first indeed not as a teacher of the truth, for I had absolutely no confidence in your Church, but as a human being who was kind to me.”
So, yeah, this is an important book—it probably lacks some of its original power, just because autobiography is a common genre these days, but at the time this was it, a whole new thing.

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My Review of "Islam: A Short History"

Islam: A Short HistoryIslam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After all the talk of a Muslim travel ban I thought I’d re-read Karen Armstrong’s Islam: A Short History. Last time I read it a year or so after 9/11 to get a friendlier reading of Islam than my rural Wyoming community.
I guess on the second read and 15 years later, it is less of a revelation, but still, a history of Islam that roots itself in Islamic history (as opposed to starting out from Western contact with Saracens or an Enlightenment “Orientalist” frame) is really refreshing. Having western events pop in as tangential to the thrust of the history being told is a very helpful corrective.
A few big take aways.
1. Christianity in its first couple centuries argued and split on questions of the nature of the Christ and the Trinity (obviously with politics floating around in the background)—in Islam the question of political leadership of The Community was what formed the first couple of centuries and the splits. This has heavy implications for how Islam interacts with Nationalism, Globalism, Secularism, the Enlightenment, etc.
2. Islamic interpretations of Aristotle are pretty interesting (something I already knew, but it popped back out in this reading of Armstrong).
3. Islam’s interaction with the Mongols is also fascinating.
It’s worth reading.

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sermon: Romans Letter 2

         So, is Abraham our ancestor on account of the flesh?
         Those who preached in my day, in fact I myself before I knew Jesus as the Christ, preached that the answer to this question is yes.
         Yes, Abraham is righteous because he’s the first man set apart from the Pagan world, he’s the first circumcised man of God.
         And so too, we faithful people of God are his heirs, his ancestors, because we too set ourselves apart, we follow all the rules that make us a distinct people separate from the heathens.
         He is righteous on account of his separateness, and so too are we. In fact, those Jews in my day who most fully removed ourselves from the wider world called ourselves the Righteous Ones.
         Yet, now I come to you, preaching a new Gospel, or rather the Gospel always in existence, but now made obvious to all.
         Our separation from other people does not make us heirs of Abraham.
         Our works, our following the Law, does not make us heirs of Abraham.
         For that matter, Abraham’s honor and rightness before God, do not have to do with circumcision or separation or law…
         Don’t believe me? Just look at your bible. Abraham lives before Moses—so those Laws he receives are not the laws Abraham lives by.
         Not only that, God enters into Abraham’s life before Abraham is circumcised.
         Abraham’s relationship with God is not predicated on Law, Separation, or Circumcision.
         My contemporaries read scripture wrong on this point—I, a Righteous Zealot myself—read scripture wrong on this point. In fact, my zeal was in part founded upon this wrong reading of the Bible.

         You see, Abraham was made right before God by his faith
         And when I say faith, let’s be clear, I’m not saying Abraham was reciting a correct creed, wasn’t being justified by right answer, wasn’t writing eloquent works of theology for the ages.

         No, Abraham trusted God!
         Think of the audacity of what he does. He trusts God and joins on a journey with God!

         He immigrates to a strange new land.
         He trusts God so deeply that he packs everything up and leaves Ur of the Kaldes and goes to a strange land he’s never heard of.
         He leaves this Iraqi town just North East of Kuwait—I hear your country now has some issues with immigrants and refugees. Thank God Abraham’s era was much less barbaric than your own.

         Abraham trust’s God on this journey—a journey with plenty of setbacks and hardships, loss… yet a journey to that promised place!

         And, today, I just want you to know all of you who journey with God, who trust God, you are also Abraham’s children!
         You who trust the God who calls life out of death—in the person of his Son Jesus, but also calling all of you—heirs like Isaac, unexpected, laughable, yet God creates him, creates faith in you!
         You who trust the God who calls into existence those things which did not exist—calling forth creation itself, and even, here today—look around you—God calls a community together who were not together, creates the body of Christ here and now!

         So, trust that you are children of Abraham, not on account of any action of your own, not because you’ve separated yourself from other people, or followed particular laws, or marked your body as belonging to God.

         You are children of Abraham, because you have his faith, because you trust in the God who shows up and journeys with you your whole life long.


Sunday, March 05, 2017

Romans Letter 1

Dear St. Stephen,
                  I, Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, have heard that you wish to know more fully of the faith I have in my Lord, which has been passed onto you through these many ages.
                  I have sent to your Pastor, Christopher, the first two letters, that he may read them aloud to you, as it was done in ancient days. This letter will tell you of Sin and Death, Adam and Jesus, Justification and Grace.

1.              Friends, have you ever really thought about how the world ended up so messed up? What components go into such a sloppy machine; how the cake got baked this way?
                  Well, here is one way to think about it.
                  Sin entered in through human disobedience—SIN capitalized and singular, snuck in through a sin, small and multiple.
                  And along with SIN came Death.
                  And Death long reigned, though we couldn’t figure out why. I believe your Pastor has used the metaphor of diagnosis and symptom before… well, Death was the symptom of Sin’s hold upon the world. Yet we couldn’t see Sin, only it’s destructive partner Death.
                  We’d find dead bodies washing up on the shore, but not notice the horrific war across the sea that caused such destruction, creating corpses.
                  But then, God provided the Law—a lens with which we could see Sin.
                  A microscope to move from symptom to diagnosis, a pair of binoculars with which we could see what was going on, on the other side of the sea.
                  We could see Death, but were blinded to Sin—but with the Law we could see both Sin and Death… and it was horrifying—before we’d seen one monster under our bed, but now we know there are two of them.
                  The Law condemned us all—all have fallen short, all collude with Sin, and in so doing, build up

2.              We all are in the likeness of Adam. It was said Adam was given a garden to tend—this Garden, in fact, a way of life—only one rule from the lips of God. Yet, somehow that one rule was widened and condemned us all
—Did God say, do not eat of any tree?
Then widened still more if you touch it you will die…
                  And the fruit, like the Law, showed the nakedness of our sin, showed us how exposed we are to Death.
                  Adam, so accused, in turn accused Eve, and Eve the Snake—and the Snake had no arms to point away from itself and pass the buck on. And as they accused one another of Sin, Death spreads as well. Death culminating in Cain’s killing of his brother Abel, and all the horrors since.
                  We are Adam, Eve, Snake, Cain—this ongoing fall, Sin and Death tumbling and dancing together throughout our lives in continually new and nasty choreography.

3.              Who can help us? Thank God for Jesus Christ—who too is a type of Adam, in the likeness of Adam, as we all are. Jesus too entering into this dance.
                  Jesus, confronted with temptation—bread offered, if he would betray his vocation and the Spirit put upon him in Baptism.
                  Jesus, confronted with temptation—miracle offered, if he would test and see if he really is the Son of God.
                  Jesus, confronted with temptation—all power, all authority, death dealing power, death dealing authority, if only the Father of Sin, not his Father in Heaven, was worshipped.
                  Jesus, Adam as we all are, but Adam who dances with the Spirit, not the forces of Sin and Death—he dances with the one who brought him—the Lord our God.

4.              Just as Sin brought forth Death, and Sin only becomes obvious in light of the Law
—so too the redemption of all these things.
                  God is for us, not against us—that is God’s nature—God is gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. That’s the God we have…
                  And because God is gracious, he yearns to enter the dance and transform it—to justify us—to make us right, to redeem us.
                  But Sin and Death reign—we can not see, for so long and often still—the Grace of God, the redemption at hand.
                  We can not see it, aside from the second Adam
—Jesus Christ is God for us
—the invisible God full of Grace, made visible to us, and for us, through his Son—Jesus.
The best place to search for a loving God is Jesus.
—Just as the Law shows us our Sin, Jesus shows us God’s Grace.
                  God is gracious and makes us right, this reality only becomes obvious in the light of Christ.
Jesus Christ to whom be the glory forever.