Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Review of Shaking A Fist At God

Shaking A Fist At GodShaking A Fist At God by Katherine Dell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A beautiful and powerful reflection upon suffering using the Book of Job as a lens (as well as works such as Waiting for Godot, JB, and Rosencrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead). Dr. Dell, like the book of Job, does not look for answers, but instead meditates on the questions and sits with them in a profound and extremely satisfying way.

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Sermon 2.0

          Because I knew about an upcoming memorial service during Holy Week, which eventually became 2 memorial services after Holy Week, I put my nose to the grind stone, reading commentary after commentary weeks in advance—plotting out the 6 sermons and 9 services all ahead of time.
          And, for today, I had a simple formula I thought would carry the sermon:

(Fear + Great Joy) + Be Not Afraid = Great Joy

          I talked with a mathematician
I knew he was a good one because he called it maths instead of math
—the equation checked out, fear added to be not afraid cancel one another out. We are left only with Great Joy.

          I was going to have us go through a spread-sheet, noticing the fears and joys in Matthew’s Gospel and then move to the fears and joys of our own life.
          Finally, I was going to tell you all that the resurrection shifts the balance—that beyond the command to be not afraid, there is the action which makes it so
… Jesus risen from the dead, that we too shall do the same.
          But it doesn’t work… don’t get me wrong… it works… the equation is right and the point is, ultimately, true—fear and joy are transformed by the promise of resurrection… 
but it doesn’t work.
          Easter, at the end of the day, is not an equation.
          Resurrection is not something to put on a spreadsheet.
          It isn’t planned out weeks in advance.
          It isn’t a dogma to drill into your head, not a systematized something to be easily defined, digested and disseminated.
          No, it is always a Surprising Resurrectiona Jagged Easter.

          A Surprising Resurrection and a Jagged Easter.

          Think of Easter Baskets…after the ravenous kids get hold of them.
          Think of a time when you did something important and you didn’t know how it was going to go
—you couldn’t tell if you were excited or anxious.
          Think about the line from that Script’s song, “When a heart breaks, no it don't break even.”

          All these things, point to particularity, point to messiness—each of our lives, each one of us… particular, 
and particularly touched by Resurrection and by Easter.
          Easter is jagged, because it is the story of God acting among human beings. 
          Resurrection isn’t something we plan for, it is always a surprise, because it involves the experiences of people, in all their magnificent strangeness!
          Where our hearts are most broken, there we will most clearly find God healing us and raising us with Christ. Those broken places are intimate and strange, regions unmapped and sometimes known only to us, yet they are where resurrection takes place.
          What I’m saying is: Easter is for you. Resurrection is for you!
          Turn to your neighbor and say, “Resurrection is for you.”

          For you Mary, there at the tomb
—having met Jesus 
and followed him 
and followed after him even when the male disciples left
—seen him to the end, 
seen his last breath.
          You don’t have the 20/20 hindsight we have
—ultimately we know too much about Easter to easily get hold of Easter
—but not you, this was nothing you planned for…
          Mary, there at the tomb—metaphorically as well as literally.
          There quaking earth and quaking guards.
          Stone removed and frightening angel. 
          Do not be afraid, the resurrection is for you!
          Go, tell someone, “the resurrection is for you!”
          Mary if you didn’t believe the words when they came from the lips of an angel, well, here come the words again, this time from the Resurrected One, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell!”
          Mary resurrection is for you.

          For you, Pastor Chris, there at the pulpit, trust not the words of your own lips, but instead that the Spirit will use them. The generalwill become particular, not in your speaking, but in the congregation’s hearing.
          Do not be afraid, the resurrection is for you!
          Go, tell someone, “the resurrection is for you!”
          Pastor Chris resurrection is for you.

          One of our longest time members—Willie Meisnest, died last week.
          For you, Willie, there in the grave—trust now the words you’ve trusted your whole life long. Willie, resurrection is for you.

          On Maundy Thursday Logan and Leah took their first communion.
          For you, Leah and Logan, there at the rail. Your young lives already intersecting with the promise of God “Body of Christ, Blood of Christ, for you.”
          Do not be afraid, the resurrection is for you!
          Go, tell someone, “the resurrection is for you!”
          Logan and Leah, resurrection is for you.

          Sharada, in a few moments time you’ll be baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection.
          Do not be afraid, the resurrection is for you!
          Go, tell someone, “the resurrection is for you!”
          Sharada, resurrection is for you.

          Sisters and brothers, wherever you are at in this moment, all the particulars of your life
—the breaks in your heart, the unique jaggedness of your soul. 
You, in your whole self and whole history
—all the things that make you you, and not someone else
—in all of that, I want you to know that Easter is for youResurrection is for you.
Resurrection is for you.
Amen and Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!)

Friday, April 14, 2017

Maundy Thursday: Teaching the Faith

Welcome friends.
         Welcome to Holy Week.
         We step into this Church from a typical Thursday, maybe school or work or home-life, maybe you had dinner before you came here to celebrate Jesus’ last dinner,
we step out of these ordinary things into a different space
—into an extraordinary story.
         We enter into the story of Holy Week.
         A story we get to share with Leah and Logan today!

         Now, one of the things I love doing is passing on the faith—getting to tell the story of the faith in a complete and ongoing way to those for whom it is fairly new—I love teaching Confirmation and First Communion.

         And I’m not alone in this act of—passing on the faith—teaching the faith—scripture is thick with it.
         In the Exodus we read of Passover—the people are being taught to never forget their escape from Egypt and its implications for them even today. They are given a ritual—the Passover meal—which they repeat and re-live through that ritual.
         The Apostle Paul is faced with a congregation in Corinth who has forgotten the meaning of the Lord’s supper—in their community the rich feast and the poor brown-bag it.
Paul teaches them that when Christ is at table, there may be no division. He fixes the way they eat so that they remember Jesus rightly, the words he teaches them with we still repeat this very day.
         Jesus leaves his disciples teaching them one last thing—how to love one another. He repeats his command three times “love one another” (3x) and ritually enacts what he means by love by washing their feet.

         Just hearing these examples of passing on the faith you might have caught two techniques for teaching. Ritual and Review.

         Ritual—if you sit in the same seat for a test that you did during a lecture, you’ll likely remember more than if you sat in a different seat—it’s just how our brains work. Muscle memory becomes brain memory.
         Conveniently, today’s service is chock-full of ritual—individual absolution, foot washing, communion, and the stripping of the altar. In fact, I would venture a guess that all of you will remember those actions long after every word I speak today from this pulpit has evaporated into the air.
         As for review—repetition, repetition, repetition. That’s the key. And Logan and Leah have, at this point, heard from me about Holy Communion twice—so we’re going to make this sermon the third time and hope it sticks!
         And, for the rest of you-lot, it is worth remembering again what it is we do each week at table in remembrance of our Lord.

         Holy Communion involves Memory, Thanksgiving, a Physical Thing, and a Promise by Jesus.
         Memory—Every Sunday we remember the Apostle Paul, remembering Jesus, remembering the Passover meal, remembering the escape from Egypt. Each of these moves of memory re-member the meal, put it together differently, make it a fresh and new thing—a living meal every time we eat—it becomes part of who we are—you are what you eat.
         Giving Thanks—Communion is a thanksgiving meal, and as you’ll see in a few minutes, we take time here at St. Stephen to think through the things we’re thankful for as part of Holy Communion.
         A Physical Thing—one of the stories I tell the first communion students is of my first week of internship—someone broke into my mailbox with a crowbar, I was robbed by knife-point, and witnessed a shooting. After that week in which I experienced plenty of physical examples of hate and hurt, it was so good to receive that small yet profound example of God’s love—The Body of Christ, broken for you, the Blood of Christ, shed for you! Bread and Wine reminding me of God’s love.
         A Promise by Jesus—as Lutheran Christians we give a pretty simple explanation for how Jesus is truly present in bread and wine—he promised to be there, and when Jesus promises something, he delivers…
if  he says he’ll be at the train station at 3:21 to pick you up, he’ll be at the train station at 3:21 to pick you up—you can trust Jesus—so too, he promises to be in this meal—you can trust he’ll show up at Holy Communion.

         And Leah, Logan—please trust this to be true
—on this typical Thursday after school or spending some time at home,
in this, your ordinary life,
stepping into this, an ordinary church,
in doing the normal act of eating and drinking, a little wine and a thin wafer of bread
—in all of this you can trust that Jesus is show up for you today, bringing to you his promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

I Was Not Wrong

You might remember that I endorsed Hillary Clinton and warned about the dangers of electing Donald Trump.
I suggested he’d endanger people with pre-existing conditions, that there was no there there—his ideas were basically empty slogans, and that he had authoritarian tendencies.
Six months later, I think we can assess my worries about Trump. 
At this point I think I can safely say I was not wrong.

Pre-existing conditions
            The Affordable Care Act is still the law of the land, though there are plenty of ways Trump is undermining it, including pulling ads and use of executive orders. That said, he’d initially said Trumpcare would protect people with pre-existing conditions, until he got down to the final hour before the bill was going to go for a vote, and gladly cut up that part of the bill before the whole thing failed. There is now a new effort to repeal the ACA and cut people with pre-existing conditions off at the knees. So, yeah, I was not wrong.

Empty Slogans
            When Trump was trying to tackle healthcare he admitted, “Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated.” This after claiming he’d create a perfect plan that kept all the things people liked about the ACA, but it would be tons cheaper. “A terrific plan that would cover everyone.” Yes, he’s governing by slogan not idea.
            As further evidence, he’d promised, as you might remember, to get China to invade North Korea for us, now he’s planning on “solving” North Korea without China.
            He had a secret plan to defeat ISIS, it looks more like he’s just letting the Obama plan chug along, maybe with more civilian casualties and botched raids.
            He was going to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it. They won’t.
            He promised to ban Muslims, which has proved to be unconstitutional and judges have blocked said executive order twice.
            You get the picture, he says things, but they don’t seem to work as actual policy, so he backtracks. I was not wrong.

            I was a NATO kid and was on a NATO base when the Tiananmen Square Massacre took place. I was told in no uncertain terms that was what we were fighting against—America while deeply imperfect, stands for human rights, and when we fail that we are held to account for it, because that is who we are. Yeah, na├»ve right, but still, damn it, if I have a choice between someone who stands up to China and says, “Women’s rights are human rights!” or someone who thinks what happened at Tiananmen Square shows strength, I’m going with Human Rights every time.
            Off my soap box.
            So far, Trump and his people have proved to be very cozy with Vladimir Putin. In fact, he’s defended Putin killing journalists and employed a moral equivalency between America and Russia to defending Putin being a killer.
            Additionally, he’s given Egyptian Strongman Al-Sisi legitimacy and a boatload of cash, green lighting his human rights abuses. In general, Middle Eastern dictators are loving this.
            So far he’s ruling via executive orders, with 23 so far (vs 18 for Obama at this time). And when these orders don’t go as planned we’re told to not question his authority. Those who do their job and interpret the constitutionality of the orders are dismissed as “so called judges.” He is threatening fellow Republicans like he’s “The Godfather.” Also, he capriciously knocked a billion dollars off an American company’s stock via Twitter.
            As for the hate crimes, it’s so bad the Lutherans are doing active bystander training. And before you think we’re over-reacting, the night before the first training a young woman was spat upon for wearing a hijab and the day after I visited a local Islamic Center, it was targeted. On a more terrifying scale an Indian man was killed in Kansas because he looked Muslim. Then there is White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon’s obsession with “The Camp of the Saints” in which immigrants from the 2/3rds world and hippie leftists are eventually slaughtered to save the West.

            So, it seems Trump is emboldening human rights violators abroad and racists at home and governing in a heavy-handed manner. I was not wrong.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

My review of Aristotle's Rhetoric

RhetoricRhetoric by Aristotle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Obviously this is a very important book, essentially class notes from Aristotle's class itself.
There are tons of lessons to be learned about both building up a case and tearing down an opponent's. That said, the book reads, as indicated, like class notes. It is a good resource to have, especially if you are heading into a particular argument, but at least for me, it lacked umph.

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A review of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons for the Twentieth Century

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth CenturyOn Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Snyder worries that the post-Cold War West has largely assumed "we won, now history doesn't matter" and in so doing left us dangerously open for the repetition of history. In order to inoculate us against such an eventuality he gives concrete examples of how both fascism and communism were resisted in the 20th century.
Here are the 20 points he fleshes out in this little, powerful, book:
1. Do not obey in advance.
2. Defend institutions.
3. Beware the one-party state.
4. Take responsibility for the face of the world.
5. Remember professional ethics.
6. Be wary of paramilitaries.
7. Be reflective if you must be armed.
8. Stand out.
9. Be kind to our language.
10. Believe in truth.
11. Investigate.
12. Make eye contact and small talk.
13. Practice corporeal politics.
14. Establish a private life.
15. Contribute to good causes.
16. Learn from peers in other countries.
17. Listen for dangerous words.
18. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.
19. Be a patriot.
20. Be as courageous as you can.

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sermon: The Blind Man

         It is an interesting thing, 
John’s Gospel, 
the letters of John, 
and the Apocalypse by John the Revelator, 
all share the same repetitive, braided together way of communicating. 
-Why say a thing once, if you can say it a thousand times? 
-Why give an orderly account of what you mean, when you can let chaos reign and meaning ebb and flow?

         But, to untangle things a little, let’s look at three braids that will be threaded through today’s gospel lesson.
1. Sin.
2. Jesus reveals God.
3. We are found by Jesus.
Let us pray,

1. Sin.
         Throughout John’s Gospel we find Sin to be lack of relationship with Jesus, failed encounters, not seeing your Lord right before your eyes, encouraging others to forsake the Faithful One.
         The theme of Sin and sins—small s plural saturate this, the 9th chapter of John. 

         The Disciples start us off with a question about the connection between sin(s)—small s plural and …
sickness and disability and a rough lot in life?
         Is it generational? Does the son pay for the sin of the father? Is a daughter doomed by mother’s misdeeds?
         Or is it your own darn fault? Are we so personally responsible that every malady is our own?
         This debate raged in the time of the prophets—in fact both Ezekiel and Jeremiah weigh in in favor of the second option. And even today we talk about nature versus nurture, families of origin shape who we are, yet our decisions have consequences…

         But Jesus shifts the focus away from sins, to Salvation—saying essentially, “Hey guys, you’re burying the lede here! In this very moment, he who was blind, now will see—Look, this good thing is about to happen, and will point to God! Look, this man now gets to experience a full life!

         But, Sin continues to rear its head. The religious authorities insist that Jesus is a sinner, and when the man who was blind isn’t so sure about their assessment of Jesus, when he calls Jesus a prophet, they declare that from his birth he’s been filled with sin and they cast him out.

2. Jesus reveals God.
         Jesus, in John’s Gospel, is the One who comes into the world, who reveals the Invisible God made visible—he is sent for this very task. While he is in the world we can know God in a unique and unqualified way—he sheds light on all the things of God, for he is the Light of the World. God’s work is revealed in his acts of healing.
         In fact, this is Salvation—the enlightenment of the light of Christ. His transformational relationship with those he encounters—the Samaritan woman at the well, the Blind man, they are saved by experiencing Jesus Christ, the one sent by God.
         At the same time, Sin, Big S Singular, is being confronted by the dawning light of Christ and calling it night. If you cannot see what he is doing, you’re more than missing something, you are blind and will be judged as such.

3. Jesus finds the man
         Jesus is found to be among sinners—he is declared a sinner by the Pharisees.
         Maybe you didn’t catch that—but Jesus is said to be a sinner, he is identified as a sinner, for the sake of the world
—this light from God is seen as night because we aren’t seeing right, and he’s transforming it
—giving sight to the blind.
         Jesus becomes Sin for us, that is true. Jesus comes into the world not to condemn the world, but to save it, save us.
         And Jesus saves this particular man too
—he was thrown out…
Take a moment and imagine how strange it must be, seeing for the first time, but navigating that experience alone!
         Well, Jesus finds him twice, 
first to heal him of his blindness
and then to defend him, and re-define him. 
         Jesus seems to step between the formerly blind man and the Pharisees who are accosting him, in order to protect the man, and then Jesus insists that the Pharisees are the blind ones.
John’s Gospel braids 
-Jesus as Revealer of God, 
-being found by Jesus 
together into a winding, intertwined, repetitive, faithful, reflection upon who Jesus is for the sake of the whole world.

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!