Friday, February 02, 2007

Deep Thought Friday: Everyone comes from somewhere

I’ve started to read a biography of Alexander the Great. One of the first things I noticed was that his father was king. Well duh, we all know about King Philip of Macedonia, but what we may not realize is that he was the head of the anti-Persian league. Basically, even before Alexander was born all of Greece stood behind King Philip and their spears quivered in anticipation of the chance to gut the once mighty Persian Empire.
I guess what I’m saying is Alexander was set up to receive the title Great. Don’t get me wrong, he was a brilliant tactician (though it would have behooved him to know a little more about weather patterns, specifically Monsoons), a dynamic guy, and did indeed change the world forever. For that matter, the way in which Alexander co-opted the Persian Empire over and against the Greeks was something I doubt his father would ever have dreamed up. Still, everyone comes from somewhere; no man is an island unto himself. All we do is rested on someone and something else. All that we are is a continuity, a procession, of things previous.
This is of course a blow to Ego. We want to think that we’ve made it on our own, that what we accomplish is from the sweat of our brow, the genius of our mind, and the razor of our tongue, not received. Yet all was not accomplished by our own force of will, and we should humbly accept this. In doing this we may then thank those who have shaped us positively and, in maturity, take time to mentor others. Who knows, we may touch the brow of the next Alexander, or raise up the maid of Aristotle, the tutor of the King.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Al Gore up for the Nobel Peace Prize!

As some know I like Al, maybe it is just that I kinda hit political maturity with the 2000 presidential election, maybe it is because he's such a cool guy. Either way, its good to know he's being recognized for his work on Climate Change.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sunday's Story: A few visitors (Continued)

There it was again, the world. Coming back in slow sips. He could feel the tape on his leg, the pubic hairs beginning to grow back where he had been shaved. His hand was wrapped up, the needle, though mere plastic, the metal bit having contracted, still irritated, and was inside him.
“Mandy. He’s awake. Evin’s awake.”
He tried to move his hand, his limbs were of led, and the back of his head felt heavier still. His whole body had a pulled back feeling, like some invisible force more powerful than gravity had exerted its pull on him.
Mandy came into his room with two Styrofoam cups of coffee in hand. She had red hair and thin lips, both like Evin’s. She gave one of the cups to Curtis.
“But you’re in Atlanta,” Evin said.
“No I’m not. I’m here,” she replied sitting down gingerly on her brother’s bedside. She took a sip of her coffee. It had been a year since his sister had moved away.
“Both of you,” he stated, struggling to move his head enough to look at Curtis too.
Curtis nodded, “Of course.”
“But you’ve got classes. What about work?”
Mandy answered, “This kind of thing drags all that to the ground. We’re here for you.”
A mechanical click came from behind him, “What was that?”
“Your morphine pump,” Curtis said, glad to be able to explain something, anything.
Maybe it was the recognition of what the thing was, maybe it was the drugs themselves, probably it was the drugs themselves, that made Evin’s heaviness disappear. The lightness floated through his chest and spread. When the feeling came to his head he made a light “Um,” sound. The dulling of pain had hit him as hard as pain would have.
“How do you feel?” Mandy asked.
“Funny,” was all he said. He didn’t know how to express how he felt to them. They couldn’t possibly understand. Cocooned in the white bed he knew he was safe. He gathered that the heaviness and lightness were both unreal. He felt the pain, perhaps paradoxically, more strongly because of its morphine mask. It felt like a foreign object was lodged in his chest, it felt like he could cough it up, or puke it up, but his body wouldn’t react in that way. That pain he knew was real, his body knew it was real, but because of the unreal contraptions around him that reality disappeared; the man was the shadow and the shadow was the man. But he couldn’t tell them that. His mind liquidated, and his eyes drooped.
“ahhh,” he let out quietly.
Curtis slugged down his coffee, gritting his teeth like it was whiskey. Mandy blew on hers, and sipped.
“I left this afternoon. Had a lay-over in Omaha, and got into DIA about five,” she said
“Oh,” he said, the words hardly left his lips.
“When we both got in mom and dad looked so tired. We shooed them off, you know, they didn’t want to leave. They would have wanted to be here when you woke up. You know.”
“Yeah,” he exhaled, eyes fluttering open and shut.
“But… but… um.”
“I’m pretty sleepy…guys.”
“Oh. Yeah. We’ll… um we’ll call dad.”
“It’s good to see you Evin. It’ll be all right. You’re important to us,” Curtis said to him before they left.
And Evin disappeared again, the last thought in his mind was that his throat was dry.
(To be continued)

Sermon:Expect the Unexpected

I preached at Emmanuel URC today. I think it went rather well.

Sermon-Expect the Unexpected

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O LORD.

Expect the unexpected—By way of introducing this theme, and of introducing myself, I would like to tell you how a young Lutheran from America has found himself in this pulpit today here at Emmanuel United Reformed Church in Cambridge England.
About this time two years ago I found myself within spitting distance of graduating from the University of Oregon, and unsure of what to do next. I knew I felt called to the ministry, in fact I had been accepted at Luther Theological Seminary Philadelphia; yet at the age of 21 was it time?—With the full intention of going straight to Seminary I, on a whim, applied to be a missionary in either Kenya or India. As the school year rolled on that initial whim of mine solidified into an idea, and as the school year ended the idea of Kenya or India cemented into an expectation.
I would go to India, home of Thomaside Christianity, away from the sterile Cultural Christianity of the West. I would go to Africa, where the Church is blossoming at an undreamed of pace and thriving in unexpected ways. Africa! India! Just saying their names gave them a certain power and significance.—They sent me to Essex.—
And so for a year I worked at St. Mark’s College, an Anglican youth retreat centre 15 miles south of here. I taught archery and trampoline, I cleaned rooms and looes, prepared meals, and served an inordinate amount of sherry to Bishops.
On occasion I could venture up to Cambridge, and sometimes I would visit the nearest fellow Volunteer, Emmanuel’s very own Melody. And soon enough Cambridge, this academic city on the hill that is talked about with hushed and reverent voices the world over became a concrete reality to me. I applied, was accepted, and am now doing an Old Testament M.Phil.
Two years ago I expected that I would be ½ way through my second year at Seminary now, instead I find myself before you here today, reminding you to expect the unexpected. –
When we read today’s lessons we can not help but be struck by the unexpected. In Jeremiah’s call we find an unexpected prophet, in Jesus’ dangerous words to his home congregation he enfolds an unexpected people into the open arms of God, and in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we hear of an unexpected type of love.

“Ah, Lord God, Behold, I do not know how to speak for I am but a youth.” Ah. It sounds like Jeremiah has been startled. It sounds like someone has snuck up on his in the night and said boo. – In the Hebrew he says Ahah, the same word Gideon says when he realizes the man he’s been cheeky to is none other than the Angel of the LORD. It is the same word Ezekiel says when God tells him to cook his meals over human dung. It is the same word Jeremiah uses later in shock when the other prophets prophecy in contradiction to him.
That God would call a lad of untried tongue to prophecy to Judah at a time when “Terror is on every side” is astonishing. That He would call this young man to tell the king to his face that he is not administrating justice soundly is surprising. That God calls Jeremiah to proclaim that all is not well in the land, at a time when Babylon hovers over Jerusalem like a vulture in the desert, is amazing.—Yet, God’s main medium of activity in the world is through unexpected prophets. The pagan Abraham, the tongue tied Moses, the quazi-comic Jonah, the young woman Mary, the Hot headed sons of Zebedee, Stubborn Peter, and that persecutor of the church Paul.—Yes, the Bible is filled with unexpected prophets—

One of them, this Jesus of Nazareth, called the lowly son of a carpenter, called, in astonishment, “Joseph’s son” has been tempted in the wilderness, made a name for himself as a teacher in the surrounding area, and has arrived home. He reads from Isaiah 61 and 58 about the reconstitution of God’s people from the exile. The poor will hear good news, the captive will find release, the blind shall see, the oppressed will be free. Then as we reach today’s reading, things get funny, the unexpected happens. Jesus voices a question that may already have been in the air, something that may have been implied in the praise of the crowd, perhaps in the phrase “Joseph’s son.”
I would imagine that, for these people Jesus has become the hometown hero, Nazareth’s new favorite son. This local celebrity that Jesus has received has drowned out the radical message of God’s reign. A prophet isn’t accepted in his hometown because the hometown is too proud of their prophet. Too proud of his origins to stop and listen to the prophecy itself.
But Jesus refuses to be pegged down to Nazareth. He refuses to limit the length and breadth of God’s Kingdom. So he tells his friends and neighbors about an unexpected people. He points to the Syrians to the east and the people of Sidon to the west. These allusions to the book of Kings Jesus makes are a kind of practice run, an early draft, of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus transforms old enemies into an unexpected and ambitious example of inclusion in the kingdom.

When I talk of these great and unexpected actions of long ago it would seem that I am only speaking of a what, not a why. I’ve spoken so far of symptoms, not causes.—We find today’s “Why” squashed between two chapters about spiritual gifts. This Why is of course Love, or Charity as rendered by those who translated the King James Bible. Now, when I think about the word charity it does not shine in the same way I suppose it did nearly 400 years ago. It has been tarnished by cynicism and rusted with overuse. It makes one think of a cruel governess tossing a coin to a beggar or a Lemony Snickett style uncle being far from charitable to his nieces and nephew. But I think this translation has a specificity lacking in the generalized term love. Further, love, as our 21st century ears hear it, plugged up by Hallmark and Hollywood, has been sentimentalized, sanitized, and secularized to the point where its meaning as intended by Paul is diminished, if not lost.
Charity, “A disposition to think favorably of others” “The giving of help, money, food, etc. to those in need.” Yes. This comes close to Paul’s meaning. Paul writes to Corinth about a certain type of love, Agape, unexpected, unwarranted, unmerited love.—A type of love linked to grace. It is a love that expects nothing in return, and is thus a sacrificial type of love. It is a love given by God and shared between people. It is a kind of love we can have for our enemies. It is an imitation of Christ and a following of his command to love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves.
And what does Paul say about this Agape love? He says it supercedes all works of the Spirit, without it they are nothing.—He also suggests something very striking, love is eternal. In saying this, he is lifting a curtain to give us a peek at the end of time, saying all this clangor will pass away and all that will remain is love.
Finally, Paul points out a why for this charitable, humble, love. We love in an Agape way because we see through the glass darkly. We are imperfect, fallible beings, comprehending only a chunk of creation. Knowing that, admitting that in our creeds and in our confessions. how can we react to our neighbors other than in patience and kindness, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, and enduring all things. Being without jealousy or boastfulness, arrogance or rudeness, irritation or resentfulness, not insisting on our own way or rejoicing in wrong, but instead rejoicing in right.
With this love Jesus Christ recognized the equal merits of Galilean and Syrian, the people of Sidon and Nazareth. It is by this love that Jeremiah was compelled to preach hard truths.

Today’s readings confront us with three strands of the unexpected. We have before us the unexpected Prophet Jeremiah, the unexpected people let into the Kingdom despite the protests of those already in, and the unexpected love proclaimed to the Corinthians. Taken each separately they are beautiful concepts, edifying stories, and the proclamation of the Gospel.
Yet, if we braid them together and ground them in our present reality the kingdom crystallizes and God reigns in love.—If we expect the unexpected, recognizing that we see through a glass darkly, we can see with eyes of love, and reach out prophetically to all of God’s Children.

The sheer power of a people living out God’s love was made apparent to me in, you guessed it, an unexpected way, four years ago. I was volunteering at a homeless shelter, transporting laundry and donations by van. Sometimes a shelter resident would ride with and help me load or unload things.
There was one resident in particular who would ride with me often. He happened to have a swastika prominently tattooed on his forehead. We worked together for several weeks and during that time I did my best not to stare at that beastly thing, or ask any questions about it.
Then one day we were driving along and he said to me, “Chris, I know you look at it.”
“Look at what?” I asked.
“The swastika,” he replied.
I was –this- close to responding “What swastika,” but, by that time, I was staring at his forehead instead of the road, so I replied guiltily, “yeah. I do.”
“I got it while I was in prison down in Denver,” he said. –Just the kind of thing you want to hear while alone with a guy twice your size.
He then told me how he had hated blacks and Latinos, though he used much stronger language than that.
“Oh,” I replied again, limply.
He continued, “Then I got out. No landlord wanted an ex-con as a renter. The only place that would let me in was an African American co-op. It took a while, but I just couldn’t hate them any more.”
Expect the unexpected.-A+A