Monday, October 22, 2018
Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. Isaiah 5
One of the great insights Isaiah offers us is the prayer/poet practice of weaving hope and harshness of reality together. He continually returns to both the promise and problems that comprise life today.
In the above passage he invites us to hear God singing a love song to the vineyard. Quick timeout ~ when you see the image of a vineyard that is a metaphor the Biblical writers employ for the people of God. We are to be like a vineyard producing the best, plumpest, most delicious grapes ever! Okay... now back to our regularly scheduled blog.
So, God sings to the grapes...sings to us. How do we hear God's love-song to us? Especially amid the tweets and 24 hour news cycle and almost 5000 ads we encounter every day (by the way, in 1970 you encountered only 500 ads every day...so to say there is an increase is like saying water is wet!). Now, some suggest you have to get away...clear away the clutter out in creation. Others will tell you never, ever pick up your cellular device. Others will say it is the church. Others will say it is community service. It seems like most people are convinced they have the musical sheet God will sing off to you. But, I am not sure God is only singing in one way. What if God sings to you as you read this blog. As you sit in silence for a few moment to hear the bird squawking outside. As you go for a walk with a friend. As you attend a PRIDE fest. Just as I love to listen to a variety of music, so I believe God can sing in many, many keys/tempos/styles.
But Isaiah will say that even as we try to listen to God's love-song...there are moments we are still sour grapes or wild grapes. Moments you and I gripe and grumbles...get cynical and critical...think nothing will ever change and this is the absolute hands down worst things have ever been!
When the love-song is drown out by the toxic deluge of name calling. When the love-song is set aside because we want our people to have the power...not those people. When the love-song is silence because we will play again when things are more to our liking. Remember, Isaiah is preaching poetically and prophetically to people who felt deep fear...who felt surrounded by enemies...who didn't know who to trust...who was saying if it wasn't for bad news there would not be any news at all.
Isaiah is preaching poetically to us.
We need to be grounded in God's grace in such a time as this. What will nourish and nurture our lives is staying connected to the source that can fill us with peace...even when the rest of the world thinks we are foolish. How do you stay open to the love-song...while not ignoring the fear...but also not letting that fear pick the radio station? How do you listen to the One whose voice may not always be the loudest in our shouting/cacophony of a culture...but is here and now and still singing?
Take a moment...be still...listen...I pray you hear the sacred song...with more than a trace of grace.
Friday, October 19, 2018
If Isaiah is more than a prophet or pastor...but a poet; it might behoove us to read some poetry prayers from today. Here is one in particular I read this week that stirred my soul:
“We Are All Writing God’s Poem”
by Barbara Crooker
Today, the sky’s the soft blue of a work shirt washed
a thousand times. The journey of a thousand miles
begins with a single step. On the interstate listening
to NPR, I heard a Hubble scientist
say, “The universe is not only stranger than we
think, it’s stranger than we can think.” I think
I’ve driven into spring, as the woods revive
with a loud shout, redbud trees, their gaudy
scarves flung over bark’s bare limbs. Barely doing
sixty, I pass a tractor trailer called Glory Bound,
and aren’t we just? Just yesterday,
I read Li Po: “There is no end of things
in the heart,” but it seems like things
are always ending — vacation or childhood,
relationships, stores going out of business,
like the one that sold jeans that really fit —
And where do we fit in? How can we get up
in the morning, knowing what we do? But we do,
put one foot after the other, open the window,
make coffee, watch the steam curl up
and disappear. At night, the scent of phlox curls
in the open window, while the sky turns red violet,
lavender, thistle, a box of spilled crayons.
The moon spills its milk on the black tabletop
for the thousandth time.
May these prayerful, poetic words be more than a trace of God's grace in your life today.
Wednesday, October 17, 2018
As we explored and entered into in the last post, Isaiah is called to be a poet, prophet, and preacher in a time of upheaval and pain. He ministers in a moment of tension. Isaiah is willing to shine a light BOTH on the brokenness as well as God's blessings co-existing in that that time. Isaiah calls people to accept both that we have fallen short of God's dream/prayer/love for the world...but that God isn't finished with us yet either.
From theologian Walter Brueggemann - the difference between a whiner and a prophet is that the prophet brings HOPE. The prophet doesn't lead us to despair just so we can all have a pity party about how bad things are, the prophet calls us to act with faithfulness that God is still creating and speaking and singing in our midst today.
Too often today we get caught up in only seeing that which is broken and painful that leads us to cynicism and being overly critical. While there is much that is wrong in the world today, I also acknowledge that human's capacity to hurt and harm each other has been with us for a long time. I think of women fighting for the right to vote but being laughed at or our African-American brothers and sisters having a fire hose turned on them or beaten on a bridge or LGBTQ+ being told they are less than lovingly created in the image of God. Or any of the above groups living in fear of violence and abuse. The prophet always calls us to accountability in the ways we are using power. And those with power are always going to defend and deflect and deny wrong doing.
Yet, Isaiah doesn't just say everything is going to you know where in a hand basket, so whatta gonna do about it? He shines a light on the pain and hurt and says there is hope. Hope of a day when swords will be no more. Hope of a day when creation will be reordered and renewed. Hope that God is still doing a new thing. While Jesus doesn't quote that exactly or verbatim, Jesus does say, "Your will and Your kingdom come." A kingdom not of leaders with power over, but a God who shares power with us. A kingdom not of hierarchy or hegemony, but of equality.
Again...we can say, "Yeah right, Isaiah. Are there talking/flying ponies too?" Our sarcasm is our way of deflecting our own responsibility or for us to blame others as the ones who are the problem. When we are compelled by the vision of God, it will make a demand upon our actions...not only when we feel like it but all the time. All the time, especially when we don't feel like it and especially with that person.
Makes me think of one of my favorite quotes from G.K. Chesterton, "Christianity has not been tried and found lacking...it has been found difficult so left untried." Or we have shaped Christianity into something more palatable for our consumer society. We talk about God wanting you to be successful or that God believing exactly the way we do. When we talk about God, Karl Barth said, we talk about ourselves with a megaphone.
The poet/prophet holds up a mirror so that if we are courageous enough, we might actually stop to see that we want others to bend their swords into plow shares first...or we want our enemies to change so perhaps we don't have to. But, if we don't start letting Isaiah's vision inspire, challenge, and call to us, who will? If we don't let these words interrupt and disrupt us now, when will we? When the stock market is better or our political party is in power or when we have time for it?
Isaiah didn't just preach to people back then and there, he is preaching to us here and now. So, perhaps if we are brave to listen, we might get caught up in more than a trace of God's grace.
I pray it might be so for you and me.
Monday, October 15, 2018
It all started with Doctor Seuss. His one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish, not only helped me catch a love of poetry, but to my type A always multitasking personality, Seuss also helped me learn my colors and how to count. The love of poetry was fanned to flames by Shel Silverstein who humorous tells of a child listing all these reasons why she cannot go to school today because she has, "the measles and the mumps, a gash, a rash and purple bumps. Her mouth is wet, her throat is dry. She is blurry in her right eye. Her tonsils are as big as rocks, She counted sixteen chicken pox.” And after a long list of ailments when she hears that today is Saturday does she say she is really okay and going out to play. Whether it is Robert Frost’s inviting us to see two road in a wood diverging or his playful commentary on how fences make for good neighbors; whether it is Mary Oliver asking that powerful and profound question, “What is it that you intend to do with your one wild and precious life?” Poetry for me sloooooows me down. You cannot rush, race through poetry the way you would a novel or essay or blog post from some random pastor! Poetry continues to be a prayer practice in my life. I love what Eugene Peterson says about poetry. That it helps clear out our eyes from all our gawking and clear out our ears from too much squawking. The poet’s job is not just to describe the world as it is, but how it could be. To widen our imaginations beyond what we simply see.
One of the ways we can engage and encounter Isaiah is listen to his call to be a poet, pastor, prophet in the days before the Babylonian exile. Quick Bible history lesson in two minutes. The defining and distinguishing moment in the Hebrew Bible is the exodus, God liberating God’s people from enslavement in Egypt. They wander for forty years in the wilderness because Moses won’t ask for directions. Eventually the people end up in the Promised Land. Over centuries they have a series of leaders, the most famous being King David. But after David things went gradually downhill and on a steady decline, no one quite measured up to the man, myth, legend of David. Eventually, the northern part of the Promised Land broke away from the Southern part. Isaiah is born into a people who are struggling to find unity in the midst of diversity. He is born into a world where people fear the other both from other countries as well as internally, where they are not quite sure who to trust any longer. He is called to preach to a people who don’t agree politically, socially, religiously on what to do. You can stop me any time this starts to seem relevant to today. While Isaiah might be distant geographically and chronically, he is also as close as the newspaper this morning, Isaiah dares to stand before people to say, “God is not finished with us yet.”
But Isaiah talks about the wolf and lamb laying down OR turning swords into plowshares; Isaiah, the poet and pastor, begins not with the usual religious route of telling us what is wrong and that we are at fault. Rather, Isaiah understands that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. He starts with a vision where all people are coming to God’s holy mountain (chapter 2). And to be crystal clear here, the all means all. Not just the people we like. Not just the people who believe as we believe, vote as we vote, think like we think but also those other people. Those people who frustrate us or we might even call our enemies. Please, please remember that Isaiah is saying to people who are living in fear of Babylon bursting and breaking into their country, that there will come a day when we will no longer let that kind of violence define our relationships. And if that wasn’t bold, or perhaps naive, enough, which it is; Isaiah goes on and says that because the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, there will come a day when the weapons we craft and create and cling to; that often give us a false sense of security, we will no longer need those. We will take swords and tanks and tools of destruction and drones and turn them into tools for hope. And perhaps Isaiah here is sounding more like Dr. Seuss or Shel Silverstien. We might say, “Seriously, Isaiah, you can’t possibly believe that all that could ever happen?” What could we possibly learn from ancient words spoken to a people living in brokenness and fear?
Isaiah is a poet, who understands that sometimes the only thing that can break through the fear-filled noisy cacophony of life today is softly to say, “It doesn’t have to be this way.” Theologian Walter Brueggemann says that it is the, "Vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination; to continue conjuring and proposing futures alternative to the single one the leaders propose as the only thinkable one." And often, because we don’t know what to do with poetry, we try to silence the poet. We silence the poets in our midst by saying, “Might makes right” is the only way. Today, we silence the poets by suggesting and saying that having diverse people connect can only happen in kindergarten classrooms. Today, we might silence the poets by suggesting and saying, “Swords will never become plowshares.” And if that is the word and wisdom that feed and fuel our lives, then perhaps Isaiah’s words will never become reality. But, what if, like Frost, we decide to take another road, the one not taken? A road that will lead us away from only thinking in terms of winners and losers. A road that takes us away from pitting ourselves against each other. A road that stop trying to decide who is in and out, but that in God’s presence all belong. A road that might not even appear on most people’s maps of what they believe to be possible or probable. A road that will cause us to journey with those who worship in different ways and in no way at all. A road that will link us to people with whom we have nothing in common. A road that will say you don’t need sharpen your words or weapons, for on this mountain God’s peace and presence invites us to just be - no ranking or rancor. That road some will say doesn’t exist, but for those who are making the road as we walk in the world today, we laugh and join the poet in proclaiming this path less traveled might not be seen, but it is prayerfully possible when our words, actions, and very presence take Isaiah’s profound vision to be our truth, our vision, and what guides us every moment this day and this week. So may the poetry of Isaiah leap from the page today and find expression in our lives for such a time as this with more than a trace of grace to sustain us. Amen.
Friday, October 12, 2018
For one second...just be and breath like a bubble sitting for a blink of an eye on the water.
For one second...nothing to produce or prove.
For one second...nothing to do other than be open to the mystery and majesty of right now.
For one second...suddenly five or ten seconds have piled up
And the world is still spinning...and CNN hasn't broken down your door with breaking news...and nothing has imploded without you running yourself ragged.
How could this be?
How could everything just keep moving when we are not?
When did we get this sense that to rest is to rust?
When did we equate breathing and being with laziness?
When did we adopt the stink thinking that we are only what we produce or consume?
Perhaps like a sly, sneaking fox at the hen house, these words have been working and wiggling in our lives.
Perhaps like a stream over a rock slowly working away at the granite, these words have set up for us a false choice:
Either you work yourself into a frenzy or you freeload.
But to simply be in the stillness...
To intentionally and prayerfully set aside this second and the one after that and even...yes...the one after that might actually be good rather than avoided at all costs.
Just look...you have now been sitting there for over a minute.
Still no one has broken down the door to see if you are okay.
What would happen if such a regular practice was part of your life?
Practice...not an obligation or demand...practice as in a basketball player taking free throw after free throw...not because she makes everyone perfectly...but actually because she wants to see what happens when she doesn't...learning from mistakes not success.
Let the stillness of these few fleeting seconds sing to your whole life today and tomorrow and may there be more than a trace of grace in this.
Wednesday, October 10, 2018
A time to transition from summer heat to cooler breeze...
A time to transition from long sun-drenched days to darkness draping the world earlier...
A time to transition from hazy, even lazy, summer days to moments our schedules crowd out space
A time to transition from one year toward the next, new year.
The trees teach and tell us about transition. Not clinging to leaves ready to fall or pushing that final one off the thin twig to leap to the ground.
Not by hiding when they vulnerably shed all the glorious green leaves or radiant fall colors.
Not be saying, "It's okay." Or "Nothing to see here."
Rather the tree audaciously cry out with fireworks of red, yellow, and orange...only to lose the spectacular-ness in less than fifteen minutes of fame to stand bare before the brutal winds of winter. Why would our lives be any different?
Just when we get the corner office, we feel the stress and strain.
Just when the bathroom remodel is complete, our eye goes to that one place the paint isn't perfect.
Just when life is harvesting the slow growth of seeds, we start counting down to Christmas.
This moment of transition when what was is no longer and what will be is not yet...there is something beautiful in this moment, in this morning, and it is more than a taste of God's grace found in a cup of coffee, slice of apple, a piece of sweet potato pie all put together.
So may you, in these transitioning days of October, experience and explore God moving in your midst in amazing and life-changing ways.
Monday, October 8, 2018
“The simple rose, at each moment of its slow blossoming, is as open as it can be. The same is true of our lives.” - Mark Nepo
I recently heard this quote on a podcast with Parker Palmer/Carrie Newcomer and was struck by it's profound and powerful wisdom. These words invite us to let the truth of nature sing and speak to our lives. We can get caught up in wanting to race and run through the stages of growth. We are always longing to be at the next place. Our phone pings with breaking news taking us out of the present moment or our calendar dings reminding us we need to leave...now...right now...okay now you are five minutes late. The texts and emails pile up.
Some of the difficulty with slow blossoming is being present. It is hard to notice what is right around us when we are being pulled and pushed in all kinds of directions by our to-do lists and phone calls and countless other things all demanding our attention. Some of the difficulty with slow blossoming is a world that keeps moving along with pressures that cause our shoulders to slouch and souls to stir uneasily. Some of the difficulty with slow blossoming is the reality of comparison. As an author once said, "Comparison is the thief of joy." When we look at what our neighbors or friends on Facebook/Instagram or anyone else has in relation to us, our rose of a life often seems closed or cluttered or chaotic.
The quote also suggests that where we were yesterday was exactly where we needed to be. We don't need to hold onto the pain of regret or remorse. I said or did that thing two years, two months, two weeks ago, because that was where I was. You don't hear a rose bud saying, "Everything will be so amazingly awesome when I finally open." Or, "I can't believe how closed off I was two days ago, that was so childish of me." Humans have a unique ability to criticize ourselves to the point of harm and hurt that won't heal.
What do you hear in this quote? How might it give you permission to be who and where you are right now? Not holding the past or fearing the future, just being and breathing in the present?
May those questions open you to more than a trace of God's grace in these days!