Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Isaiah: Prophet, poet, and pastor for the present moment


So, here we are several weeks into listening to Isaiah.

Here we are holding his visions for the world that is re-created, re-crafted, re-formed and re-fashioned with people from all nations welcomed/embraced at God's mountain to be led by a child who establishes justice/mercy/love as the rule of the day and where human relationships reorders the whole of the earth.

I get that Isaiah seems fanciful and fictional and like a farce.

I get that it is easy to shrug our shoulders as if to say, "Yeah, that will be the day, Isaiah.  I am sure pigs will magically fly and unicorns suddenly appear."

Our cynicism comes from the painful, harsh realities of life.

Part of the reason why I think Isaiah, the prophet and poet, turned to poetry. 

The poets words are always trying to call our attention to the miss-able moments of life.  Those that go by in a blur of busyness.  The poets words draw us to the details (I recently read a beautiful poem about eating a grapefruit...but you could substitute in any of your favorite fruits/veggies).  The poet will whisk us away to 30,000 feet where we see the world from another perspective.

Even if you don't like poetry...consider music ~ which is often poetry sung and set to a beat.

Music (even music without words) tells a story and invites us into the deeper realm.  Notice, I didn't say another world.  I don't think music is an escape, it is simply shifting the lens or better yet helping us clear off our eyeglasses which have become smudged and smeared ~ distorting how and what we see.

So, here is the invitation for a trace of God's grace.

Put on music (you might remember last year I posted a series in Advent on Christmas Carols).
Listen...not just with ears of whether you like it or don't...not just with ears of do I "get" it ~ as in I understand it ~ but listen deeply to the artist the way you would a friend who you are having coffee with.
Let those words/notes settle.  Don't rush to judgement or render a verdict or pen a review in your mind.

Just be.

You and the music.
You and the poet.
Perhaps like Isaiah you might gain a deeper sense of what God is up to in our world.

Blessings ~~

If you need help finding a piece of music...here is one offering:

Monday, November 12, 2018

Isaiah: Pastor, Poet, and Prophet for the Present Moment


Take a look at the painting from Edward Hicks from around 1833.

Perhaps you notice all the animals congregated peaceable together.  The cattle and lion...the lamb and leopard...in the lower right corner a bear and ram nosh on a piece of wheat.

Hicks was inspired by the pastor, poet, and prophet for the present moment ~ Isaiah chapter 11.  He was taken by this vision of a re-creation of what we know as the natural order of things.  Isaiah talks and tells about a time when the way the world works is interrupted and disrupted by God's presence.  Isaiah preached and proclaims God Spirit will swirl over the chaos not only undoing the violence we have come to know, but re-ordering life.  It is, to quote the REM song from my youth, "Its the end of the world as we know it...and I feel fine."

Then...in the back ground...perhaps not noticed at first, Hicks includes the image of William Penn signing a treaty with the First Nation/Native Americans. 

Hicks is proclaiming and preaching that perhaps we don't ever think we will live long enough for us to witness carnivores suddenly becoming herbivores.  We don't think we will ever see a wolf and lamb enjoying some nicely sauteed spinach, crispy cauliflower, paired with a nice chardonnay.  We tend to trust Darwin's survival of the fittest more than an ancient idea that creation will suddenly be turned upside down and inside out.

But Hicks is suggesting that we miss moments when our human striving and struggling to live with justice, peace, equity, and love does bring about a trace of God's grace.  Yes, it is fleeting.  For every treaty signed there was too many miles of a trail of tears.  For every moment two people on different sides of a political spectrum actually listen to each other (lest you think I am making that up, listen to this hopeful and engaging episode of On Being) there are too many tweets and hurtful/harmful verbal exchanges that only turn up the volume of distorted discourse.  For every moment of racial healing, there are too many examples of discrimination.  Same for violence and mistreatment of women.  Same is true for the ways our LGBTQ community is seen.  The scales seem tipped less toward Hicks' visual interpretation of A Peaceable Kingdom...more toward a world of might makes right and my side has to win at all costs.

So, where does that leave us?

Do we just discount acts like William Penn or the first Muslim Women being elected to Congress or Sally Kohn and Erick Ericson's conversation I linked above?  Are those the one offs or the small, slow work of the Spirit?  Are these tiny traces of grace what feeds and fuels our lives or the latest verbal volleyball of politics today? 

What if it isn't either/or but both/and?

What we struggle with so much today is that these tiny steps toward justice and a world more reflective of God's inclusive love are quickly tossed aside.  We would rather repeat endless/debate/ discuss and focus on a scandal than a sacred stirring.  So God rarely gets a word in edgewise. 

What I am suggesting in the both/and way of life is to go to your favorite news sources, read about the brokenness...but also consider as part of your daily consuming of life as we know it to also find places that tell us stories about people like Penn who are trying to live differently.  This could be The Good News Network or The Christian Science Monitor or some other source you find to offer a perspective that helps you see the world in another way than the usual binary, either/or lens we are so accustom. 

It might not be the wolf and lamb dancing together...but it might remind you that God's work and love song in our world has not stopped or ceased, is there...just like a trace of grace.

Blessings ~~

Friday, November 9, 2018

Isaiah Prophet, Poet, and Pastor for the Present Moment



Since I referenced these wise words in the last post...it seemed appropriate to share the whole poem with you on this Friday:

Our Deepest Fear
By Marianne Williamson

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.

We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won't feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.

It's not just in some of us;
It's in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we're liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Isaiah Prophet, Poet, and Pastor for the Present Moment


For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulder Isaiah 9

Alright...so pause your inner Handel's Messiah soundtrack that started to play the moment you read the above verse.  And for a moment...don't rush across the bridge that connects Isaiah to Jesus... because chances are this passage wasn't about Jesus and our Jewish brothers and sisters certainly don't read Isaiah 9 with that connection.  And for a moment just sit in the paradox of this verse.

A child born...authority rests upon his shoulders.
A infant - vulnerable and yet powerful.
Authority given not because of might or knowledge or some fancy framed degree hanging on the wall, but by virtue of the fact that the one before us is blessed by God.

That is NOT how the world works.  We don't let children vote or ask them to run companies...we still make jokes about twenty-somethings who start tech business still being "babies" - which shows our generational bias and agism.  We tell children what to do, where to go, how to act, and what to believe, we don't give them keys and then sit in the passenger seat!  (See last post about teaching my son to drive).  Reminds me of Eugene Peterson's quote that "Telling people to go and read the Bible today is like giving the keys to a car to a child and saying, 'Drive it!'"  Or C.S. Lewis who said, "The Bible is an adult book written for adults." 

These ideas and insights in the tiny words on razor thin pages will turn our world upside down!  Giving a child authority!  We can talk all we want about children being our future hope, but we mean down the road...when we are good and ready to let them be in charge...which we will tell them when that is...probably not for some time though.  Or when people say that our children and youth, who are in church and have a voice today...are our future hope rather than our present day voice we need.  After all, we had to wait to get the power we presently have, we had to sit at the kids card-table growing up with the plastic plates and our cousin who wanted us to see milk squirt out his nose, we had to pay our dues...turn around is just how the world works.

Nope.

Not according to Isaiah.  (Or by the way, to Jesus who is constantly telling parables about God's upside down world...but remember this passage might not be about Jesus).

Now I get it.  You hear stories about parents today putting their children first running their kids everywhere at their whim; parents who are part of the 'unschooling' movement who think children learn more being out in the world; parents who let the kids decide everything in an attempt to be their friend.  But, not everything we hear is reality.  Most of the parents I know are just trying to get through the day, juggling work and raising a family, trying to keep up with changing technology, homework, and the fact that with every birthday of our children the clock seems to speed up!  I once heard, "Behind every child is a parent who thinks s/he is messing everything up."  Yup.  We are - to quote the last post - trying to navigate life with a learners permit.

The thing about authority or power is that while you can force others to do things and can cause a great deal of hurt and harm...power and authority can also help heal.  And, to toss/throw out he often quoted poem by Marianne Williamson, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness, That most frightens us."  Isaiah actually starts chapter 9 by talking about light and darkness.  And we can sometimes get so used to walking in the dark, that we don't know how to go toward the light.  Or the light might seem so different.  Or the light might be listening to a child...even handing that child the keys to your car!  That is the way God's presence is moving.  That is the way we open to traces of grace.  That is the invitation in these dwindling days of 2018.  May we sense the incomprehensible wisdom of God guiding and ground us in such a time as this.

Blessings ~~ 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Learning to Drive


I interrupt my normally scheduled posts on Isaiah for this important message from life.

Two weeks ago, our son got his learners permit.  In our marriage, where my wife and I value equality, since I was the one to drive him to the DMV; walk into the DMV; wait for at least five minutes (I might be rounding up here by the way); pay for his licenses; and then...just a second here I have to catch my breath because of all I have done so far...drive him back home ~ I figured I had really done my part.  So, my wife graciously and generously has been doing most of the instruction.

The surreal experience has reminded us just how complex these cars we drive are.  There was the moment when my wife told him to turn on his turn signal when pulling out of the parking lot where he was initially practicing, to which the response was, "Um, where is that?!"  Why should he know where the turn signal is?  It is easy to forget how many buttons and gizmos there are staring back at you in a car.  And don't even get me started on round-abouts, because that traffic invention seems to break a number of rules all at once.

In some ways that is like life...especially today.  We stare at endless news cycle...that is compounded by social media (our friends and family responding to that news cycle)...too many stories of violence and hurt and harm and mean things being said (perhaps we don't ever outgrow our inner middle school self) ~ so I can sometimes feel like a new driver white-knuckle grip on the wheel of life.  I can sometimes feel like my son asking, "Where do I turn off this road we are traveling on?"

But after a few weeks of standing on the sidelines safely observing all this...it was my turn on Thursday to move from the drivers seat to the passenger seat.  Mind you, I still remember the day we brought our son home from the hospital and in was in an infant car seat in the back and the day he graduated to a booster seat...and the first time he sat up front.  Thankfully we were coming home from church, so I felt a connection to God.

And because God has a great sense of humor this was the first time our son had: driven at dusk AND driven in rain AND had to deal with my anxiety which filled the car.

And he did...

Amazing!

I am so proud of how he listened...tried to stay aware of what was around him...and made it home safely.

Maybe we don't ever really graduate in this life from having our "learners permit".  We are constantly traveling new roads with different signs and changing conditions.  Maybe we are all trying to figure out how to respond to the rain storms and other drivers and trying to be safe.  Maybe we are all feel that stress and strain of someone in the passenger seat giving advice (whether we wanted it or not) and our sister in the back seat making jokes.  Maybe learning to drive isn't something we ever master - but perhaps that isn't the point.  Because there was more than a trace of grace to see the smile on our son's face when we got home on Thursday.  Maybe it be so for you and me as we travel life's road today.

Blessings ~~

Friday, November 2, 2018

For Such a Time as This...


In honor of Halloween this last week, I was inspired to write a poem.


Compared to the other pumpkins at the patch,
When you see the one I picked it will make your head scratch.

Your mind will reel and your puzzler will work over time,
You will look at it and think, "That isn't worth a dime."

But to me, the bumps aren't ugly nor is pattern too strange,
To my way of thinking there is beauty, don't think me deranged.

Beautiful because my life too has misshaped and not always smooth.
Beautiful because my life has warts and worries and out of a groove.
Beautiful because each bump and un-smooth places has made me who I am.
Beautiful because I look at this fruit and see the story of a life that isn't a sham.

So have your smooth, perfect pumpkin to crave a face for this week.
I'll take this one that others passed over because it wasn't sleek.
I'll take it like Charlie Brown took at poor little Christmas tree.
I'll take it and hold it and admire it because it is much like me.

Beautifully bumpy, misshaped, not always perfect.
Every time I see it, something within me just clicks.

So celebrate the less-than and passed over and not picked.
Because in God's beautiful creation ugly pumpkins might just do the trick.

May you sense God's grace as the days grow darker, nights longer, and we crave fruit to put a light inside...because that is how joy works.

Blessings ~~