Can’t we just be friends?

Ah, Valentine’s Day. Remember when romantic rejection – somebody didn’t “like” you – felt like a fatal injury? I guess I’m getting old enough to look back and… OK, not laugh, but not cringe with as much gravity. “Can’t we just be friends?” is funny now; it used to be injurious to my soul.

Rejection. I prayed Psalm 71 this morning and the word came to mind.

For you are my hope, O LORD God, my confidence since I was young. I have been sustained by you ever since I was born; from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; my praise shall be always of you. I have become a portent to many; but you are my refuge and my strength. (Verses 5-7)

The Psalms, according to Jesus himself, point to him. With that understanding, these verses are so painful; the eternal Son who dwelt in eternal glory spent his 33-ish years from conception to crucifixion on the bad end of rejection.  His fidelity to his divine nature and mission were things the world wanted to keep at arm’s length, to say the least.

The Prophets saw it coming,

He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces3d render of red broken heart om white background
he was despised, and we held him of no account. (Isaiah 53:3 NRSV)

The Evangelists recorded the fulfillment,

 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.  He came unto his own, and his own received him not.  (John 1:10-11)

Wow, at least those we court try to let us down easy.  They offer a cool (in temperature, not social standing) friendship.  Jesus gave his heart and got the cross.

Makes today’s shenanigans seem a bit less urgent, I hope.

 

 

Coming into focus

This is embarrassing to admit, but until I read it at Morning Prayer today I’d not noticed the revelation of the Trinity lurking in Isaiah 9:6,

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor I will pray to the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, that he may be with you forever… John 14:16

Mighty God For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God… Deuteronomy 10:17,

Everlasting Father Pray then like this:“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…”  Matthew 6:9,

Prince of Peace But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace… Ephesians 2:13-14

trinity-cross
Trinitarian Cross, carved in fish bone.  Photo by the Rev. Kenneth Tanner

 

The reconciling of our human life to the eternal, creative love that is one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, was foretold by the Prophets, born of the Virgin Mary, won on the Cross, first harvested at Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension, given to us to proclaim at Pentecost, and awaiting each of us in our death and all of us in the return of the Prince of Peace.

 

Leaf me alone

A friend from my Army days hails from New Mexico.  He used to mock ethnic stereotypes by adopting a hyper-Spanglish accent that sounded like a white guy trying to sound barrio.

One of my favorite such phrases was when he was annoyed:

Leaf me alone, esay.

It came to mind when I read John 6:15 this morning:

Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. (John 6:15 ESV)

Jesus had just fed a large crowd, and they were down for some bread and circuses.

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Tell it to the hand.

So Jesus, sent into the world to save it, temporarily steps away from its tumult to pray, turning his back on the crowd in a prophetic enactment of leaf me alone, esay.

The ancient prophets, picked by God to speak in tumultuous times, sometimes reached a limit at which words, even divinely supplied words, seemed useless or even counterproductive.

The faithful have vanished from the earth, no mortal is just! They all lie in wait to shed blood, each one ensnares the other.  Their hands succeed at evil; the prince makes demands, The judge is bought for a price, the powerful speak as they please.  The best of them is like a brier, the most honest like a thorn hedge.  The day announced by your sentinels!  Your punishment has come; now is the time of your confusion.  Put no faith in a friend, do not trust a companion;  With her who lies in your embrace watch what you say.  (Micah 7:2-5 NAB)

Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time;  for it is an evil time.  (Amos 5:13, NRSV)

My gut instinct is that we are in an evil time.  Of course I could be wrong.  But I sense the church (at least here in the U.S.) in a crazy making situation where people want it to stay out of their business on the one hand but fault it for not coming up with “statements” on this, that and the other thing on the other hand.  People want a theocracy but only for their particular issues.  They will “come by force to make us regents” but only with their hands up our backs as their puppets.

Hence we hear about the Benedict Option, which might be one expression of leaf me alone, esay.  To save our words for God and for those already drawn to him, ignoring all the social media about 10 Things the Church MUST do to attract absolutely everybody all the time.

In Elijah’s day, the crowd was hunting down and killing the prophets.  Godly people hid them in caves to weather the persecution and survive as God’s witnesses for a better day.

You’re no better.

The name of this blog comes from the Bible passage recording the one written document attributed to the Prophet Elijah.

The passage might be summarized as You’re no better.  The King and people of Judah believed themselves to be entitled to God’s favor, even as they behaved in ways no better than neighboring nations.  Elijah warns them of God’s disfavor, and the prophecy comes to pass as the kingdom is devastated by those it considered lesser people.

You’re no better runs through my head as the American political reality show plays on in the two major party conventions, and in the news and social media surrounding them.  There is a whiff of perception in people saying I don’t think I can vote for either one.  But that avoids any recognition of how we might might enable both.

This morning I saw this well done video about the rise of Hitler.  Comments on it, as you might guess, tend to be Yeah that’s exactly what the other side is like.  Which cries out for the warning, You’re no better.  Both “sides” play to our resentments and real and imagined problems; we behave in ways that allow them to grab and maintain power.

You’re no better.  We’re no better.  We need that kind of humility  and realism to stop ceding more and more power to Caesar to slay our bogeymen, who are all to often just flesh and blood neighbors.

But even from the religious or spiritual community, which should carry the prophetic voice, we hear Wait, yes, we are better.  There’s an opinion piece trending, in which the writer condemns a key penitential prayer and demands that Pope Francis abolish it.  Yes, some kind of cosmic peace and love is to be attained by appealing to an authority figure to ban what bugs you, never mind what it means to others.

Which is to say to the author, You’re no better.  

Confession of sin is a great equalizer and can be a source of peace.  It asks us to stop and question what we’re feeling, thinking and doing.  It is to hold up the constant possibility and probability that we’re no better and to restrain action based on the false narrative that we are.  It is to admit that we all stand in need of mercy and, as we receive it, are all obligated to offer it.

I’m no better for sure.  I’m as bad as the next person when it comes to saying There oughtta be a law.  But most laws beyond a few big ones that value and protect all people equally – You shall not commit murder, for example – are just one group of people considering themselves entitled to impose themselves upon others.

Watching the Hitler video can be a good spiritual exercise.  If you can watch and say, Yeah, that’s those other guys.  Glad I wouldn’t have been part of that, it is worthwhile to ponder what Jesus says in Matthew 23:29-30,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’

Because the odds are we’re no better.

We have to do SOMETHING

Jesus attacked religious leaders – in particular the Pharisees – for multiplying laws and taboos to ensure righteousness but effectively pushing people away from the loving God who was trying to gather them into his kingdom.

American politics have secularized the Pharisaic method.  No matter how good things might be, we amplify the problem and call for a response by the government.

We default to a pseudo-priestly caste to declare and then do something about a metastasizing list of problems.  And there are plenty of aspirants to that priesthood filling publicly funded positions to do something about this, that and the other thing.

caesar
Augustus von Prima Porta (20-17 v. Chr.), aus der Villa Livia in Prima Porta, 1863

1 Samuel 8:10-20 is worth reading as we invest more and more power in government:

So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

More terrifying is the peoples’ response, which sounds like it could be right out of a contemporary on-the-street voter interview. “A leader to decide and do it all for us.”

But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

It is a sad time as our nation descends into the craving for authoritarian “solutions.” We lament political “gridlock” and bewail the hypocrisies of right and left while we without irony invest politicians with more and more of our daily lives, at greater expense to each of us and all of us.

For those whose fealty is with a king not of this present world, here’s the good news:

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39 ESV)

But our enslavement to mortal rulers is going to hurt a lot along the way to the eternal kingdom that is to come.

One advantage of “praying out of a book”

The breadth of Christianity embraces all forms of prayer; private, corporate, contemplative, expressive, extemporaneous, recited, etc.

Now and again you get the zealous Christian who condemns those who “have to pray out of a book.”  I suppose there are those who mumble over pages without ever engaging God, but then there are also those who sing and exult out of their own emotional projections rather than engaging the living God.

One advantage of praying time-tested written prayers is that they express not just ideas about God, but create conversation with the very personality of God.  I experienced (eww, can one really experience anything while offering prayers out of a book?) God’s personality this morning, offering words of confession from The Book of Common Prayer (USA, 1928).  Here’s the beginning of that prayer, with emphasis added:

ALMIGHTY God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness and live…

That’s quite an assertion about who God is, what God thinks and feels and what God wants to see happen via my prayer.  But it engages me in what God has revealed in His Word –

In the Law: This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.  (Deuteronomy 30:19)

In the Prophets: Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?  (Ezekiel 18:31, ESV)

As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?  (Ezekiel 33:11, NLT)

And from the mouth of Jesus Christ the Lord: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. (Mark 1:15, NASB)

Have you ever been trapped in a “conversation,” maybe with a pushy salesperson or a bad blind date, where who you are and what you want is not even regarded?  I think that must be what God experiences when we fling some of our extemporaneous prayers at Him.

Well composed and tested prayers of the church reflect time – centuries and even millennia in some cases – invested in getting to know God and speaking with Him in honesty and intimacy.

Again, nothing’s perfect.  Heretics write prayers, too.  And plenty of saints pray without scripts.  But it’s worth considering that a mark of Christian maturity is the ability to encounter God in the prayers of the church as well as the movements of the heart and mind.

Indict Geraldo?

Well, maybe there’s a statute of limitations so Geraldo Rivera is free and clear on his 1972 ambush interview at New York’s Willowbrook institution, where people we would now define as living with special needs were warehoused in appalling conditions.

At about 3:15 of the video, Rivera says that he and his camera crew showed up at Willowbrook “unannounced and unexpected by the school administration.”

Ambushes and “stings” used to be seen as harsh but important exercises of freedom of the press, necessary checks on the power of the state and special interests.

Now comes the news that a Grand Jury in Houston will let the District Attorney bring legal action against those who stung a powerful, state entangled interest group.  The DA is going after videographers who exposed Planned Parenthood’s flippant money making on body parts from aborted people harvested for “research.”  David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt could face up to 2o years in prison for “tampering with a governmental record,”  apparently based upon fake or altered drivers’ licenses they used to gain entrance and interview the abortionists and profiteers.

It’s as if the Willowbrook Institution were shielded from reforming its treatment of people with special needs by having Geraldo Rivera indicted for trespassing.

Evil like this is not new.  In the time when God allowed Babylon to conquer corrupt Jerusalem, the Prophet Habakkuk announced,

So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted. (Habakkuk 1:4 ESV)

The institutions become more corrupt as they grow in power.  And a state and it’s funded interest groups are at a zenith of power and nadir of corruption when they assert their authority over life and death, punishing all who question their pretension to divinity.