Archive for December 2011

Mastery   1 comment

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. (Matthew 6:24)

The Bible, full of tragic characters, finds one in Hagar, the slave.   She “belongs”, as offensive as that word is to us, to Sarai, the barren old wife of Abram.   In her embittered desperation,  Sarai “gives” Hagar to Abram to be his wife, so that he’ll have a fertile woman to impregnate and produce a male heir (your skin prickling yet?).  Likely with no choice in the matter, Hagar goes along with the plan and submits herself to Abram, and voila, finds herself pregnant.   Her pregnancy, not surprisingly, leads her to despise Sarai.

There’s more to say about this than is possible in a blog post written quickly before New Year’s Eve plans kick into gear, but what’s remarkable to me here is the connection between what Jesus says about serving two masters, and the tragic, untenable position of Hagar, who herself has two masters to serve:  Abram and Sarai.  She does in fact come to “hold” (innuendo alert!) onto one, and despise the other.  The situation becomes so untenable for her, that she runs away.  And that’s when, Genesis tells us, she meets God.

I’m going to resist the urge to tie this offensive story into a neat little bow (Christmas presents are behind us, you know).  But I’ll just leave us thinking about the many “masters” we serve, how they compete, sometimes violently, for our time and attention, and often leave us a bitter mess unable to hold it all together.  It’s good to know, that when it all crashes down on us, that’s often when God is to be found.

If that’s not your hope today, make it one for someone you know.    For Hagar’s sake, I’m glad Scripture’s pages leave this possibility open to us.


Posted December 31, 2011 by seawalking in Uncategorized

Enemy Shortage   Leave a comment

But I say to you, love your enemies. (Matthew 5:44)

There’s a scene in the gospel text where someone asks Jesus, “who is my neighbor?” (as in, who should I love as myself?)  The question prompts Jesus to tell the story of the Good Samaritan (you know, the one where the guy gets beat up, the religious do-gooders pass him by, but the outcast Samaritan helps him).

Here, Jesus tells us to love our enemies, which prompts me to ask myself, “Who is my enemy?”  I actually can’t really name anyone that I know of who wishes to inflict harm on me.  Oh sure, there are those geopolitical enemies like Al-Qaeda, or perhaps Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who pose long-term threats to my well-being.  There are political figures with whom I disagree, sometimes to the level of disgust.  There are those who don’t always make my life easy, or say what I want to hear, or who make demands of me that I would rather not meet from time to time.

But enemies?   Individuals who know me and are motivated to inflict mental or physical distress on me or those I love?  I can’t say I have such an enemy.  Can you?

God-loving people in the Bible have LOTS of enemies.  Read the Psalms, and much of what you hear are the laments of those afflicted by those who heap shame and hardship.   Follow the wanderings of the Israelites in the Old Testament, and you will tread in the footsteps of those who were constantly threatened by attack and persecution. And of course, Jesus, he had enemies.  You don’t end up on a cross for being nice and well liked by everyone.

To love your enemies as Jesus commands implies that we will have enemies to love.  Not having enemies might be a sign that we’re not loving as Jesus loved.  Such a love is not neutral.  We sadly live in a world where self-giving love, anchored in faith, threatens what some people hold sacred.   Threatened people do not typically play nice in the sandbox.

The point is not that we go out and pick fights with people so we’ll have enemies to love.  In the words of my daughters, “That’s silly!”

But if our love is neutered by niceness, if we’re always hiding away in the safe refuge of neutrality, to the point that our way of being does not challenge  “the way it is” and those who want to keep it that way,  then perhaps we’re missing the mark.   Jesus didn’t say it was supposed to be easy.

Lord, have mercy.  

(the video above is from Genesis the Church, in Michigan.  A different take on the text, but poignant and true)


Posted December 30, 2011 by seawalking in Uncategorized

Knees, Tumbling Down   4 comments

And they said to one another, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven.”  (Genesis 11:4)

Last June, I decided to sign up for my first marathon, which was to take place in mid-November in Philadelphia.   I had not run consistently for a long time, so this was an ambitious goal, so ambitious that I inwardly believed that God was calling me to do it; that the finish line was a divine invitation for me to cross.  Filled with holy purpose, I found the training exhilerating.   Endorphins blazed after every run, and as my mileage increased, so did my pride.

Gradually, insidiously, the race became something of an obsession.  The marathon was my first thought upon waking up, and often my last one before retiring.  My weekly schedule hinged around my long runs, and I spent hundreds of dollars on shoes, inserts, clothes, energy gels and more.    I obsessed over every ache and pain, worried about any possible derailment of my finishing the race.  When injury did strike (knee pain), I spent hundreds more and many hours in physical therapy and doing any number of bizarre stretches and foam rolls.  All those hours, all that money and physical/mental energy — indeed I gave 100% effort to run that race, to achieve something big.

Race day came, and I only made it 11% of the way.  Marathon fail.

Now, I have no idea whether the Spirit of God sanctioned my marathon plans, nor whether the same Spirit sabotaged them to keep me humble. But I cannot help but see connections between my experience and the failed efforts of those ancient folks in Genesis to build their grand tower in Babel. They too set a lofty goal in order to reach heavenly heights, but in God’s wisdom, their efforts were misguided, so God confused their speech and scattered them.   Aiming for heaven, they missed the mark, and something went awry.

Elsewhere in my readings this morning, God chose an infertile couple (Abram and Sarai) to make a great nation; Jesus preached a sermon where the poor in spirit are filled, the meek and humble inherit the great earth.   It seems that the life of holiness does not call us to be great, to set lofty and grandiose goals and pour everything of ourselves into them.   The pride and narrowness of focus can lead to injury, to the blocks all falling down like a Jenga tower whose tenuous balance has been overwhelmed by too many layers and too little foundation.

Instead, we might sweat the small stuff.  Get the small gestures right.  Live faithfully each day not striving for something big, but humbly treating each minuscule moment as a tower or marathon in and of itself.   Some may say this is a sell-out, that the only way to land on the moon is to reach for the stars.  They may be right.

All I know is that my knee hurt, and the grand tower ended up as a sorry pile of bricks.

 Lord, as I enter the beginning of a new year, nudge me away from setting grand goals for myself, lofty and macro-sized resolutions that become idols in and of themselves. Dwell with me instead in the micro moments of each day, such that whatever I do build has its firm foundation in you.  Amen.


Posted December 29, 2011 by seawalking in Uncategorized

Unselective Memory   3 comments

But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God caused a wind to pass over the earth, and the water subsided. (Genesis 8:1)

There are times when I encounter someone I’ve met, and I can tell you where he went to college, where he lives and works, his favorite hobby and the color of his shirt when I met him.   But I can’t remember his name.   I recall the person’s story, but am lost to his identity, insomuch as his name confers it.

After the flood, God remembered Noah, and God’s remembering was inclusive of both name and story.   Earlier in the text, we read that Noah was righteous, that he walked with God and was blameless.  God remembered that.  But God also remembered more than the biography, he remembered the person, Noah, the flesh and blood of his own making.  In the mind of God, there was not one without the other.   God’s unselective memory led to the blessing of dry land for Noah after weeks of rainy tumult.

When we encounter a person known to us, we are thrust into a Biblical moment, when our memory is put to the test.  Will we remember the person’s  name, his identity, but forget his story?  Or, will we only remember the story of what she has experienced or done and forget that there is a living, breathing life of possibility before us?

So that our memory leads to blessing, to accompanying others to the dry land of God’s assurance and peace, may we remember — not just the what, but the who as well.   Then, we extend God’s memory beyond the pages of Scripture and into a world that too often forgets.

Thank you Lord, for remembering me, Patrick.

Posted December 28, 2011 by seawalking in Uncategorized

Seawalking   Leave a comment

 And all flesh that moved on the earth perished,

birds and cattle and beasts and every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth, and all mankind. (Genesis 7:21)

We all remember how in the story of the flood, the LORD commands Noah to build an arc, on which pairs of animals would be spared the annihilation to come.   I never noticed, however, or even thought about the fish!  Everything on land perishes, but those creatures in the depths of the waters are spared.  Immersed in water, they remain in life.

I can’t help but think about my baptism, when I was brought to the font to be immersed in the waters that connect me to the life of Christ.  Indeed, Christ’s first act after the 40 days and nights of temptation in the wilderness was to seek his own baptism at the hands of John.   After that, he head for the sea of Galilee to call his first disciples.   There’s something about water that is sacred and life-giving, even though it also was used by God as a cleansing instrument of death.

Though sin rages in our world and in me, leading to the wages of death, we who remain in that watery realm, though we must die, also do not perish.  On this rainy day, I’m thankful for the waters of my baptism.  I can’t swim like a fish, but I’m thankful to be seawalking.

Posted December 27, 2011 by seawalking in Uncategorized

Thanks, Grandma   1 comment

A few weeks ago, my grandmother Marqueen died after 95 rich years of life.  She gave much to many, but the gift that I cherish most is her  abiding faith.  If faith the size of a mustard seed moves mountains, she was a mountain of faith, and we were her little mustard seeds.   After she died, I was given the great gift of her cherished Bible, pictured in the banner.   It’s softened by years of prayerful reading and study, and my grandmother’s handwritten words find their home throughout its pages.  I want to find a home in them too.

In this blog, I’ll be writing my own words of prayerful response “on” these sacred pages, as I embark on a daily journey through the text.  I’ll be using to schedule my readings, which I began on 12/25/11.

I’m writing to deepen my own devotion, not much caring (ok, maybe just a little) that others read along.   Pastor that I am, I’m hopeful that every now and then what I write will help others in their own walk.  As with all things blogging, the winds of pride and vanity blow, but the one who walked on water can silence those storms.

Posted December 27, 2011 by seawalking in Uncategorized