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Other people’s problems   Leave a comment

You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a thing of horror to them. (Psalm 88:8)

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Scripture is not designed for private devotion alone. Written mostly by a people for a people, not by an individual for individuals, the texts address public and communal concerns as much if not more than matters of personal piety.

That said, many of the Psalms of the Bible speak the voice of an individual. Inasmuch as the personal pronouns may speak symbolically on behalf of a people, not a person, nonetheless in reading them one pictures or hears a singular voice articulating individual concerns. Often these concerns are not those that the reader currently share. It as though you are eavesdropping into someone else’s prayers.

Such is the case here in Psalm 88, where we overhear the groans of someone suffering great anguish and shame. He has been shunned and scorned by everyone around him, inluding his former friends and neighbors. All seems lost, and God, it seems, is to blame. “You have put me in the depths of the Pit,” he cries. The one scorned offers no sense that he is to blame. No misdeed, no transgression, it seems, can explain why he is so down and low.

Today’s Post has an article about John Edwards, who also finds himself in the Pit of shame and abandoned by friends as a result of his marital infedilities and their subsequent cover up. I don’t want to get into a place of jdugment here, but am struck by his sense that he is being singled out unfairly, that he is being punished to a greater extent than other politicians who have similarly strayed and erred.

One wonders then if Psalm 88 is his prayer.

And this is the beauty of Scripture, when we read it not only as a tool of our own private devotion, but as a means to hear the cries of those in situations far different than our own. We may not agree with them, or have sympathy for them, but in hearing their voice, in hearing them cry out to God in desperation and anger, we become connected to them. We wait and see with them what God will do. And in our best moments, we hope for mercy and the joy of a second chance, because deep down, we all know that we’ll need one ourselves someday.

Posted April 12, 2012 by seawalking in Uncategorized

Inside Out   Leave a comment

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Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. (Luke 12:2)

Jesus has a habit in the gospels, bothersome to many, of looking past the superficial and focusing his piercing gaze on what lies inside.

He’s been dining with a Pharisee or two, those religious leaders who out of their sincere devotion placed a lot of attention on the expectations of tradition. Jesus ruffled a few of their feathers when he didn’t wash up before the meal as he should have. Our modern sanitary sensibilities would have us sympathetic to the Pharisees, but Jesus quickly and forcefully condemns those, who like the Pharisees, worry about washing the outside of the cup when the inside is full of filth. He warns them that what is inside and hidden will someday be seen by all.

Life and lazy detours around discipline have wreaked havoc on my blogging here. But i’m grateful to return to the challenge of this text, of Christ’s warning and promise that it is what lies within that determines what will emerge.

I ask myself, I ask YOU, to consider how we might attend to our innermost places. If inside we have forgiveness, humility and an energy for what is right and life-giving, that is what will ultimately show itself to others. If there are other darker strains, they too will eventually make themselves known. Our hope is that Christ’s promise, given elsewhere, will come true: “So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.” (Luke 11:41)

Posted March 30, 2012 by seawalking in Uncategorized

This Land   Leave a comment

“And you shall take possession of the land and live in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it.” (Numbers 33:53)

Does good news for some mean bad news for others?    It seems so, at least in certain situations.   Your favorite team wins, which means someone else’s favorite team loses.   You get the promotion or job, which means someone else didn’t.  A great steak fills your plate, which means somewhere, a creature of nature breathes no more.

This morning, I read this passage from Numbers, which is one of the many accounts of the people of Israel coming into the land promised to them by God.   As i read, I just happened to be listening to Peter Paul and Mary’s performance of “This Land Is Your Land.”  It’s a stirring celebration of our great nation’s home, and the ways in which its beauty and scope makes it seem as though we were destined to live in it.  The Israelites had their own sense of manifest destiny, that as they entered their promised land, they too must have been singing, “This land was made for you and me.”  But what about those who lived there, and here, first?  Does good news for some necessarily lead to bad news for others?

I’ve already written in a previous post of my belief that God has plenty of favor to go around, but there are certainly places in Scripture where blessing for some creates hardship for others.  I can find other texts, though, where God’s blessing is meant for all, such that no one seems to lose.  I breathe air, and no one loses, but the plant next to me gains its own breath.

So which is it?  Is the realm of God a place of winners and losers, or an intricate weaving together of mutual blessing?  If this land is my land, can it also be yours?

Posted March 16, 2012 by seawalking in Uncategorized

Reaching for Tablets   Leave a comment

“And [Zechariah] asked for a tablet, and wrote as follows, “His name is John.”  (Luke 1: 63)

There’s a lot of hype today about the new Ipad.

And I’m SO buying into it.  You see, I don’t yet have one of those shiny tools held by so many of my peers.  I gave one to my wife for Christmas, and though I have access to it from time to time, I’ve wanted one of my own ever since I gave one to her.  I feel like I did when I was a child, when weeks before Christmas I identified the one gift I REALLY wanted, and woke up every morning thinking about it.  There’s no way around it.  I’m that kid again (probably never stopped being him).

That’s why the words “And he asked for a tablet,” jumped off the page for me this morning.   Of course, Zechariah didn’t want an Ipad.   He wanted some way to communicate to others that his son should be named John, per his wife, Elizabeth’s wishes (and God’s, oh by the way), not some name that paid homage to Zechariah as the father as was expected by society and tradition.

He needed a tablet, because he was mute.  He couldn’t speak, because months earlier, the angel Gabriel told him he and Elizabeth were going to have a child in old age, a child whose name would be John.  Zechariah, the priest, couldn’t believe it.  And so, either as punishment or as some kind of cosmic consequence of not seeing what was before his very eyes, Zechariah lost his voice  throughout the pregnancy.  Perhaps, as a wise and wonderful member of my church suggests, God didn’t want a priest speaking on his behalf if that priest couldn’t believe what God was telling him.   And,  how can you see something as holy and otherworldly as an angel, and then not believe what he is telling you?

After the child was born, his neighbors and relatives insisted that he be named after Zechariah.   Only after Zechariah reached for the tablet to write, “His name is John” did he regain his voice.  Once he had it, he couldn’t stop talking about how great God was.

Is this why I and so many others want an Ipad?   Have I lost my voice and need some way to tell everyone what God has shown me  —  to proclaim the good news, or to name God’s creation as God commands over and against what the crowds and traditions expect?

Nope.  I want an Ipad to consume information, to be a part of the conversation that so many are having in new ways, using new tools.  I want to be more productive and engaged, and if I’m honest, to be part of the crowd, not speak to it.

This doesn’t mean it’s bad to have or want an Ipad.   But when (i mean “if.”  no, i mean “when”…no, I mean BEFORE) I buy one, I might give some deeper thought as to how I might use it.  Maybe, like Zechariah, I will choose to give voice to speech other than my own.

 

Posted March 8, 2012 by seawalking in Uncategorized

Dominion’s Parentheses   Leave a comment

(Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.)  Numbers 12:3

Today, I took a much needed hike/walk in Great Falls National Park (VA), which abuts the Potomac River on the eastern edge of the Old Dominion’s commonwealth.  The scenery alone made the walk worthwhile.  The trees, brown and secretly expectant, overlooked muddied and raging waters angered by recent rains.  I saw deer cautiously scamper and heard frogs chirp, as though seeking the flight of hawks soaring above.

Sometimes, I take these kinds of walks to find the answer to some kind of question.  Today, as on most days, I didn’t even know the question I was asking, though my spirit seemed coiled and dotted like a question mark.

But I held with me the parenthetical aside that Numbers makes today about Moses, that he was very humble, more than any man who lived.   The original Hebrew language of the Old Testament lacked the modern-day parenthesis, so the English translators must have needed some way to contain the irony of a statement that speaks of humility, and yet boasts and brags.

There was something about the river and trees, the muddied ground and boulder-strewn paths of my walk that served as  parentheses for me, framing me in humility, while the creation all around me boasted of its Creator.   By my walk’s end, my questioning and unsettled spirit found, at least temporarily, the expectant assurance I didn’t even know to seek.

I know that soon and very soon, it will be as though I had never gone on that walk, that my ego and fear-driven cares and concerns will once again rage within me like the river’s waters.  But I pray I won’t forget the peace to be found in the holy and parenthetical embrace of humility that holds me on the left and the right as I walk along the way.

Posted March 2, 2012 by seawalking in Uncategorized

The Boss and A Widow’s Might   Leave a comment

“Truly, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury.” (Mark 12:43)

The poor widow drops a few copper coins into the treasury donation box, already filled with the gaudy gifts of the rich.  Jesus watches her, and calls the disciples together to show them what he sees:  a woman who gave all she owned.  In his eyes, her giving far exceeded the gifts of the wealthy, who gave much more money, but far less of themselves.

This leads me to think, perhaps surprisingly, of Bruce Springsteen.  The Boss.

Diehard Bruce Springsteen fans would not count me among their ranks.  I don’t really know the lyrics to his songs, haven’t been to more than a couple of his concerts.   But I do love and respect the way he performs and makes music.   If you want to see the most stirring tribute of a performer that you’ll ever see, watch Jon Stewart here hilariously and movingly pay homage.

The best line (well, second best, after referring to the Boss as the progeny of a love-relationship between Bob Dylan and James Brown) is when Stewart describes how Springsteen, in everything he does, “empties the tank, every time.  He empties the tank for his family, for his art, for his audience, and for his country.  And we who are on the receiving end of this beautiful gift are rejuvenated, if not redeemed.”

I don’t worship Bruce.  Rejuvenated as I may be by his music, I believe that only one Redeemer lives.

But I also am challenged, inspired and invited by people like the Boss to give like the poor widow gave, emptying the tank, every time.  It seems that Jesus takes notice.

Posted February 27, 2012 by seawalking in Uncategorized

Love Covers All Offenses (Proverbs 10:12)   1 comment

For those whose goodness is harrassed by perfectionism;

For those who have lost, but don’t know what they’re missing;

For those who have been wronged, or whose way must be righted;

For those who sought meaning in trivial pursuits;

For those needing what they don’t have, because they have what they don’t need.

There is a love that covers all offenses, that makes all things new;

For those who freely give what they have abundantly received.

Posted February 16, 2012 by seawalking in Uncategorized