Friday, December 27, 2013
Christmas 2013 A new beginning. A baby born into a world where he did not belong. How can a baby be doomed or destined to a world that could not tolerate or accept the core of who he was? For the core of the baby was perfect obedience to his father's will. This core of obedience was so foreign to the fallen world that it threatened the most powerful conventions of the times. The ultimate convention was for human beings to make laws, conventions and structures according to their own understandings of the knowledge of good and evil. On Christmas one baby came who would never be pulled into the deadly tides of human understanding. On Christmas so many of us get gifts we don't want. Somehow we think that there is something wrong with Christmas. Now we know how the Pharisees felt. Jesus was indeed first unwanted Christmas present. More than a thousand years of prophecy and the expectations of an oppressed people made the arrival of the Messiah as anticipated as winning the Super Bowl, the Presidential election and the newest and biggest war on the same week. The problem for the Pharisees, the other Jewish leaders and the nation as a whole was that the tiny and vulnerable baby was never meant to satisfy our earthly fantasies. The baby was and has always been the way back to a time and a place that predates our very first human fantasy. The Jesus baby was and is the way back to Eden, God's domain. Are we like the Pharisee who asked how a man could be reborn? Must we crawl back inside our mothers' wombs? Are we like the Pharisee, wondering how we could ever enter the garden of Eden while we are aware of the deadly curse inside us? "On the day you eat of it, you shall surely die." The fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil runs through our veins, our hearts, our minds and our souls. Apart from the baby Jesus it is blasphemous to even contemplate entrance to God's domain. We are by our nature profane to God. As the Jesus baby grows and more perfectly expresses God's perfect will, he starts a spiritual civil war. That part of us knows we were always meant for the garden embraces him and his miracles as if we are starving people savoring the most delicious meal. The other part, the part that embraces our autonomy of choice and actions recoils at the the audacity of God's trespass into the human domain. We scream that God should go back to heaven, because he knows nothing of earth, nothing of the ways that we humans count good and evil. We stay in this civil war until the best of us, the religious scholars, the political leaders and the ruling class nail the baby to the cross. Then the curse is fulfilled. The curse that runs through our blood, the knowledge of good and evil, convicts and executes Jesus Christ the son of God. When we can't send Jesus back to heaven we send him to hell. For three days we go about our religious ceremonies grieving or exalting in the work of the curse. Then on the third day the baby rises from the grave bearing the wounds of the nails and the spear. The curse has killed, but God has overcome the curse. The curse that runs in our veins and poisons our hearts toward God is powerless against the risen and inoculated Christ. The blood of the lamb cuts through the obscenities of a society manically working to hide the redeeming work of God with feasts, gifts, ceremonies and tradition. For those who believe/have faith the light shines brightly and the lamb leads us to the green pastures despised by the curse. The Christian's gift, made possible through the blood of the lamb, is our ability to seek and accept God's perfect will in our life.
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Burning bush is a commitment to living and proclaiming the salvation made possible by Jesus Christ through the lens and environment of the wilderness.
The wilderness is where people go to experience God unfiltered by human rulers, societies or institutions. In the wilderness people seek to meet God as Moses meet God, without the protection and insulation of society. We go to the wilderness by following Jesus Christ’s first teaching: “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news.”
1. Many people wait for death or a more spiritual time in their lives to embrace intimacy with God. Jesus says that this is the time for intimacy with God. We take our first step toward the wilderness by accepting Christ’s invitation this minute, the next minute, the minute after that until accepting God’s invitation to intimacy becomes habitual.
2. Many people think of the kingdom of God as a post death heaven or an impossible utopia. As the Lord’s Prayer teaches us, the kingdom of God is that place/domain where God’s will is done. When we embrace God’s will, praying to God for his will to be done in our lives instead of our will, we enter the kingdom that has become so near. At first our entrances to the kingdom maybe flickers or episodes. As submission becomes more habitual the kingdom becomes more real to us than this thing we call reality.
3. We are human. We act, think and perceive reality through a faulty paradigm: the human understanding of the knowledge of good and evil. We are like pilots using inaccurate radars to pilot their airplanes. If we are to survive we must turn from our disastrous course and accept the guidance of God.
4. The point of going into the wilderness is not austerity or so called purity in its self. We leave the walls, rules, lights and so called safety of human beings God’s garden/kingdom cannot long grow inside those confines. In the wilderness we believe the good news that Jesus Christ opens windows and doors into the garden where humans once enjoyed perfect harmony with God and animals. By habitually believing in this restoration we move from being estranged children of God to content heirs to God’s legacy of love.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
People think that the wilderness is a mountain, a dessert or another remote region. They think that they can get to the wilderness in jeeps, helicopters, dogsleds, camels and whatnot. I woke up in the wilderness this morning, not even remotely close to a remote region. The wilderness is the place where you realize that human customs, institutions and hierarchies are treacherous vipers that will poison the soul. I went to church on Sunday, a week after feeling deeply hurt and betrayed by the same church. There was still a part of me that wanted to take the pastor aside and explain just how deeply I’d been hurt or how it was worse because I’d made myself spiritually vulnerable at that church. I’d made the mistake of putting my whole heart into a ministry, when I should have known that the hatchet’s fall was inevitable.
About halfway through the service I realized that the pastor did not want to hear from me or understand my pain. I realized that pastors, by necessity develop defenses against people like me. If they heard and understood the pain their institutions inflicted they would be unable to get up in the pulpit each Sunday. That’s when what I wanted to say changed. I went from wanting to share my experience and explain my concern that something like this could be very damaging to the faith of a less mature Christian to wanting to say, “It’s OK you’re just a pastor and this is just a church. It was my mistake for ever believing you could be anything different.”It’s Tuesday and I wake quite certain that human institutions abhor the burning bush I proclaim. My journey to the wilderness has been a thousand hammer blows to the soul. At first the fragments cut like kidney stones. I bled inside while I writhed in pain. I don’t regret the scars. They remind me that God will eventually send me back to be hammered and crushed again. The wilderness, however, is a place to be savored. I breathe the clean air without that whiff of sour smogginess. The good wind comes as it wills and goes likewise. I hold my fingers my heart and my soul out to the wind and feel its embrace.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
The Time is fulfilled
Father let this be the time in which I embrace intimacy with you.
Father let all my time be devoted to you.
Father let the illusion of my time become the reality of your time.
The kingdom of God has come near.
Father, give me new eyes to see your kingdom.
Father, give me a new heart to love the ways of your kingdom.
Father, give me a new brain to understand the ways of your kingdom
Father, give me a new stomach to hunger for your will and your love to be done in my life, the life of my family and the life of my community.
Farther, turn me from my path to destruction.
Let the eyes, heart, mind and stomach that lead me toward destruction fall away in the face of your light.
Teach me to run earnestly toward you and your kingdom.
Believe in the good news
Father, help me to know with my heart, mind and soul that your son Jesus Christ gives me access to your embrace.
Help me to accept your invitation to walk with you in the original garden of harmony.
Help your kingdom to become more real to me than the reality of men.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Between Eden and Sodom
Faith is believing, wanting and trusting that Jesus Christ is more powerful and more real than any other structure of power
What are the rival structures of power, the powers and principalities?
The root of these rival power structures is the human desire to be self-sufficient. When humans want to “be like God, knowing good and evil,” they inevitably create distorted structures of power which prove to be incompatible with God’s perfect knowledge of good and evil. The book of Genesis presents two rival proto-types as exemplars of the contrast between perfect faith and perfect disobedience. The Garden of Eden is originated by God and his vision of its beauty and perfection. For Adam and Eve to till the ground and work the garden they had to have perfect faith in God’s vision of the Garden. The Garden was first envisioned by God then created with materials that originated with God. The humans who tended to the crops and animals in the Garden of Eden were in perfect communication with God and his vision. The result of this perfect synchronization between God and human beings was a garden that contained the fruit of eternal life.
Sodom, on the other hand was created and crafted out of the vision of human beings. It was built with bricks fashioned by human beings. The mores and practices of the people were based upon the vision and understanding of human beings. These visions and understandings probably were not that different from those who built the Tower of Babel. They wanted to make a name for themselves. Sodom, like all cities was to be a center of power, where human customs, human buildings, human tools and human laws held domain over nature, God’s creation. When God’s angels arrived at the city the entire male populace conspired to rape them, arguing to Lot that the laws and customs of their city gave them the right to do so. The result of this complete alienation between God’s understanding of good and the human understanding of good is the deadly firestorm that obliterates the city.
Gethsemane is a garden surrounded by a city of impressive buildings. One can argue that Jesus is hiding in the Gethsemane in the same or similar manner to the way in which Adam and Eve hid amidst the trees from God and the angels sheltered in Lot’s house from the population of Sodom. Extending this line of thinking one can argue that Jerusalem’s destruction in 70AD is the delayed firestorm, resulting from a population choosing to assault God. Yet, Gethsemane is not just Sodom it is also Eden, the place where God’s will is done. On entering Gethsemane, Jesus becomes “deeply distressed and troubled, saying, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” He comes to the point where the impending reality is unavoidable. The people for which he has spent his life teaching, preaching and performing miracles are about to arrest him, condemn him, torture hi, kill him and send him to hell. In human terms his life is meaningless. The ministry he built is about to be shattered. The leaders of his people are going to condemn him as an evil magician who led many astray. His life and his sacrifice will end with no tangible benefit to anyone.
“Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Facing death, the death resulting from Adam and Eve’s contempt for God’s will and eating the forbidden fruit, Jesus pleads for relief, but submits to God’s will, countering Adam and Eve’s contempt of God’s will. Gethsemane synchronizes Eden and Sodom in that it is the place where God’s will for Jesus to die on the cross coincides with the human will for Jesus to die on the cross. For the first time since the fall God’s will and the human will are united on the narrow issue of Jesus’s death. This unity creates the fruit of eternal life, at least in Jesus Christ. When death, which was created by Adam and Eve’s disobedience, tries to swallow Jesus Christ in hell it finds that it lacks the power to hold and destroy Jesus Christ. In fact, it finds that Jesus Christ’s presence in hell threatens to destroy the entire system and structure of death. Death is actually the articulation of complete contempt of God’s will and absolute separation from God and his will.
The denizens of hell gain access to God and the fruit of eternal life through Jesus Christ and acceptance of God’s perfect will in Jesus Christ. That is why Jesus Christ is expelled from hell. To death, Jesus is a virus that infects and disables all systems. Where the arrest, trial, torture and execution of Jesus Christ is the narrative of Sodom, the risen Jesus Christ is the narrative of Eden. In both narratives, the unity between the human will and God’s will is maintained in Jesus Christ.
How do the living gain access to God and the fruit of eternal life?
“The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news.”
1. “The time is fulfilled.” Original sin is an explosion that blasts human will and God’s on radically different trajectories. When Jesus says “the time is fulfilled, he is saying that the human will and God’s will are nearing a point of convergence, if not collision.
2. “The Kingdom of God has come near.” When Jesus says this he, is talking about a place where God’s perfect will is done. The proximity of such a place to intrinsically imperfect human beings creates tension and expectation.
3. “Repent!” Prior to Jesus Christ’s presence on earth, humans had only one way to respond to the call of God. That way involved using human devices like covenant, law, custom and institution to render the immense and uncontrollable power of God compatible with human society. When Jesus Christ, the fusion of God and human being, enters the human domain of the earth, human beings are presented with the opportunity of turning away from the human understanding of the good and toward the God’s vision and plan for their lives.
“Believe in the Good News!” For each moment that a human being lives, he or she must decide which reality is true and which reality is false. Humans tend to default toward the reality of Sodom, a place where human customs, human buildings, human tools and human laws held domain over nature, God’s creation. Yet many human beings feel a hunger for reality in which there is perfect synchronization between God and human beings. The good news, exemplified by Jesus Christ, is that such synchronization is possible. Believing in the good news means holding at the core of one’s being, heart, mind, and soul, the absolute conviction that God’s perfect will and a human’s perfect relationship with him is more real than anything made with human hands, endorsed by human society or enforced by human law.
Friday, May 20, 2011
By Adam Lohse
Harrison Burnes stared at the E.R. doors. A lit cigarette burned between two fingers on a his left hand. Bringing the hand to his mouth he sucked the last cloud of poison from his nearly scorched fingers. Dropping the butt he smashed it with the toe of an ancient and defaced jungle boot. Breathing out into the cold wind, he let the smoke percolate into the equally faded green army jacket. With that he trudged across the parking lot and entered the familiar doors.
Linda Staverson looked up from her computer to see the familiar and unwelcome face. The black face, gray whiskers, tangled hair and invertible stench had become a personal nightmare. Over the last six months he’d appeared in the ER on weekly basis, demanding admittance for treatment of HIV, herpes, pneumonia and whatever else he caught on the street. Hospital policy said they had to admit him and treat the most urgent issues which usually involved everything. They would get things as fixed as they could and then the man would leave against medical advice. Since she’d first seen his face, he’d racked up over a million dollars in bills that she knew he had no intention of ever paying. Worse than that was the way he messed around with the staff, disobeying orders, sneaking out the building to smoke, pulling out I.V.s and shouting at anyone who even suggested that hospital wasn’t his own private residence to do with what he pleased.
“Hey now darlin, you don’t have to get your witch face out yet. I ain even gonna make you fire up that ole computer and tell you that I don’t got no insurance.”
“Mr. Burnes, if you are not here for medical treatment I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” Linda watched as the man before her began to puff himself into what she’d come to call his huffing and puffing state. He stopped slouching coming to his full height of six-five, pulled his arms out and let his presence be felt throughout the waiting room. She was ready for his booming diatribe, the familiar process of calling security and eventually having to admit him when he calmed down.
“Honey, we can go through all the ruckus of you me getting loud, you calling security, me calming down and you admitting me to waste some more of your precious money or we can just skip the whole thing and you can go find Eddie for me.” Harris smiled as he finished, almost whispering. Linda was more shocked by Harris’ control than she’d ever been by his booming harangues. Her first instinct was to reach for the phone and call security. That was her default method of dealing with him. However, he always made her pay a price. As soon as or before security arrived he would turn calm and contrite as a lamb and she would look foolish for calling them. Still, she couldn’t let him start ordering her around.
“Why don’t you take a seat over there and if Eddie comes bye I’ll tell him you’re here.” For a moment it looked like the man was going to explode. His face tightened in rage and his teeth flashed in a grimace and then the look was gone and he wore the same calm and reasonable face he wore for security.
“Well that’s mighty considerate of you. I need to catch up on my reading and that should take about an hour. If I haven’t seen Eddie by the time my reading is done I can start working on my theatrics.” His parting smile left Linda with no doubt that he would enjoy causing chaos in the waiting room and go out of his way to embarrass her. She watched uneasily as he retreated to chair, pulled a Bible from his tattered bag and started mumbling as he attempted to read. For Linda there was little doubt that the man was headed to hell, but it bothered her that he was trying to read the Bible. To her, he was profaning the pages just by touching them. She did, however, worry about what she was going to do. It would be relatively easy to find Eddie and she had no doubt that Eddie would make the time to see her nightmare. It was just that was a little hesitant to give this homeless man so much power. If he could get his way on this, how many other things would he demand? If she waited until the hour was nearly over, he would know that he was afraid of his tantrums. After waiting long enough to at least preserve the plausibility of her not acceding to Haris’ demands she stepped away from her computer and entered into the E.R. After carefully avoiding some patients on gurneys, she rounded the corner and caught site of Eddie.
She caught Eddie coming out of a room fast, he was so wrapped up in what he had to do next, that he didn’t even notice her. His green scrubs sported splotches of blood and eyes looked like they were staring at something a million miles away.
“Eddie!” He walked a couple steps and the then turned back toward her.
“Linda?” He was definitely distracted. She wondered what was going on.
“Our favorite drug addict is out in the waiting room, asking to talk to you.” Eddie blinked and nodded. Sweat was pouring down his face.
“Ok, tell him I’ll be out in a little.” With that he proceeded down the hall. Linda hoped he would find a bathroom and pour some water on his face. She’d never seen him this distressed before. She gave him one more glance, picked up some forms from the monitoring station and returned to the waiting room. Haris was still sitting in his chair stuttering over the Bible. Normally, Linda would have sat back down at her station and waited for Harris to come to her for information, but Eddie had asked her to convey a message and she had no idea when Eddie would be able to come out. She really didn’t want Harris to go ballistic because he thought she hadn’t talked to Eddie. That left the burden on her to communicate Eddie’s message. With great discomfort and anxiety she stepped out from behind her desk and walked across the room to stand beside the chair of the tall man dressed in the flimsy armor of boots, fatigues and an army coat.
“I spoke to the Eddie. He was having a really rough time. I don’t know when he’ll be out.” For the first time in 6 months Haris looked up and smiled at her.
“Thank you, If you see him again, tell him I’ll wait.” Linda went back to her desk expecting a long period of tension over when Eddie would be out. She’d just settled into her routine of registering patients when Eddie emerged and walked over to Haris.
“Hey man, you sick again? It don’t look so good to have someone come in here so much and never get better.” Eddie’s eyes and voice were warm. Haris looked up from the Bible with a quizzical look on his face.
“I don’t have any pneumonia and the other bugs are mostly under control, but I got a problem. You see this is the Bible that I borrowed last time I got admitted. I did what you said and started with The Gospel of Mark. It talks about how people we receiving a baptism of repentance and then it tells me that I need to repent and believe in the good news.”
“Yeah, so what’s the problem?” Harris looked up again at Eddie’s cheerful face, wondering how Eddie could be so dense.
“I don’t even know what repentance is, let alone how to repent.” Harris expected his awful admission to solicit laughter, horror or astonishment on Eddie’s part. He was surprised at how lightly Eddie took the news.
“That’s OK. Most people who call themselves Christians don’t know about repentance either. Come on, it’s easier to show you than to tell you.”
Linda watched as the two men walked across the lobby and disappeared into the treatment rooms. What was happening was so far outside the rules and guidelines that she didn’t even know who to call. If it had been anyone other than Eddie she might have made it her business to inform him of the rules he was breaking. Since it was Eddie and she loved Eddie, she just sat at her desk pretending that it wasn’t happening.
Harris followed Eddie past the familiar rooms. He’d been in a lot of them. Turning a corner and going past a couple patients on gurneys, he followed Eddie into a room that clearly had not been cleaned up. There was blood on the bed and floor. All sorts of equipment was strewn across the room.
“This girl was 19. She got caught in the crossfire between two drug dealers. They put her in the bus, knowing she isn’t going to make it, bring her down here and try to have us do more CPR. You want to know what repentance is, you clean this up.” Harris looked around, stunned and unsure of what he would do.
“Start with these knives.” Eddie held rectangular bucket of surgical knives that clearly had blood and tissue on them.
“That’s right, put on some gloves and wash them in the sink. Get them as clean as you can possibly get them. Some other patient is going to need them.” On some level, Harris knew that the situation was absurd, but he stood at the sink cleaning the knives, watching the blood flow down the drain. The couple instances when he worried that he’d cut himself, but each time he looked he saw the his gloves were intact. Twenty minutes later he had the knives clean and drying on the paper towels next to the sink. Eddie had been busy, getting rid of the blood and disposing of all the other equipment and garbage.
“Are those knives clean? Are they ready to be used on another patient?” Harris just nodded. How was he supposed to know if they were clean enough?
“Good, now take off your clothes, get into this gown and lie down on the bed.” At this point Harris’ eyes began to get big and his heart started to beat faster.
“Why I got to do that for?” Harris didn’t want to take off his clothes. He didn’t want to get onto the table where someone had died so recently.
“Go on, get to it. If you can’t get this taken care now, you’re going to end up like that girl, an overdose, a beating, exposer, uncontrolled HIV, bad junk, an accident. You’re not running toward one grim reaper, you’re sprinting toward half a dozen and sooner or later you’re going to catch one. When that happens, I’m going to be the one stuck cleaning up after your waste of life, so get into the damm gown!” Harris felt fuzzy. Things hadn’t been the same, since he stepped into the room. All his defenses seemed to be crumbling and he was too tired to run. Slowly he began to shed his armor, boots, followed by coat, and then the multiple layers of stinking fatigues. When he was ready for the gown it seemed infinitely cleaner than anything else he’d worn.
In the bed, he looked up as Eddie seemed to be readying some IVs. “Ok Mr. Burnes, in a few minutes a doctor is going to come in and use the knives you cleaned to remove the thing that’s killing you.” Haris knew he should be alarmed, but his energy seemed to be slipping away. He closed his eyes and dozed. With his eyes still closed, he heard Eddie talking to the doctor.
“This is Mr. Burnes. He’s dying of heroine, but that’s only a symptom of a deeper cancer inside of him.”
“I don’t like the look of those knives. Are you sure they’re sterilized?”
“They’re as clean as he can get them.”
“We’ll have to use the laser.”“Ok Doctor, I’ve got power in three.” The last thing Harris remembered was the blazing warm light and the feeling of the being cut-released inside of him.
Monday, May 9, 2011
The God FacePerhaps the reason we have so much difficulty staying in proximity to God’s face and his blinding holiness is that meeting, knowing and loving God is not our sole purpose in life. We are commissioned to carry his light, truth and love to a dark and foreign world. Plato’s allegory of the cave touches on the difficulty of trying to describe the light of the sun to someone who has spent his or her entire life in a deep dark cave. Faith is most when we cannot feel or see God’s face clearly but bear witness to the changes and healing he has wrought in us. Do we have faith that enough of his love and truth and light remains in us to be useful in God’s of healing and reconciling those who have not yet experienced his glory?