thinking theology

Archive for February, 2016


Not So Fast: Reflection on 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 and Luke 13:1-9


Most Sundays we reflect on compassion and care, but what often governs our actions throughout the week, are the twins, fear and anxiety. In Luke 13:1-9, we hear Jesus begin by noting that fear causes us to either blame others for misfortune, or to assign blame to the victims. Sometimes we even blame ourselves as a way to make sense of suffering or disaster. What happens if no one is to blame; what if things just happen and our attempts at causality are flawed. Is it better to have a reason for misfortune? How does that change the event itself?

In Corinthians, Paul warns his fractious community, that warring groups share the problem. Winning and acting self-righteously only increase the pain and sever responsibility. The task is ultimately to be fixed on the kingdom that Jesus has shown us, not the petty squabbles of daily life. That does not mean that we can avoid conflict. Rather we are invited to listen to each other without prejudice. What will lead us to the peaceable solution is acceptance that everyone is hearing the Spirit in our own ways, not necessarily only the oneway. Paul warns that when we are quick to judge, we have already trespassed ourselves.

To return to the gospel and the story of the fig tree. Do we often close the door on solutions when they are not timely enough for us? Instead of thinking of God as the owner of the vineyard, what if we are the owners? What if we are the ones who need to learn mercy and forbearance? It was common practice in Jesus’ time to espalier grape vines on fig trees. So in some years, there would be a double harvest. Moreover, a friend wrote to me to say that it takes five or six years for a fig tree to mature. So it would be unreasonable to expect a young tree to produce fruit. Patience until the time is ripe. Waiting for things to mature. Allowing things to become clear before we judge.

The lesson to be considered is this. Can we release ourselves from the fear oIMG_0616f not being ready enough or right enough? Are we able to trust others also to do their best? Can we give up blaming ourselves and others as a Lenten sacrifice? If Jesus is our judge, then let us have confidence in his mercy as we learn and grow. If the Maker loves all the creation, then we can believe that the things that happen to us are not the result of divine action to blame or punish or even teach. Rather, Holiness surrounds us like prayer shawls to show us how to live through both struggle and joy, confident that we are eternally connected to each other through God and by divine love and mercy.

From Jacob’s Journey by Noah benShea:
Fear makes us not only less than we might be but less than we think we are. Faith reminds us we should doubt our fears.
And: The difference between a Tower of Babel and a towel of strength is the difference between those who live to make themselves more and those who know the way to heaven is in making others more.

On the Theme of Psalm 103

tree rebirth

Rebirth by Luiza Vizoli.

Bless the Holy One, O my soul.
Let all that is in me open to the touch
of the Love that makes us whole

Bless the Holy One, O my soul.
And remember that in holiness and goodness,
all has been made.
From the cradle that rocks us,
to the earth that receives us,
we are clothed in mercy and loving kindness.
Bless the Holy One, O my soul.

The Holy One yearns to satisfy us with good things
and to revive the faint of heart and body,
On the wings of our compassion.
Bless the Holy One, O my soul.

The Holy One sees the oppressed and the needy,
and judges those who turn their face from their cry,
calling to all to walk in the way of justice and peace.
Again and again, the Holy One calls to us,
offering hope and possibility for the rebirth of compassion and reconciliation.
Bless the Holy One, O my soul.

Our lives are like a summer day.
The season turns and it is lost in frost and memory.
And yet, in each life, the seed of transformation is planted.
Made of the dust of stars, we have been endowed
with imagination and possibility.
The horizon is only a step in eternity.
With all the creatures and the earth,
We offer our lives for new vision and transformation.

Bless the Holy One, O my soul.

Ashes to flight: Ash Wednesday 2016

Today is Ash Wednesday. Ashes for leaving behind the shell of the past in order to travel into the future, a phoenix day. Our mortality is a gift that we share with the whole material universe. Our mortality allows for change in perspective, convictions, phoenixinsight. And it is true that with change comes sorrow, but sorrow itself will change. I think the sign of ashes invites us to accept our mortality with thanksgiving for life, for connection, for the capacity to be self aware within that connection.

Ashes are the sign that what lives must rise out of the fire that burns away the past and into the light that leads to new life.

We do not originate in dust but in the rich environment of a woman. We are born from blood and water and, if we are fortunate, love. We are born to walk on the earth, share the breathing of the air, feel the tides ebbing and flowing in our veins. We are born to die, but also to live, looking forward to the next moment the next step.

Ashes, the sign of what is left when the phoenix is freed.

Transfiguration: The Transfigured Heart

nature-summer-background-wallpaper-1080x1920Luke 9:28-43

Lorna Crozier writes that, after bringing some thick socks and some articles of memory, “In your bag leave room for sadness, leave room for another language…. Take the dream you’ve been having since you were a child, the one with open fields and the wind sounding. Mistrust no one who offers you water from a well, a songbird’s feather, something that’s been mended twice. Always travel lighter than the heart.”

At the beginning of chapter 9, Luke tells us that Jesus charges the disciples with a mission. He gives them “power and authority over all demons” and the ability to heal. He tells them to bring nothing for the journey but to be entirely dependent on what the road offers and the kindness of others.

The story of the transfiguration is framed by stories of ministry on the road. To notice these frames allows us to see the purpose of the ecstatic experience for the disciples, for new Christians reading the story then, and indeed, for ourselves in this transitional time in the church.

Eight days after Jesus directs the disciples, the story says that he takes three of them up the mountain to pray. Even though they were very tired from walking the dusty rural paths and the stony roads of Roman oppression, they forced themselves to watch Jesus in prayer. Have you ever noticed that they seem better at watching prayer than actually praying? They suddenly saw Jesus in a new light, standing in the glory of Moses and Elijah, both icons of the history of leadership and authority and tradition. They overheard the plan to enter Jerusalem where it is expected Jesus might be arrested. They are covered and silenced by a cloud and experience the divine purpose alive in Jesus.

Jesus has little input at this point because what is happening is not primarily happening to or for him. This is about a perspective for the disciples who will lead the community beyond Jerusalem. It is a mystical doorway into a vision of being human, a way for them to translate the wonder and cloudy mystery of Jesus into action. Predictably, Peter decides the only way to come to terms with the mystery is to build a monument, a shrine. It seems to me that he wants to enshrine his experience and his explanation of this revelation. It also seems to me that we should be understanding rather than critical of Peter. After all, for the last 1600 years we too have been caught up in trying to contain experience in concrete forms. Like Mary pondering the unexplainable in her heart, the implications of this experience deepen beyond words for the disciples. The mystery can be “understood” only in terms of embodiment.

When they return from their “mountain top” experience, they discover that the other disciples have been waiting for Jesus to act in a healing. Jesus is furious that their compassion was inadequate to the task and that the child continued to suffer. The story goes on to challenge the disciples’ self-importance and their ideas about servanthood. They would rather call down lightening to consume what they perceive as obstacles (v 54) than respond to their call to care for others. Power to punish, but a failure to heal. At the end of chapter, Jesus’ mission is emphasized again.

This story is a cautionary tale for the church in every age. It is about the power of a transfigured perspective to change behavior and belief. Our ideas about and experience of Jesus have value only insofar as they propel us to act with humility. While we would like to capture the faith in a shrine or a doctrine, the divine expressed in incarnation or in ecstatic trance is subject to the trials of the journey, fatigue, sore feet, misunderstandings. Never does Jesus promise the solidity of a mausoleum or palace.

Our experiences of the promise for humanity incarnate in Jesus cannot be exclusively for our own contemplation. Experience of transfiguration needs to spur us to act as the healing hands of Jesus, to walk the paths of the world with courage, determination and compassion, to persistently believe that the light that was in Jesus illuminates all. Thomas Merton calls it the dance of the cosmos in which all celebrate together because our humanity has made the leap into divine joy. In her song Amen, Sarah Slean writes, “Running on empty, thinking maybe I’ll see a sign. But if I open up my heart, some one will say, Amen.”

The transfiguration story offers us choices about how we interpret the visions we have been given. When we glimpse the wonder and love of Jesus, does it cause us to open doors? Does it cause to dare to make friends with strangers? Does it toss us out into the work of healing and offering good news? I hope it challenges us onto the journey of compassion and the social evolution of humanity. Easter calls us to the promise of a new world of freedom from fear, a world in which we have chosen life in the land of milk and honey. We call that nation, earth. Maybe we will see the sign and open up our hearts.

Lorna Crozier from What the Living Won’t Let Go, McLelland & Stewart Publishers, Toronto, 1999. p. 36-37.
Sarah Slean from 2011 “Land and Sea” album