Here is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid,
who will try to hold onto the shore.
They are being torn apart and will suffer greatly.
Know that the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore,
push off into the middle of the river
and keep our heads above water.
Hopi Indian prophecy
We read this poem in preaching class this morning within a conversation of finding our voices–especially coming out of feeling silenced or muffled. It spoke to me.
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.
“It is my conscience that compels me to say publicly that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is a grave injustice against women, against our Church and against our God who calls both men and women to the priesthood…. In essence, you are telling me to lie and say I do not believe that God calls both men and women to the priesthood. This I cannot do, therefore I will not recant.” – Fr. Roy Bourgeois
More about Fr. Roy Bourgeois standing for the ordination of women in the Catholic Church: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/father-bourgeois-i-cant-recant/
How many times a day do we use the word “they”? Who are “those people”? What does the Bible story say about “them”?
This brief 5 minute sermon by Bishop Vashti McKenzie packs in a powerful message about the word and concept “they”. It was shared during preaching class this morning and the message is still ringing with me and I wanted to share it.
This past Thursday I had the opportunity to preach and lead worship at Earlham School of Religion’s weekly worship service. I have posted here both the video of the service in it’s entirety and the audio of just the sermon.
“This situation would never exist if they were to make love to the Lord and charity towards the neighbor the chief thing of faith…. If this were so all the different Churches would become one, and all the disagreements which stem from doctrine alone would disappear. Indeed the hatred one man holds against another would be dispelled in an instant, and the Lord’s kingdom on earth would come.” Secrets of Heaven 1799 Emmanuel Swedenborg
Today I had the powerful experience of taking a Midrash Journaling Workshop with a wise and talented woman, Pat Thomas. I was only vaguely familiar with the term “midrash” prior to this workshop and was inspired to learn more about this practice. One definition of “midrash” is: “Midrash is a way of interpreting biblical stories that goes beyond simple distillation of religious, legal or moral teachings. It fills in many gaps left in the biblical narrative regarding events and personalities that are only hinted at”. The way Pat put it was, “think about who you would have liked to see a journal entry from, and then write it”. What would it have been like to be Peter when Jesus first called him a rock that the church would be built on and then calls him Satan and commands him to get behind him? What was Mary thinking before she saw the resurrected Lord in the garden? How did she feel?
There are so many details, thoughts and feelings that are not explicit in Biblical text. The process of midrash journaling is one that invites us into the story. Not to pretend that we in any way can authoritatively fill in the gaps in the story. Rather to use it as an exercise to put ourselves in the story. This process invites us to engage with a Biblical text in a rich and personal way. It gave me space to look at the text for clues that I might not have seen before and to imagine how I might have reacted if I encountered Jesus as those in the gospels did.
We did two midrash journal entries during the workshop. The one I’m going to share here was on Matthew 6:19-34. I was writing from the perspective of an impoverished woman who was listening to the Sermon on the Mount. I specifically worked with the line, “No one can serve to masters. Either one will hate one and love the other or, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24
I saw Jesus today! Not just with my eyes. I heard him speak! All afternoon. I sat with the crowds at his feet and he taught us. What a banquet of teaching! Proclamation and example, comfort, hope, rebuke and great vision. He taught with a clarity that cut through to my heart. I found myself simultaneously convicted, brought to my knees, and encouraged, lifted up and pointed towards a new way of life.
It was worth it. It was worth going hungry and missing a meal or two a day for the last few weeks to save up for the trip. It was worth it. It was worth knowing that my boss may be upset with me if things aren’t going well with the harvest when I return. He was so reluctant to give me the days off. It was worth it though. I feel so full and nourished in a way I can hardly put words to. There’s something about this man that fill me, that makes me stand up straighter, that gives me the desire to get up and face a new day—face a new day with hope even.
I saw some of my boss’ colleagues there. I wonder what they thought. At one point Jesus came on pretty strong. “You cannot serve both God and money!” he proclaimed. I saw these wealthy business people squirming a bit and looking aside, avoiding eye contact.
Honestly though, I was squirming too. There was an alluring sense inside me to believe that Jesus was just addressing the wealthy at that point, that the message of our inability to serve to masters was reserved for the elite. But this train of thought was stopped apparently in its tracks. Jesus leaned towards me and looked me in the eye and I heard the words again, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
As each word landed in my heart I felt a gentle love and a searing truth–this was a message for me. I couldn’t push this one over to my neighbor. Even as Jesus’ eyes lingered on my challenged face I had images of myself flashing before me.
Holding a little extra flour to give my firstborn more than siblings.
Skipping out on evening prayer to put a few more stitches in the garment I hoped to sell at market.
Being so busy trying to make our shack into some semblance of a hospitable home that I miss actually sitting down and being with my guests when I am home.
As Jesus’ eyes moved on, connecting with to others in the crowed, I felt the message settling into my body. The words of my ancestors joined with Jesus’ call….
“Choose this day whom you will serve…. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
I’ve been interested in reading the strong and varied reactions around the upcoming release of Rob Bell’s book, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.” Rob Bell is the founding pastor of the Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids Michigan and has written a number of books and seems to be known for shaking things up theologically and asking great questions. I got his book “Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile” a number of years ago and was struck by Bell’s raw, honest and fresh way of approaching faith, Christianity and people.
This weekend Bell released the following video.
I watched this after reading a couple of blog posts where authors pointed out the overwhelming response there has been in the last 48 hours or so to the release of this book. It seems that this subject of heaven and hell, and especially who gets to go where (if there even are such places) is one that catches the attention of many. And it seems it’s a topic that brings out strong feelings and opinions. As Bell points out in the video, the question of heaven and hell and who gets in quickly brings up the question of who God is and who and how God loves.
Coming from a Swedenborgian faith background, I’m particularly intrigued to hear these topics and theological claims being discussed in a broader context. The rich theology around the afterlife and the question of “who goes where and why?” that are found in Swedenborg’s writings are so ingrained in me that I appreciate the reminder of the wrestling around this topic and question. I’m particulars thinking about the concepts that are taught in Swedenborgian theology around the idea that one spends eternity in a place where the core loves they have developed over their lives can be expressed. Those who love people selflessly, who want to help others, who love a Divine Being outside of themselves will hang out with others who have similar loves. Sounds pretty heavenly?
The more universal view of God and specifically of who’s “saved” or who “gets to go to heaven” is one that is a pillar of the Swedenborgian faith tradition and my personal faith. It is interesting and enlivening to me to hear this type of conversation gaining traction in the broader Christian stage. I’m looking forward to reading the book. And it also makes me want to pick up Swedenborg’s Heaven and Hell again as well.