This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations I serve.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Poetry.

I have been reading a lot of poetry lately.  Ashbery, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Snyder, Levertov, Bly, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Peter O'Leary....  It seems to be helping me make sense of things.  I read "Howl" while I was in Louisville for the Fall Polity Conference.  "Howl" is a spiritual descendant of the book of Revelation.  In that context of wild almost incomprehensible juxtaposition -- the minutiae of ecclesiastical polity and comprehensive cultural disintegration -- where do you think I felt closer to God/reality/truth?

I apocalyptic times I wonder if poetry isn't the only intelligible medium.  The prophets of ancient Israel/Judah were poets.  Every other form of discourse has been coopted, bought, sold, and impressed into service for commercial purposes.  Yesterday's music of insurrection is the background for a car advertisement today.  Let's see them make a commercial out of "Howl."

Liturgy is supposed to be poetry, as is prayer... which is perhaps the most primal form of poetry.  Too often our liturgies are overburdened with agendas: educational, doctrinal, political... political in the sense of catering to the sensitivities, biases, desires, and ego-images of the listeners.  [It's Mothers' Day so I have to mention mothers, or I will hear about it; same for Veterans' Day... someone will complain if I don't congratulate the Giants on their victory last week... or if I pray, or not pray, for the President....]

Especially in this season where we are supposed to provide the nostalgic sentimental background music.

I am waiting for the day when a church celebrates Advent by putting quotes from the poet, John the Baptizer, on the message board.

Anyway, gotta go.

  

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Prayer for the First Sunday of Advent


God of liberation
who overthrows Pharaohs
and outsmarts emperors
and outlasts Caesars
and outlives kings and dictators
and overcomes bosses
and drains the powerful of their power
in every generation,
and lifts up the lowly in every age:

we gather in the increasing cold
and the deepening darkness,
still sated with the feast of our own harvest,
still impressed with the profligacy of our own productivity,
still aglow from the warm embrace of our own family.

And we turn our hearts again
to Bethlehem.

Even as catalogs cram our mailboxes
and the urgency of sleigh-bells ring in every commercial,
and the pressure is on to buy and spend:

We turn our hearts again
to Bethlehem.

To a pair of homeless refugees
jerked around by government,
rejected by business,
unrecognized by family,

who journey on their way
to Bethlehem.

Keep us focused
on the One who emerges
out of everywhere,
who is already here
in the eyes of needy children
in the places of poverty
in the brokenness of the broken
and the loneliness of the outcast
in the sorrow of grief
and the horror of pain.

Who takes it all on himself
who swallows it all
into his purifying infinity
and transfigures it
into new and blessed life

Make our communities,
gatherings of ones who trust
in him, into fruitful beds of
blessing and healing
for the world.

May his love radiate through us
healing disease and injustice
hatred and fear
anger and hurt
by our kindness and compassion
in his Spirit.

May we serve as witnesses
to the infinite joy
and the blossoming of new life
and the spectacular radiance
of presence
of wholeness
of goodness
of blessing
of everything.

May we get busy.
Amen.

Monday, November 1, 2010

How to Vote.


No, I’m not going to suggest for whom we should vote.  But I do want to recommend what kinds of things Christians take into consideration when casting a vote, by looking at Psalm 72.   
We don’t have a king, of course.  In a democracy it is supposed to be the people who are sovereign, and the people elect representatives to govern them.  When the Psalm refers to "the king," I hear it talking about the people and their representatives.  So I do believe that what Psalm 72 says applies to leaders in a democracy.  I hope that what we look for in our leaders reflects the values lifted up in this Psalm.

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.

There is a connection between the way we and our government treat the poor and oppressed, and the prosperity we enjoy as a people.  If we are hard-hearted and careless towards the needy, it will eventually bounce back to harm everyone.  If we allow greed and inequity to flourish, it undermines the whole economy in the end.  We have seen this basic principle working itself out before our very eyes these last few years.  Clearly, godly leaders watch out for the weakest among us... and that benefits everyone. 

May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.
In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

These natural images remind us of at least two characteristics of good leaders.  In the first place, the benefits of good government effect and lift up everyone.  As Jesus says, God has the rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous.  Good government is like the balanced system of nature, providing to all what is necessary for life to thrive. 
Secondly, it is important to note that wise policies last forever.  Each generation learns from them and incorporates them into its program.  Lifting up the poor and empowering the powerless today, will mean having more people participating in the system tomorrow.  We look back with pride and thanksgiving on leaders of the past who challenged the status quo and the conventional wisdom by assigning resources to everyone’s benefit, and gave assistance to the poor and the outcast.

May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
May his foes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust.
May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.
May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.

A good leader is recognized and celebrated far and wide.  Some of the most effective leaders of our age remain role models for people everywhere.  We look up to our own leaders or those of other nations when they show courage, resist evil, and do what is right in God’s sight.   None of them are perfect and flawless, of course.  But good leaders are not vilified but respected and celebrated around the world because good leadership does not benefit just one tribe, race, family, or nation.  It benefits everyone. 

For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.

Once again, the psalmist repeats, that good leadership is measured by the way the poor, helpless, weak, needy, and oppressed are treated.  Nothing is more clear from Scripture than that this standard is primary.  A government’s approach to the lowest in society is the main measure of its goodness.  If this approach has to do with deliverance, salvation, redemption, and help, then that government is faithfully representing God’s will.  If not, it is running counter to God’s way and slated for ruin.    

Long may he live!  May gold of Sheba be given to him.
May prayer be made for him continually, and blessings invoked for him all day long.
May there be abundance of grain in the land; may it wave on the tops of the mountains;
may its fruit be like Lebanon;
and may people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field.
May his name endure for ever, his fame continue as long as the sun.
May all nations be blessed in him; may they pronounce him happy.

Caring for and protecting the needy is a policy that God will reward.  Which is to say that God intends people to live in justice and peace, and when people live this way they are also living in harmony with the planet God made and placed in our care.  Injustice invariably draws down upon itself destruction; but justice and peace serve to heal the Earth and allow its resources to benefit everyone, not just the wealthy and powerful.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name for ever; may his glory fill the whole earth.
Amen and Amen.

The Source of all goodness, peace, justice, and righteousness, not to mention prosperity, is God.  In the end, God is the only true and good leader.  Our human leaders always fall short.  But we know that some fall more or less short than others.  The beneficial government is one that follows the Lord’s commandments and values, blessing God by instituting policies that reflect God’s will.  In Jesus Christ we know God’s will to be for healing and justice, peace and forgiveness, living in love with each other and with God’s creation. 
We hope and pray that whatever government we have will reflect God’s goodness and not God’s judgment upon us.  And the sure sign of this will be whether the resources of God’s creation will be cared for and used for the benefit of everyone, especially those on the bottom, or whether we will call down destruction upon ourselves by persisting in an existence characterized by fear, anger, greed, and violence.