Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday Five

From willsmama and RevGalBlogPals

And so I offer this Friday Five with 5 quick hit questions... and a bonus:

1) Your work day is done and the brain is fried, what do you do?

Is a pastor's workday ever done? If my brain is fried, then I usually sit with my laptop and trash tv. I'll do sudoku from indigopuzzles. If my brain is not so fried, I might read. I try to read a bit before I go to sleep anyway.

2) Your work week is done and the brain is fried (for some Friday, others Sunday afternoon), what do you do?

Friday is a wonderful day for me. I never, never, never work (unless I'm doing a funeral or something on Saturday). It's a day for me and relaxation. Today I'll go swim sometime this morning (if I get moving that soon), then because it's a nice day, I'll begin to fertilize my plantings and lawn for fall and I hope plant bulbs. I'm trying to do a project of some sort every Friday. I may go out to dinner or catch a movie, I haven't decided.

3) Like most of us, I often keep myself busy even while programs are on the tv. I stop to watch The Office and 30 Rock on Thursday nights. Do you have 'stop everything' tv programming or books or events or projects that are totally 'for you' moments?

Nope. I even have the laptop on my lap when I watch 30Rock. Actually I usually watch 30Rock on the laptop because I forget when it's on. On the totally for me, that's Friday. All day. I highly recommend it.

4) When was the last time you laughed, really laughed? What was so funny?

This Friday Five is scary: making me think about changes I need to make in my life. I think laughing was during Read This and Burn (or whatever the title of the Clooney/Pitt comedy this summer or early fall). I like going to movies by myself because then I don't embarrass anyone with my laughter. I laugh at things that don't strike other people as funny. I obviously need to laugh more, particularly at my lovely, but rigid, older congregation. (Did I say they are inflexible?--this is why I do yoga--I don't want to be that inflexible when I get old.)

5) What is a fairly common item that some people are willing to go cheap on, but you are not.

I like really good food. When I go out to eat, I don't go to Applebees or Outback. I do like PF Changs and California Pizza Kitchen (none of the latter in Memphis yet), but other than that, it's mostly local really good restaurants. When I'm on a tour (which I try to avoid), I will whenever I can eat at local restaurants instead of the tourist restaurants that tours (even the best) go to. It is really frustrating to me that I have a very hard time convincing people to come with me, even though they are complaining about the food. In fact, that's something I don't understand. People on tours will complain, but when given the option to do something to make it better won't. When I was in Iran, we camped out three nights (sleeping on the ground). We were told that we would be given mattresses. We were, but they were about an inch thick. So, when we were in a small village, we went by a mattress shop with foam mattresses about 3 inches thick. My son and I bought one each and a pillow each. The total price was $15. We tried to get folks to go to the store and buy a set and no one else would. Boy, my son and I slept so well. We gave the mattress to the bus drivers who were pleased to get them so they had something nice to sleep on (there as a space under the bus where they slept; I think it might have otherwise been a baggage area).

Bonus: It's become trite but is also true that we often benefit the most when we give. Go ahead, toot your own horn. When was the last time you gave until it felt good?

One of the things I miss about being a pastor is that I don't regularly volunteer. Before I started chemo, I was volunteering at a hospitality house for homeless people. When I started chemo, I stopped because I just didn't have the energy and I needed to avoid people two out of the three weeks. I haven't made it back because I'm still trying to get my work life organized. I do need to go back there.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Preaching Politics

Not me, I'm chicken. But I am going to use the election as the take off point for my sermon (I think). I'm preaching on Psalm 107. For reasons that escape me the lectionary doesn't include the entire psalm and even the parts that are included omit the ending verse(s) of the stanza (or whatever they are called). I don't preach on the psalms much. In fact, I think I've preached on the psalms once. I don't read them much either. I'm not much into poetry and so on.

But this psalm is perfect for focusing on ourselves or others than God to solve our problems. And it is full of give thanks to God for God's steadfast love.

Anybody out there gonna mention the elections Sunday?

Jesus and Obama

From Stanley Fish who I think leans right. Fish compares Obama to Jesus in Paradise Regained. It reminded me of the oft quoted "unanxious presence" that pastors are supposed to be, particularly in times of congregational distress.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Another reason to switch to Apple

$100,000 contribution to the anti-Prop 8 forces in California.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday Five

From Singing Owl at RevGalBlogPals

Tell us about the five favorite places you have lived in your lifetime. What did you like? What kind of place was it? Anything special happen there?

For someone who at age 50 thought she had lived in only two places in her life, I've lived in a lot of places. Actually, even at age 50 I had lived in five different areas and in 9 different houses/apartments, not counting college dorms. I have only one favorite place though.

I went to seminary in San Anselmo, CA. It is a magical place, or as the Irish would say, a thin place. A lot was the geography. I am an outdoors person. The seminary is located on the edge of a series of parks that go south to Mount Tam and then the Marin Headlands (and including Muir Woods) and west to the Pacific ocean. Immediately behind the seminary was a huge hill. From the top (for me about a 45 minute walk up, up, up and up) you could see the seminary and San Anselmo, Fairfax, Corte Madera spread below you. A little further on you could see the Bay and the Richmond Bridge. On a clear day, Mount Diablo over across the Bay would peak out over the fog that engulfed the East Bay. You could see the Bay bridge and parts of San Francisco. The Golden Gate was hidden by the top of Mount Tam. My favorite hike was up to a series of small lakes (dammed by the Marin Water District) hemmed in my the mountains. There used to be an annual seminary to the sea hike where we would leave from the gate of the seminary and hike over the Mount Tam ridge to Stinson Beach. I usually did at least one long hike a week and often several short hikes in the week. I biked along Corte Madera creek to the Bay, just below San Quentin.

I took classes in Berkeley and loved the drive over the Richmond Bridge. I might go to a Farmers Market in Sausalito, another magical place. My first two years I worshipped in Marin City with Anne LaMotte.

It was wonderful living in community. I lived between two good friends and could always sit down with one of them and share my troubles. We ate together, celebrated together, mourned together. Other friends lived in the same building.

I'd love to live there again.





Monday, October 20, 2008

Some Advice, Please

Now that I am more or less healthy, I am making some decisions about my ministry at my church. One decision I made was to let go and let God. The LOLs (not laughing out loud by any means) are too resistant to change and have too many supporters for radical change to occur. (Actually, I'm not sure that it is the LOLs that are resistant to change, but their supporters.) I am focusing much of my time on preaching and I am getting better. I had fallen into a spell of IMHO awful preaching (though parishioners say it was not awful). Improved preaching means more time in prayer, reflection and study. I'm also trying to be more diligent in visitation, though my proposed visitation schedule is trashed because I believe a parishioner is dying and I'm trying to visit her at least every other day. She has no children, though lots of friends and other family.

And so I move on to considering more modern means of communication. The Alban Institute magazine this quarter is devoted to web means of communication. Our new moderator has said (I hope I am quoting accurately) that about 40 per cent of his pastoral care is by email. Our congregation as it presently is, is not tech savvy. In fact, there are session members without email (drives me crazy). In rural Michigan, I could understand, but this is urban Memphis for Pete's sake. So, I am thinking about redoing our web site which is has not been updated since March, I think. Our previous "webmaster" resigned. I would like to take on the task for a couple of reasons. I think it would be fun. The web site would reflect my sensibilities. I wouldn't have to tell someone their design stank. I'm thinking more of a static site at first, with mostly the calendar. (We have dropped our newsletter because no one wants to do it. We do one quarterly with a monthly calendar available on the web and in hard copy in the narthex.) I'm also thinking of a blog that is openly "mine" and considers more theological/biblical reflections, perhaps looking towards the lectionary passage for Sunday. I'm also thinking of a listserv for the congregation to spread news. The leaves out a lot of members. We could also do a Face Book page (I don't have a Face Book page, because I don't have any friends that I know of on Face Book).

So, given our demographics, we are older (shoot, elderly) like most PCUSA congregations, in a city, two blocks from the University of Memphis. We do have young people: recent college grads who still attend, a youth group of six kids, a young couple has begun attending with two sons. We have about three young families who also attend sporadically. Most of the members are connected by long membership and friendship.

So, I would see the website and my blog as mostly outreach, a presence on the web. The listserv would be great if enough people were interested, but I don't know whether we have that many folks. (We could also do a devotional on the listserv is anyone wanted to do it) The blog could be open to other members too. So, whaddaya think?

Well Worth a Read

A doctor blogs on suffering.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Musings on a Couple of Books

I finished Home by Marilynne Robinson last night (too late unfortunately). I have complained about Jan Karon's Mitford series because it is so sappy. Nothing is ever that pat, that sweet in a minister's life (at least no pastors I know). And Philip Gulley I think has an equally sweet series. I want someone to write about a pastor's life as it really is. Home is a follow up to Robinson's Pulitzer Prize winning Gilead. But it is the most depressing book I've read lately. There is a glimmer, a brief glimmer, a possibility of grace and happiness at the very end. My life is filled with too much sadness: a parishioner with no children dying alone in the hospital, a marriage torn asunder by the husband's misdeed, alcoholism, (to clarify, neither mine) a dying church unwilling to change, friends with crippling diseases, growing old myself, the specter of cancer returning. I have decided I really don't want to read any more books that describe life as it really is. I'm back to my murder mysteries. Crossan and Reed's In Search of Paul is next on my nonfiction reading list.

I was reading The Shattered Lantern which someone's blog recommended this afternoon. I was struck by the author's insistence that one must enter the dark night of the soul in order to enter into God's presence. To do that, one must give up sensual pleasures. I may be misquoting or misunderstanding, but the idea of aestheticism bothers me. Jesus was not an aesthetic. He loved life; he loved eating and drinking; he loved being with people. He must have experienced God in his life. So, how do we square the need to become aesthetics to properly experience God with the model of Jesus? I think that God created the world and all that is in it. I believe God created the world so that we can experience God's presence through the world. I believe God reveals God's self in creation. I believe God gave us good food to enjoy. I believe God gives us relationships and joy. So, the aesthetic troubles me. It seems to me that it is denying God's gifts. On the other hand, I could just be wrong.

Who Do You Belong To?

Matthew 22:15-22

He was the Son of God.
He was the Prince of Peace.
He was the Divine Caesar. And he ruled the world, at least the western world. Peace, though came at a price. The Romans were determined in their drive to enforce peace. Disturbers of that peace, even alleged disturbers were dealt with harshly. The Romans held no trials. They had no bill of rights. No rule against self incrimination. Punishment was swift and cruel. Crucifixion served many purposes. A warning to be sure. But crucifixion also erased the person from memory. One hung, sometimes for days, on a cross, slowly suffocating. When death came, the body remained for the vultures to pick at. Bones fell and turned to dust. No one came to lament the death. No one came to claim a body for burial. No one remembered the terrible death.
And taxes. Taxes were levied to support the soldiers who enforced the peace. Taxes were levied to support building projects. Taxes were levied to support a life style that Wall Street barons can only envy. And so, they lived under Roman rule. Some chafed under the harsh rule. The Zealots wanted an armed rebellion. The Herodians preached accommodation. There was no way to defeat the might of the Roman Empire. They counseled going along, getting along, making the best of a bad thing. The Pharisees believed they could change God’s mind if only they were good enough. And so they followed the holiness code imposed upon the priests. If the people were holy, God could be appeased and the Romans would go away somehow. The Pharisees were even concerned about carrying Roman money. It was a violation of the law. Roman coins bore the image of the Emperor, the son of God, the one who was a god. Jewish law was clear: there was no God but God and to carry an image of a god was a violation of the law.
So, the Pharisees gather and plot. They bring the Herodians into the plot. Neither the Pharisees or the Herodians as a group particularly liked Jesus. He threatened them both. He was a loose cannon. He, like the other putative Messiahs wandering around Galilee, could bring down Roman wrath on them. And so they ask him a question, one that can only trap him. If he answers one should pay taxes, he has played into the hands of the Pharisees. That will anger their followers and most of the people. If he says one should not pay taxes, he is immediately labeled an enemy of the Romans. It’s a no-win position, they think. I can imagine their laughter as they imagine their trap.
And so they ask: Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor. They have him, they think. But Jesus outsmarts them. He is quicker than they are. He asks for a coin. And someone obliges him. First mistake. They have admitted that they violate the law. And Jesus asks, “whose image is on the coin?” The answer came quickly, Caesar's. And so Jesus says, "Give Caesar, that which is Caesar's." He adds, "and give to God that which is God's." And they go away.
For years, these words of Jesus have been used to justify a sort of two state world: the religious world, God's world, and the secular world, Caesar's world. We navigate between the two worlds, determining which is Caesar’s world and which is God’s world. And it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that our Monday through Saturday world is the secular world. It is a world distinct from our Sunday world, God’s world. The two worlds might even never need to meet. We give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and we give to God, perhaps a little grudgingly the small part, an hour or two on Sunday, a bit of our income, a little more of our time for mission or bible study. God’s world becomes a narrow world of personal piety, of going to church on Sunday, of reading the Bible and praying.
Jesus and those who walked away from him, understood something much more profound in his words. They did not walk away because Jesus had beaten them at their game. They walked away because Jesus had said something really important that brought them up short.
Because they were steeped in the Hebrew scriptures, the word "image" would have popped out at them. Whose image is on the coin? It is a coin made by Caesar and bears Caesar's image. Jesus has said we should give what belongs to Caesar to Caesar. We know what belongs to Caesar because it bears Caesar's image on it. Jesus says we should give what belongs to God to God. We know what belongs to God because it bears God's image. They would have heard the word image and remembered Genesis, when God says let us make humans in our own image. It is humans that belong to God.
But Jesus really doesn't make it clear what belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar. He leaves it ambiguous. That's one reason they wander away. They are thinking. What is Caesar's and what is God's. What does it mean that we are made in God's image?
We still struggle with that question today. We are made in God’s image. We belong to God. We are God’s. What does that mean? What difference does it make in our lives? It is so easy to get trapped in the world. We are afraid. We seek security in money. We seek security in power. One need only look around and see how fleeting those things are. Our entire financial system is being brought down by those who believed that more and more and more and more money would bring them security. And people are so scared they will lose everything, they are exacerbating the meltdown by drawing money out of the market. We think we can find security in power. We are or we were the most powerful nation in the world. And yet we are frightened of a man who sits half a world away, who even after seven years lives in a cave somewhere and has not been brought to justice. We see our might sneered at. We see other countries come to power.
It is no accident that Christians identified Jesus as the Son of God and the Prince of Peace. Those titles were consciously used to contrast Jesus with Caesar. They claimed a ruler who was radically different from Caesar. They claimed a ruler who had no money, no power; a ruler who came as a servant. They knew what it meant to be made in the image of God. They knew it meant to live as one in the image of God.
I worked for five years for Habitat for Humanity and volunteered with them many years before that. The founder, Millard Fuller, was a man who found what it meant to live as one in the image of God. Not perfectly, for none of us is perfect, but in the image of God. I don’t know if you know Millard’s and his wife, Linda’s story. Millard was a young lawyer, a partner of Morris Dees down in Mississippi. They made more money continuing the business they had started when they were in school. They sold cook books as FHA fund raisers and hats and tractor seats as FFA fund raisers. Both were millionaires before they were 30. Now, this was more than forty years ago when a million dollars was a million dollars. But, Millard spent most of his time working. He was devoted to Linda and showed it by the things he gave her: a huge house on a lake, a big Cadillac, everything she wanted. Everything but one thing: his presence. He was so busy working, he never had time for her or his family. Linda was miserable. She had been young when she married Millard and not particularly well to do, but the wealth didn’t make up for his absence. So, she went to New York City to meet with a religious mentor. Millard followed her there. Together they made a decision that would change their lives and the lives of over a million people. They decided to follow what it said in the Bible, sell all they had, give it to the poor and follow Jesus. Can you imagine? Millard had put his faith in Caesar, in money. And he reaped the broken relationships that happen when we worship the wrong god, when we give to idols what belongs to God. They spent some time with Clarence Jordan, who deserves several sermons of his own, in Americus Georgia, at Koininea Farms. There Linda and Millard began to work with folks who were living in shacks, to build decent houses. Then they began to pray about this work they were doing. They thought maybe, just maybe, God was calling them to work overseas in helping poor people in other countries have decent houses. So they moved their family to Africa and built houses there. It worked. And they began their organization: Habitat for Humanity. They envisioned an organization that would work overseas. God had other plans. The idea caught on in the US. People began local Habitats. God does amazing things when we remember that we are made in God’s image. God does amazing things when we remember that every person who is on this planet is made in God’s image. Every one of them. Every one of us.
We are called to live as if we bear God’s likeness in our hearts and on our faces. Because we do. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the Son of God, shows us how we can reflect God’s love in our lives. The dilemma is not what part of our lives belong to Caesar and what part belongs to God. Our entire lives, hearts, minds and souls belong to God. The challenge is how do we live out our lives, belonging to God, finding our security in God and not in this world. Amen.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday Five

From Songbird at RevGalBlogPals

1) When was the last time you flipped a coin or even saw one flipped in person?

I can't remember.

2) Do you have any foreign coins in your house? If so, where are they from?

In my house, in my car, everywhere. I have a 20 cent euro piece on the floor of my car because I haven't picked it up. I have a bag of euros (currently my best investment, though it is losing value) from my last trip to Europe. I have left over coins (and lots of small bills) from Uganda, Khazahstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyrstan, Mongolia, Korea, some from non-Euro northern European countries. Everywhere I've been in the last four or five years. I even have some pre-Euro francs. I have a sheaf of small bills from all over the world. I don't throw them away, I'm not sure why. I think I keep hoping I'll find a child who likes foreign money.

3) A penny saved is a penny earned, they say. But let's get serious. Is there a special place in heaven for pennies, or do you think they'll find a special place in, well, the other place?

I'm not sure why we still have a penny. Mine pile up in my coin drawer in the car, in the bottom of my purse and in a drawer where I put loose change until I roll the coins up and take them to the bank.

4) How much did you get from the tooth fairy when you were a child? and if you have children of your own, do they get coins, or paper money? (I hear there may be some inflation.)

Oh, the tooth fairy. I think I got a quarter, which at the time was a lot of money. The tooth fairy forgot one night and my Dad said the fairy left the quarter at the breakfast table.

5) Did anyone in your household collect the state quarters? And did anyone in your household manage to sustain the interest required to stick with it?

I have a bag of state quarters. I last put them in a binder when I moved two and a half years ago. I suppose sitting in a bag is not the best thing. They roll around in the bottom of my purse until I clean it out and throw them in the bag.

I was in Alaska when the Alaska quarter came out. Clerks were complaining that they had not made their way down to Juneau (they had been introduced at the state fair somewhere up north). I haven't seen one down here yet.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I get stuff on Google Reader. Two CNN headlines one before the other

Probe as Muslim family burned alive (A family of Muslims was burned alive in India)
Indian Christians celebrate first woman saint

Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday Five

Here's the Friday Five from Mother Laura at RevGalBlogPals

So for today's Friday Five, you're invited to share your experiences with the exciting, challenging world of business travel....

1. Does your job ever call for travel? Is this a joy or a burden? The only time my current job calls for travel is when I go on study leave. I get to choose where I go. I try to get something at San Anselmo because that place is magical. Not this year though. When I worked for Habitat for Humanity, I traveled to almost every small town in Indiana and Ohio. By car. Actually I liked it.

2. How about that of your spouse or partner? Not got one.

3. What was the best business trip you ever took? For study leave (does that count?) to San Anselmo. I love to hike up Baldy or up to some small lakes. From Baldy, you can see Mt. Diablo (on a clear day), the Richmond Bridge, the Bay Bridge and parts of San Francisco. You can't see the Golden Gate Bridge, though. I did a mission trip to Nicaragua when I was first out of seminary that was great. Another woman and I spent a week with a family in a tiny village. She didn't speak Spanish and mine is passable (or laughable as I found out).

4. ...and the worst, of course? I can't think of any.

5. What would make your next business trip perfect? Oh, to be able to travel on business with time to explore. Travel to Europe or neat places in the US. But air travel is getting to be less and less fun. It used to be fun. Now it's a pain. Take off your shoes, take out your laptop, take out your liquids. Oh, we have to run your briefcase again without those pesky electronics. We've cancelled your flight and you're being rerouted, so you're SSSSed and get that special pat down. You can't take that empty water bottle with you. Get on a crowded plane with no leg room for a 5'5" woman. What do 6 footers do? There's no overhead space cause it costs to check a bag. Someone just hit you with his oversized backpack. But I still love to travel. Am hoping to pull off a trip to Guatemala at Thanksgiving if I don't have another surgery this fall. No, it's not a mission trip.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Obama the Muslim

So I visited an elderly couple today. I don't usually talk politics. But the wife asked me about the election. I was non committal and tired to change the subject. She said she just couldn't see a Black and a Muslim as president. I said that Obama was not a Muslim. She replied that she thought so. I said that I knew he was a Christian. In fact in stretching the truth a bit, I said I knew his preacher, the Rev. Otis Moss, III. I said I knew his father and grandfather from Cleveland and that he was a fine Christian man. Actually, I have met either his father or grandfather. They are renown in the African American community in Cleveland. I do not know the son, actually. She said several times, nice Southern lady that she is, that she thought he was Muslim and I said (bitchy spent too long in the north to be a southern lady that I am) that I knew Obama is a Christian.

I just haven't faced outright lies before. I'm sure she is sure she is right. I'm sure nothing I said will cause her to change her mind. But, I can't let a lie stand. What if I were a McCain supporter? Would I have been so quick to correct? What if she had said something wrong about McCain? Would I have been so quick to correct? I don't know. I hope so.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


The Advent wars have begun. Every year, the worship chair wants to start Christmas on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. She wants to sing Christmas carols. We have the same discussion year after year. Since I choose the texts, hymns and sermons, I win. But, of course, it is a hollow victory.

So, I am beginning to think about Advent. What are we waiting for? When I was thinking in terms of the incarnation, it was easy. Advent is a time for us to prepare for the incarnation. We need to think about what difference the incarnation means. Which has always meant that we need to realize that we are sinners and need Jesus for salvation. (Advent=penitence).

I believe the church should be counter cultural when the culture is against Christianity. I believe cultural Christmas is not Christian. I believe it is a symptom and sign of the culture's idolatry of materialism and greed. So that makes me an even stronger opponent of starting Christmas at Thanksgiving (gee, can we start after Halloween, that's when the stores put out their Christmas displays).

Now, though, I am beginning to wonder. What was the meaning of Jesus death? I don't buy substitutionary atonement for lots of reasons. I don't believe God sent Jesus to earth so that he could die on a cross. I think death happened (the same way it did for Dr. King and Msgr. Romero). I think the church tried to understand Jesus' death and its meaning. So, if the early church understood the meaning of the resurrection as Paradise being here and now (or the realm of God being here and now), then what of Advent?

"Our understandings are always provisional." An OT prof would say.

At least I have a few weeks to begin to parse this out. (I have a feeling it is the work of a life time.)

Monday, October 6, 2008


Last night I got to have dinner with Rita Nakishima Brock. An interesting part of the conversation was atonement. She talked a bit about Dennis Weaver and his attempt to shift from blood and sacrifice to Christus Victus (or is it Christis Victis). As I recall the conversation, she talked more about how the early church emphasized Paradise and the church as Paradise. (Paradise, she empahized is not free from evil: the serpent was there before Adam and Eve sinned.) She talked a bit about Paul's struggle with the meaning of Jesus death. She sees the Passion stories as lament. She pointed out that crucifixion meant the elimination of the person. After the torture, the body was not buried: it was devoured by vultures and then simply disappeared into the dust. Crucifixion was so shameful that people did not talk about the dead. There was no memorial to the person. It was intended to erase the person from the memory of his friends, family and followers. Jesus overcame that erasure. Death did not win.

In my study group for Mark, I asked people what they thought of the first line of the gospel: the beginning of the evangelion of Jesus [son of God]. I explained evangelion means the good news of a battlefield report. I hope that they will come to a deeper understanding, as I hope that I will. I have seen the good news as the victory of Jesus over evil. Now, I see the victory as Jesus victory over death.

So, what is the meaning of Jesus' death. Or is the important question, what is the resurrection?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Today's Sermon--Freedom!

Exodus 20:1-20

We are going to have a test this morning. A pop quiz. You’ll find paper at the end of the pew and pencils in the pew racks. OK, first question. What are the ingredients in a Big Mac? You’ve got 30 seconds. Second question: List the eight states that border Tennessee and their capitals. 30 seconds. Third question: List Santa’s reindeer. Fourth question: List the Harry Potter books. Final question: List the 10 commandments.
How did you do on the 10 commandments? A couple of years ago, the Supreme Court ruled on two cases involving the public display of the Ten Commandments. Justice Scalia noted that he thought that while 90 percent of Americans probably believed in the Ten Commandments, he doubted that 85 percent of us could name them.
“Last year Promenade Pictures released the animated movie The Ten Commandments. As part of their marketing, they commissioned Kelton Research to poll 1,000 people on their recall of Big Mac ingredients vs. Commandments. It appears that Ronald is keeping Moses in bondage. Eighty percent of Americans knew the Big Mac had two all-beef patties while just over 50 percent knew “Thou shalt not kill” was a commandment. Only 14 percent knew all 10. Even those who attend church or synagogue at least once a week have a bit of trouble naming them all. The top two mentioned commandments — Thou shalt not kill and Thou shalt not steal — were recalled by 70 percent and 69 percent respectively. The Big Mac was more memorable — 79 percent knew of its all-beef patties and 76 percent knew it came with lettuce. Religious people get all bent out of shape if the Ten Commandments are pulled off courtroom walls, but they aren’t able to pull up the Decalogue themselves. ” (Quoted from Homiletics at
The confusion doesn’t just include the contents of the commandments. Roman Catholics and Protestants count the commandments differently. Roman Catholics view the first commandment as including all the words from “I am the Lord your God” , “you shall have no other gods before me” and “ you shall not make idols”. Protestants separate the words about having no other gods and not making idols into two commandments. And, in the Jewish tradition, these are not commandments, but the Decalogue, the ten words. The Jewish tradition begins with the first word “I am the Lord your God”.
So, it’s no wonder there is so much confusion about the meaning of the commandments, if Christians can’t even agree on which ones are which. It gets even more complicated when one begins to consider grace and the role of grace in our salvation. If we are saved by grace and not works, do these commandments even have a place in our lives? Because we are saved though God’s love, does it matter what we do. Since we can’t possibly do enough good works to save ourselves, then why should we try at all.
If we begin at the first word, we can find an answer. God begins by introducing God’s self to the Israelites. God says “I am the lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” God did not introduce God’s self by telling the people God’s name. Moses had asked for God’s name and God replied “I Am who I Am” or “I Will Be Who I Will Be”. God didn’t tell the Israelites God’s name. God also didn’t say that God was the God of their ancestors, of Abraham and Sarah, words the Israelites often used to identify their God. God says that God is the one who brought them out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. God identifies God’s self as a God who liberates people from slavery, a God who frees people. Now, that is certainly an interesting way to begin a set of rules that takes away our absolute freedom, our freedom to do as we please, to worship as we please. God liberates us from oppression, but then God gives us a set of rules that God expects us to live by. What is that about? Talk about giving with one hand and taking away with the other.
Glenn McDonald, the author of a book I am reading begins his book by telling of an experience. His parents decided to celebrate their wedding anniversary by taking all their children and grandchildren on a cruise. The parents who were experienced at cruising excitedly told the author that on the second night of the cruise, they would be able to shake hands with the ship’s captain at the reception. The author confidently told his wife that he would find a way to get out of that bit of folderol. As the author slept on the first night on the cruise, he was awakened by the loudspeaker. It was four in the morning, but the captain’s voice blared over the speaker. “We think that someone may have gone overboard. If you are not in your cabins, please return there and make sure that everyone in your party is present. If someone is missing, please let us know immediately.” The captain continued that they had alerted the Coast Guard and were turning the ship around to return to where the person was thought to have gone over. A while later the captain came back on to announce that there were two people unaccounted for. He announced their names and asked them to report to the staff if they were on board. Several hours later the captain announced that the missing man had been located by the Coast Guard and had been taken to a hospital. Evidently the man had entered a restricted area and had climbed on the bow of the ship so he could pretend he was king of the world as the actor in Titanic. While the author drew a different analogy from his experience, it reminded me of our need for rules to keep us safe. We need limitations on our freedom so that we can live in relationship with one another.
Imagine if there were no laws or rules as there are in some places. Imagine if you could not go outside without being afraid that someone would kill you. Imagine if you could not leave your house without being afraid that someone would break in and steal everything. Imagine if you could not trust your spouse to be faithful to you. These commandments provide a structure for us to develop relationships with one another. They provide trust so that we can build relationships with each other.
Almost every society provides rules like the last six commandments: honor your parents, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t covet, don’t lie because any society needs rules like these so that people can live together. What the Decalogue provides is four more rules. These are the first four rules that tell us where God’s place in our lives should be. We need only this God to care for us. We do not need other gods. We do not need the god of money for our security. We do not need the god of status for our security. We do not need the god of popularity for our security. We do not need the god of busy-ness for our security. We need only this one God. God does not want us to make an image of God. Our images of God, whether they are painted, carved, sculpted, or remain in our imaginations are ways that limit God, that constrain God to be either what we want God to be or only the little we can imagine God to be. God tells Moses God’s name: I Am who I Am; I Will be Who I Will Be. Humans cannot constrain our God. Humans cannot fully imagine who God is. God is bigger than we are. God is mysterious. We are to remember that our God is sacred, holy, awesome. And we do not need to work 24/7. Our God provides for us so that we may rest one day a week.
God is a God of freedom and liberation. Judge Moore, the Alabama judge, was a defendant in one of those two Supreme Court cases two years ago. Thomas Long notes that after he lost his case, Judge Moore carted his stone monument of the 10 Commandments around in a flat bed truck. The monument weighed 5280 pounds. Long notes this is more than 500 pounds per commandment. And this, he says, is how most of us think of the 10 Commandments: as burdens, as heavy burdens, as very heavy burdens. They are not burdens, but means of liberation and signs of liberation. We are liberated to worship a God who is in control. We are liberated to live with one another in peace and harmony. We are freed. Long describes the freedom of these commandments
“The Decalogue begins with the good news of what the liberating God has done and then describes the shape of the freedom that results. If we want to symbolize the presence of the Ten Commandments among us, we would do well to hold a dance. The good news of the God who set people free is the music; the commandments are the dance steps of those who hear it playing. The commandments are not weights, but wings that enable our hearts to catch the wind of God’s Spirit and to soar.” ( Amen

Friday, October 3, 2008

Rita Nakashima Brock

I got to go to a lecture by Rita Nakashima Brock yesterday. She was speaking on Saving Paradise. The short version, as I understand it, is that the principal motif of the early church was Paradise. Here. Now. Not a perfect place, a place where we still have to struggle with evil, but paradise none the less. Using the visual depictions of the early church as a starting point, she says that she and her coauthor went searching for the first crucifixion. The earliest surviving one is from between 900-1000. Examining both the early church fathers and early art, she found paradise as the chief motif. It was with Charlemagne that violence and death moved from sin to celebrated. The book is much too long, but worth the trudge through it, particularly if you are looking for a substitute for Anselm's bloody atonement theory.

So, the question is how do we shift the dominant theology of atonement?