Monday, July 6, 2009

Hope and Refreshing

This morning I opened my book and read this:

But you, mountains of Israel, will grow your branches, and bear your fruit for my people Israel; for they will arrive soon. For indeed, I am on your side; I will turn to you, and you will be plowed and planted. I will multiply your people--the whole house of Israel, all of it. The cities will be populated and the ruins rebuilt. I will increase the numbers of people and animals on you; they will increase and be fruitful. I will cause you to be inhabited as in ancient times, and will do more good for you than at the beginning of your history. Then you will know that I am Yahweh. I will lead people, my people Israel, across you; they will possess you and you will become their inheritance. No longer will you bereave them of their children. . . .

I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries; then I will bring you to your land. I will sprinkle you with pure water and you will be clean from all your impurities. I will purify you from all your idols. I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you; I will take the initiative and you will obey my statutes and carefully observe my regulations. Then you will live in the land I gave to your fathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and multiply it; I will not bring a famine on you. I will multiply the fruit of the trees and the produce of the fields, so that you will never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations.

These are good words to read on a summer morning!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Reflections on Stories

I'm going to rephrase this whole question:

A few weeks ago I fell into a hole. It was a hole called Hulu (note the phonetic resonance between the two words). While Cindy was off retreating with many of the women from our church, I stayed up until two-thirty Saturday night (er. . . . Sunday morning) watching nearly all the first season of Arrested Development.

Arrested Development is a witty show, and I'm sad that it didn't get the ratings for Fox to keep it on air. It's textured, layered, multi-referential. Plus Ron Howard is the narrator. (The Oracle tells me that Arrested Development has been off the air for a few years--I don't really keep up with TV.)

Cindy got home that Sunday afternoon, and we've pounded out the second and third season during wild binges of TV watching during the last two or three weeks. End of story.

Well, not really. Another recent development: I spend a half hour or so sitting out on our fire escape, watching my little box of herbs and tomatoes and peppers grow, watching the birds that nervously nest in a crack in the brick in over our back stairs, watching the sky. I listen to the neighbors' air conditioners, to the quick voices of their children and the rise and fall of married couples screaming at one another. Sometimes I even talk to our next door neighbor as she waters her fire escape garden.

I try to pray while I sit there. At least I try to quiet down and listen for the Spirit's voice. And this is what I've been hearing: Arrested Development, Terry Pratchett novels, my own unfolding projects, dreams about what Cindy and I will do next. This is what I haven't been hearing: God's voice.

I am caught in so many stories, so many hopes and concerns competing for a piece of my attention, so many pieces already claimed by television or private dreams. God doesn't fill up my mind, my senses, because I've crowded him out with so many cheap thrills.

See, God has a story. Jesus has a story, a kingdom story. But instead of plunging my imagination into the yet unfolding drama of Jesus' resurrection life overcoming the weight of history, I check out pulp fiction from the library, stream reruns via Hulu, repeatedly check my Google Reader, and fidget with my iTunes.

So here's the question from last post (yes, I do really want answers): When and where and from whom have you heard kingdom stories that invade your imagination?

My list would include Tom and Christine Sine at Common Root '09. Check the video I posted a few months back of their presentation. I'm also a big fan of Tom's book The New Conspirators. The Sine's tell stories of God's kingdom come, tangible as sign and foretaste of the promise for God's life to overcome the world.

Who's on your list?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A snippet from Eugene Peterson's The Jesus Way:

"This sacrificial-suffering-servant way of dealing with what is wrong in people, with what is wrong in the world, is so different from the ways to which our culture accustoms us. The standard operating procedures practiced outside the orbit of Scripture and Jesus attempt to get rid of, or at least minimize, whatever is wrong with the world primarily by means of teaching and making: teach people what is right, or make them do what is right. The professor and the policeman represent these two ways, education and law enforcement. We send people to school to teach them to live rightly and responsibly; if that doesn't work we make them do it through a system of rewards and punishments, even if it means locking them up in a cell.

"Neither way seems to make much difference. The way of teaching as given form in schools and universities is not flourishingly successful. Scoundrels and betrayers, thieves and cheats, suicides and abusers, flourish in the best of professions and businesses. As literacy abounds, sin does more abound. Neither does the way of coercion as given form in jails and prisons seem to make much difference. We remove a small percentage of wrongdoers from the streets for a time, but even then our prison population seems at times to rival our school attendance. We distribute guns and bombs to any and all who will agree to use them to serve 'God and country' and proceed to threaten or kill any who 'disturb the peace' whether at home or abroad. None of it seems to make much of a dent in diminishing the sheer quantity of wrong.

"Isaiah 53 is the final nail in the coffin that buries all the false expectations, all the devil's seductions, all the pious revisions of the biblical story that make Jesus and his followers into American success stories.

"Meanwhile that Golgotha pulpit still centers history. And that Preacher still speaks the only word that will save the world."

The Jesus Way, 180.

I still want to know your prophets, the voices you hear calling Christians to follow Jesus more faithfully. Who are you reading? Who are you holding conversations with? What are they saying?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

At School with the Prophets

Each morning for the last year, right after I set my tea-water to boil and read morning prayer, I open my bible to the prophets and transcribe a chapter longhand in my journal. I began in Isaiah last April, and I've walked my way through to Ezekiel, interspersing Isaiah and Jeremiah with Paul's prophetic and apostolic letters to young churches.

The prophets have profoundly changed what I understand to happen when the church gathers together. I grew up in a Montana bible church where a sermon was a lesson, a chance to understand what the text says and then learn how to apply it to our lives. These words--understand, learn, apply--speak a basic separation of God's story and our stories that can only be bridged by the intellect and the will. If the Spirit shows up, he comes as one who enlightens--another intellectual word.

But the prophets, they don't preach principles and applications. In Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Paul, the Spirit speaks directly to the audience. He busies himself with politics and the private idolatries of the residents of Jerusalem, he confronts the cheating business practices of those claiming to be Yahweh's people and derides the charlatan successes of local political powers. More, Yahweh tells his story in a way that swallows up the stories of Judah and Israel. The prophets tell the only story in town, they tell the truth.

That's what happens when the church gets together: If we listen--if we quiet down and listen--we hear the Spirit speaking in ways specific and salvific. In our prayers and liturgy, our passing of Jesus' peace, our sermons and sharings, God is ready to speak. If only we would let go of our stories, our plans and projects and needs and concerns, we would hear the Spirit's whisper of the coming kingdom and the resurrection life now filling the common cup, now filling our veins.

I've been reading a great book by Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way. I'm a big fan of his unfolding series on spiritual theology. (If you check the sidebar list of suggested books, you'll find Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, the first book in the series.) In this volume, he mulls over the ways and means of following Jesus. Jesus does not ask us to follow him in any old way. God's new resurrection life has a particular shape, a Jesus shape. It's a good book.

Peterson spends a lot of time with the prophets--Moses, Elijah, Isaiah of Jerusalem and Isaiah of the Exile. They come out of the wilderness, they come out of the city, they live in exile, and they demand that Yahweh's people follow Yahweh in Yahweh's way. They denounce the imperial aspirations of kings, the commercial rapacity of merchants, the self-satisfied comfort of aristocrats, the panicked grasping for security that causes slave and landowner, beggar and king chase after Baal, god of the thunderclouds, and his consort Asherah, goddess of fertile fields and pregnant bellies.

It's not that the people didn't worship Yahweh. Beggar and king alike would identify themselves with the Yahweh cult (Peterson points to Ahab as a prime example). But their fears and their hopes take first place, and they begin to worship Yahweh in the way the people around them do, as one god among many, as one way to get things done.

I'm not going to list the ways that our hopes and our fears cause us to read the Jesus story, the ways that we write our own stories over God's story. We each can list the lies that rule in our hearts, that drowned out the Spirit's voice.

What I want to know is, "Who are the prophets of our generation?" Who is confronting your church in Chicago or Montana or Macedonia or Russia with God's life-swallowing story lived by Jesus? Let's make a list.
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