Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Word made Flesh.

Then I said I was a poet, a love poet. You would have thought the group of young Christian from the Bible Study just thought I said that I was a closet pagan by their reaction. Interesting. I have run into similar reaction through my life as a Christian. Saying I am a Christian and a poet seems like a contradiction to many Christians. But I have learned to have an answer, and yes it is Biblical.

There are, of course, Christian poets. Though many of the best, think Denise Levertov  or Galway Kinnell, are largely unknown to greater evangelical world. Many of the popular poetry in Christian circles has too strong a scent of sentimentality to move us deeply. The sentimental only reinforces and never creates, hence it has more value for greeting cards. Most of this poetry is written in an artificial formalism with a forced rhyming scheme. I write serious poetry, and add to this that I write love poetry and I am an odd fit for many Christians.

I have also run into the reverse problem, though, especially when I was in Seminary. When some Christians find out that I am a poet, they confess they too are poets. They show me their poems. They would confuse self-conscious shocking or anger toward other Christian for profundity.. Most of this verse would be written a chopped up prose pretending to be free verse. The idea that poetry is an art with the art form was foreign. This has always been a mystery to me. I think that because I studied poetics before I converted made me aware of this large tradition of poetics. I write poetry because I love reading it, which leads me to say my answer to those who gave me weird looks because I writing poetry.

I remember an Old Testament professor with the proper academic suspicion of poetry needling me for writing poetry. Why would I waste time writing such stuff. I answered by asking him why was most of the Bible written in verse? Maybe God loves the poet. Certainly he loved King David.  The mystery to me is how can Christian read so much poetry and completely miss the poetry.

Today is Valentines Day. I wrote a book of love poems. And here is one I worte  for my wife. I understand God’s love of poetry.

The Splendor of Living Blood

Let us make a bargain. Let us make a covenant
to stand before our love, covering up our death
with the new life. Together. Let me hear your mind
grinding out more of love’s accord. Let us shake

hands, and let love quake us out of our complicacy
and into eating salty bread. Let us get drunk
on the love of a wine that bursting open our old
skins. Shower us. Stain us. Stamp us in love.

Let this form our conversations and binds us.
Death will not see us, and we can hold each
other with the words fleshed out. We can then
live in peace. Our history and our future extending

out into our greeting. Embracing, and caressing
the shoulders of our love. Let us enter this bargain.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lead to Gold or Sinner to Saint

Sermon delivered at the hang house Church Spokane Wa,
 Feb, 6, 2011

The plan was simple. Mary would pick up her one year old granddaughter, Sarah in New Jersey and fly her back to Mary’s house in Albuquerque. Her daughter and Son-in-law, Elise and John would then take off for their weeklong conference in Los Angeles. The parents then would pick Sarah after spending a few days in Albuquerque and fly home to New Jersey. Followed that? Simple, right?Grandma would spend almost two weeks with her granddaughter, and the parents get to go to their conference with a peace of mind. Everything seemed to start alright. The Shuttle picked up Mary and Sarah on time to get to the airport for flight. The problem started with a long delay in their layover stop in Atlanta. There was a large storm hitting Chicago and many flights were diverted causing all sorts of delays. What was suppose to be just an hour and a half layover turned into five. At hour three in the Atlanta airport, Mary noticed a strangely familiar woman approaching her. While she looked familiar, Mary could not quite place her. Mary picked up the sleeping Sarah and walked over to the woman and said,

“Pardon me miss, you looking very familiar to me. Do I know you?”
“Mom, I just saw you just five hours ago. John and I had to come through Atlanta because American canceled our flight through Chicago to LA.” Elise answered.
The problem for Mary was that the familiar was now in a strange context. She did not expect to see her daughter in Atlanta, so she didn’t recognize her. Our text for Today is seemly the exact opposite. We are so use to it, salt losing it saltiness, that we tend ignore it how strange it really is. Sometime we fall asleep because the familiar. I asked my wife in preparation what would be a woman being if she lost her womenliness. My wife is a very smart woman, and she looked at me strangely. A woman without womanliness is no woman at all. Why would I ask such a crazy question? You could do so with almost anything to show strange Jesus’ words are. What is a song without its songingness? A book without is bookiness. Light without its lightness? What is cheese without its cheesiness? Or me without my cheesiness? What is a thing that no longer has its nature? It would be made into something else. Salt without its saltiness would be something other than salt.
If we look at the rest of our text, and the strangeness continues. A city in the hill is visible to all seems self-evident. But how can feel anything but guilt from Jesus’ words about letting our light shine if we read this as advice on how to behave. How many of us think that we show the world how good we are all the time? If you are like me, I certainly don’t do enough good to be thought of as a light to the world, letting times and opportunities when I could help others slip pass me. As St Paul put it best, we all fall short even at our best. To follow such advice would only lead to living life in a constant state of regret. Where is the grace in these famous verses?
Add to this the last part of our passage that seems to contradict St Paul. Are we to keep all of the 622 laws of Moses? This is also depressing for me as I have had my fair share of thigh meat. Dark meat is cheaper at KFC after all. For those of you didn’t know, this is part of the law. We are forbidden to eat thigh meat out of respect for Jacob and his throwing out his thigh joint while wrestling with God.
Wrestling with God can be dangerous, as most of you know. If I read it right, if I tell you its okay to eat thigh meat, then I will be the least in the Kingdom. If we take Jesus’ words from our strength then we will be far out of joint from the Kingdom indeed.
Looking at the verses from our context, they do start to look strange, vaguely familiar, but strange none the less. Followed that? Lets go up and get a closer at our text to see what Jesus could mean.
Then, Jesus, just like Elise to her mother, says, “Hey, don’t you recognize me? Its me, Jesus, God incarnate, your savior.”
It is not the text but our context that makes them strange. They are not self-help advice to given on Oprah’s last show. Looking at the text from Jesus perspective suddenly things look different than simple advice to be followed. We are salt of the world when we are transformed by being with Jesus. Jesus was the one who was thrown out and trampled on; we call this the cross of Jesus. Yet, no matter how many cross we put Jesus on: History, silence, ignorance, money, justification, self- righteousness. Jesus resurrects and brings life once again. Jesus always brings life.
We are the light of the world, but who lit us up, Jesus. It is Jesus that places us on the stand to shine. For look carefully at the verse, we are called the light of the earth, not the one who lights the world. Our job is not to show the world our light, but to spend time with Jesus; Jesus will light us, and the light of Jesus will shine out through us like a city on the hill. Jesus’ love then put us where he wants us to shine.
Jesus says he is the fulfillment of the law, and it is interesting that he takes the most common complaint about his ministry, that he is leading people away from the law and turns it on it head. Jesus makes himself and his love the point of the law. Then it makes sense what St Paul says in Romans, if one loves he fulfills the law. When one who has the light of the world shine through him, the law fulfills without effort. I remember understanding this best seeing a little girl, no more than three, who, when ask about where God was, she pointed outside to the beautiful spring and then found herself suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit. She was fully alive and she just wanted to help the pastor pick up the bibles in the church. We all thought it was cute, but more than cute, it says something profound about being in the presence of God.
Once Jesus transforms us then we keep the law by our very being alive, by our being God’s beloved. Our very being is owned by Jesus’ love. This complex process is simple know by a simple phrase, “We are saved by Grace.”

But how are we saved and transformed? How does a sinner lose his sininess and becomes filled with love? This seems to be a contradiction. How does lead become gold? For thousands of years that was the dream of Alchemists. Find the magic potion to turn cheap common and poisonous lead into precious, pure and beautiful gold. They failed largely due to the fact that it takes an incredible amount of energy to turn the nature of something into another. Yet, it is possible.

Contemporary Scientists have succeeded in doing what the ancients long dreamed about. Today, we can now turn lead into gold, though process is such that it cost far more in energy and effort than it is worth. What happens is by a shedding of three protons from the nucleus of the lead atom, making it into gold.
Turning of the sinner from cheap, common and poisonous into precious, pure and beautiful is also costly. Praise be to God that God was and is willing to make the effort and spend all of the energy of the Cross for our sake.

One of the reasons I love the Gospel of Mark is how harsh it is to Peter. Peter in that gospel is shown to be impetuous, slow in understanding Jesus, unfaithful at the wrong times. In short is closer to us than to Jesus. Yet, tradition says that Mark was Peter’s personal assistant and his Gospel is nothing more than his notes on Peter’s testimony. What we see in Mark is the process of how being with Jesus turns Peter’s leadness into God’s goldness. We see what happens when we spend time with Jesus.

So, I will ask you for the next week send five minutes with Jesus, preferably in the morning. Look for the eyes of Jesus in those you meet. I don’t know if this will your life easier like good Oprah advice; I do know that t will make you feel more alive. Come to think about it, be with Jesus’ words for just five minutes a day: Love your lord with all you heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.
God will turn your lead into gold.

Amen

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Power of Imagination

I have always wondered what it is like to see in 3D. Being blind in one eye has made forever see in just two. Playing basketball, tennis, hiking, during so many times in my life, I have always try to imagine what it must be like to see in 3D.

I heard a program about a person who for her entire life saw only in two dimensions, then by awaking her imagination and the help of a development doctor she was able to seeingseeing in three dimensions. Her view of the world opened up so much after learning to see in 3D. Part of the process in learning to imagine the ability before.

What fascinated me was the power of imagination. We are imagination poor with all of our high tech movies. We don’t have to imagine a hurricane or a war, Hollywood can do it for us. Special effects can make a man fly, a space ship go past the speed of light, but it cripples us when it comes to a constructive use of imagination. Imagination is used to drive us away from reality. The fact the movies can so easily create the illusion of returning from the dead makes us less impressed by the Gospel.

The true power if imagination is it can be used to drive us toward reality and others. Jesus command about treating others as you would have treat you, is an ethic based on imagination. I have to imagine what would like for the other in order to act. I imagine what it must be like to be a pregnant young mother with your husband in the hospital and you sick with two sick children. I have a friend in this exact situation and I imagine her distress. It makes more compassionate.

Usually, imagination, the bring forth in the mind what is not there, is thought of as escapist form of avoiding reality, frivolous and apart from the serious part of life. We have created another word for imagination to try to handle the more serious form, visualize. To visualize is to imagine but to do it for what is important. What to succeed, we tell ourselves to first visualize it. But it is still to imagine.

Imagination is a skill that needs to always be exercised, or like under-worked muscles, it atrophies. It is a spiritual disciple to imagine life of God incarnate, Jesus. It transforms us.

I am resolve to, for just ten minutes a day, to imagine a scene from Jesus' life, and not to put myself in the scene. It is too easy to make myself a hero in the narrative, and read myself into the story. I want to start seeing better spiritually, to see in 3D.