To Take Up the Cross

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Mark 8:34-38
34 And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 35 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? 37 For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

This passage in Mark, is one of my favorites. I have mulled it over for many years, coming to different interpretations as I have grown in my ability to understand scripture and matured in my spiritual life. As a result, I have come to the belief it is an important passage because in it lies a key to understanding our veneration of the cross and what Jesus has called us to be.

I am a member of the Westar Institute, a group of theology scholars who study the scripture to find our theological history and discover the true words of Jesus, often called the Jesus Seminar. Not that I do any of that, but I do attend meetings and follow the findings of those who are much better scholars than I am. This past March I attended a lecture by Dr. Arthur J. Dewey at Westar’s Spring Meeting. Dr. Dewey’s lecture was on how the Death of Jesus was remembered. His studies of the crucifixion added a new piece to my understanding of the paradox of the cross. In fact, it changed the way I interpret Jesus’ death on the cross.

First, we must remember Jesus was Jewish, he was not Christian, he was not a Roman, and he wasn’t a gentile of any kind. What He was, was a good, a very good, practicing Jew. And, he knew the meaning of the cross. In the Roman world the cross was a tool of execution for those who defied Rome in some way. It was an instrument of humiliation, torture, and a means to wipe the condemned-out of memory, out of history. After all who would want to admit they knew or were related to someone who died on the cross.

Jesus knew all that, because wherever he went he would have seen the cross with its victims hanging from its arms, big billboards that said; ‘stay in line or this will happen to you.’ Jesus knew if he preached a radicle way of life, a life that would completely change how we live in the world, he would die on that cross. Oh yes, Jesus understood. The Gospel writers knew because they wrote their Gospels to give courage to those who risked their lives by following The Way.

Throughout our church history we have been taught Jesus’ death on the cross is our salvation. We are saved from sin if we believe Jesus died for us on the Roman cross. We are told if we bear our troubles with bravery, confess our sins, and accept that Jesus took those sins away by dying on the cross we will be saved from Hell and its horrors. It is in the power of the cross to save us. What if I told you that is most likely not what Jesus meant?

It is believed Mark was the first Gospel written and that Matthew and Luke copied Mark for their Gospels. What I first found interesting in each of the versions is that Jesus is telling the disciples and the crowd if they want to follow him they must take up a cross, embrace the cross. And, if they denied him and tried to save their lives, they would end up losing their life.

My first inkling that there is more to the scripture than we have normally understood was when I realized that in the synoptic Gospels Jesus doesn’t carry his cross to Golgotha, Simon of Cyrene is pressed into service the minute Jesus is escorted out of the Roman Garrison. In addition, there is a fifth Gospel not included in our cannon, which we have only fragments of, the Gospel of Peter. Fortunately, what did survive was the Passion of Jesus. Dewy and John Dominic Crossan both believe that the Gospel of Peter was written before Mark and represents the earliest beliefs of Jesus’ death and resurrection. They also believe Mark used the Gospel of Peter in writing his Gospel. As the Gospel of Peter tells it, when Jesus is led from the Garrison he is made to ‘run’ to the place of the cross and if he is running he could not have been carrying the heavy beam he was to be nailed to. Mark, and subsequently in Matthew and Luke, follow Peter by not having Jesus carry the cross. So, if in these 4 gospels Jesus doesn’t actually “take up” his own cross what are we supposed to do with the cross? What is the meaning Jesus is trying to make?

Jesus was a teaching a radicle way of life, one that had the power to transform peoples lives and the entire world, if only his disciples were brave enough to follow him. Charles Hambrick-Stowe says:” There is no great theological meaning in martyrdom for an ideal or in death that otherwise results from force, injustice, misunderstanding, or accident.” If the cross doesn’t mean, we will be saved because we carry our burdens like a cross or die because we believe it brings our salvation then it must mean something else.
Ched Myers, in Binding the Strong Man, a political reading of Mark’s story of Jesus, offers 3 meanings that have changed how I understand the cross.

1) “deny yourself;” This isn’t a call to spiritual reflection, this is a call to stand in court, accused of sedition, and not saving yourself from death. It is not denying Jesus, but our own self-denial, we willingly risk our own lives. And, to save our lives we must lose it in the name of Jesus and the Gospel.

This isn’t a self-emptying, this isn’t a spiritual awakening, it is taking up the “cross” and walking to yours and my crucifixion to right injustice. This is not a theological understanding, rather this is a radicle political stand where we put ourselves between the other and danger. It is being in a court of law and given the choice of saving your life or going to the gallows in the name of Jesus. Jesus puts this in economic terms. “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but loses his soul.” To renounce Jesus in or to try to redeem one’s life would be a “bad investment”; for even if it showed a ‘return’ of the whole world, it wouldn’t represent a profit; rather it would be a dead loss; double-jeopardy; fidelity to Jesus has no price.; Everyone has a ‘price,’ everyone that is except Jesus. Jesus revealed that his messiahship means political confrontation with, not rehabilitation of, the imperial state. Those who wish to follow Jesus will risk the test of loyalty under interrogation by state authorities. If self is denied, the cross will be taken up, a metaphor for capital punishment on grounds of insurgency.

2) “take up the cross;” “here Mark’s subversive narrative bursts into the open.” This is a political statement, there is only one purpose for the cross and that is public execution and the total humiliation of its victims. The way Mark writes this phrase is to invite the disciples and those who follow Jesus to share the consequences of the audacity of challenging Roman authority. The Cross symbolizes shame for the convicted and his family. It served the purpose of wiping out the person from memory. Mark’s readers would have understood the implication of Jesus’ words. They would have seen people on the cross, some, if not most, would have had family members or acquaintances crucified. The cross isn’t a representation of salvation, it is symbol of resistance.

3) “follow me;” To follow Jesus means a self-denial that puts our earth-bound lives at risk while saving our souls. This isn’t by being pious, rather it is by getting down and dirty in the trenches of Justice. When we take up a cross it only appears to be a defeat, a triumph of government and their supporters, but actually it is our vindication and their Judgment. We either stand with Jesus, deny ourselves and loose our lives for his sake and the gospel’s or we stand “ashamed” before Jesus and “the angels.” By resisting our fear of losing our lives and pursuing the kingdom of God even at the cost of death, we are contributing to the shattering of the powers’ who reign death over us.

The faith we profess is not a faith of inaction, Jesus told his disciples he didn’t come to bring peace he came to bring a sword. That sword is our bodies standing for the defenseless and speaking and writing for speechless.
These passages in Mark, Matthew, and Luke are not calls of salvation, they are calls to action. We are called to stand between the victims and victimizer. We are called to defend what is right and resist injustice, hate, and cruelty all in the name of Jesus. Jesus knew death on the cross was inevitable, but he did not deny his Father, he refused to back down when it came to overcoming injustice. That is what the call of the cross means. We hold the cross up as a symbol of fighting against injustice, stand for compassion, love, and mercy. The symbol of the cross in today’s world is not passé nor is standing between the voiceless and accuser. Today people are arrested for trying to protect immigrant children and their parents. They are defending women, immigrants, members of LBGTQ community and people of color who are under attack. People are lifting up their voices in a chorus demanding that our rights be preserved. You are those people, I know many of you have marched, spoken up, and cared, for the defenseless. We are a community that has heard the call and have responded, young or old we stand up to be counted.
Today, our world continues to be torn apart by those who would have us believe that the defenseless have no rights, we must continue to choose to take up our own crosses, in whatever way we are able to. We must be willing to defend the undefended, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, provide homes for the homeless, and welcome the strangers who come to us. To spread the word that injustice has no part in our world by writing, speaking, marching, and screaming if we must. We must act despite opposition by those who in denying Jesus and his call continue to harm the defenseless and the voiceless and dismember the freedoms we have gained over in more than 250 years.

Jesus did not teach us a faith of only contemplation, it is also a faith of rebellion. None of this is an easy choice to make, but choosing the radicle life Jesus lays out for us has never been easy, otherwise our world would be a very different place. In the last 2000 years only a few have had the courage to accept that challenge. All of them met death knowing they were faithful to Jesus’ teachings.
We too have challenges to accept and while we won’t me hung on a cross, and hopefully not face physical death, we could be destroyed financially or socially. The good news is every time someone accepts that challenge we get closer to be the community we were meant to be. Yes, contemplation is very important, without it we would be unable to hear God and Christ give us the strength to carry on. But contemplation without action is a withdrawal from the world, of saving only ourselves and a denial of the ministry given to us.

Ruth Jewell, ©August 8, 2018, To Take Up The Cross was a Sermon I preached at Queen Anne Christian Church, July 15, 2018

Dewey, Arthur J.; Inventing the Passion, how the death of Jesus was Remembered, Polebridge Press, Salem OR, 2017
Myers, Ched; Binding the Strong Man, a Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 2008, 20th anniversary edition

“And the Lord Grieved”

“And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth,
and it grieved him to his heart.”  – Genesis 6:6, NRSV)

fire rainbow b
Fire Rainbow Taken Spring 2015

This past weekend I was asked by a Facebook friend to comment on the following meme from the Celtic Christian Tradition.

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” (www.facebook.com/CelticChristianTradition, April 30, 2016)

My friend is not a believer in Christianity but he and I have had many an interesting online discussion on faith and beliefs.  I have always found him to be an open minded and intelligent person and so I gladly responded to his request to comment.

“Well I don’t know if saying you believe in Jesus but don’t actually follow his teachings is a cause of atheism or not, but it certainly is the cause of so many to question the values of Christianity.  Just saying you believe in Jesus is like saying the ‘Sun rises in the East,’ it’s a statement. Being faithful to the teachings of Jesus however means you are loyal to those teachings and practice them, or at least do you your best to try, every day.  If you only use the words to carry a message of hate, domination and greed then you have become separated from God and are not longer the blessing you are meant to be.

There is Good in everything, human, animal, plant, all creation and it doesn’t matter how you see the Good.  It only matters that you do.  The Good is what keeps each of us rising up every morning, keeps us loving our neighbors regardless of who they are and keeps us part of the human family.  To deny the Good in anyone, any creature, any part of creation is to be cut off from what makes each of us human. I listen to the hatful rhetoric spouted each day in the news and I don’t see people of faith, I see lost souls, people cut off from what is good and right in our world, and that makes me very sad.

You know I call the Good God, but that is how I see the good in the world.  You see the Good in a different way, a way that gives you peace and a path to follow that is good in the world.  Others see the Good in other ways, but, no matter how we explain the Good to ourselves it is all the same Good. The name may be different but it is still what is Good and Right in the world. We all have the capacity to find and see the Good, whether we are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Atheist.  The Good is still there in the world, universe, all creation and as long as some of us are able to find, see, and honor the Good in each other and creation gives me hope that we will have a world to live in.

I look for the Good in those that hat that is what my tradition tells me to do. But even if that wasn’t part of my tradition I would still look because to otherwise brings me down to the level of those who hat and I don’t want to go there.  If those of us who believed in what is Good were a little more vocal we would drown out the voices of hate and all would know there are still people in this world who believe in doing good rather than speaking hate.”

After I wrote this I recognized how sad it is that there are so many who cannot, or will not see what is Good and Right in this world.  Everything in creation was created good, there was nothing evil or bad about anything brought into being.  Genesis 1:31a reads “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Every morning I see just how good creation is when I feel the warmth of the rising sun and hear the morning songs of birds.  So in my eyes the God is still active in the world I live in. Every creature in all creation is meant to be a blessing to all of creation and to be otherwise is to separate from God and all that is good.  To live outside of the love and light of God hurts God as much as it hurts those living in hate and darkness.  When God’s beloved creatures did first did evil God’s heart was broken (Genesis 6:6).  When we who are human do evil and practice hate instead of love and pretend it is what God wants, when we are not the blessing we are meant to be God calls out to us in pain in sorrow, “not in my Name.”

Every day the news media is filled with the words and images of people professing to be people of faith whose actions do not reflect a faith of any tradition.  So many people who call themselves people of faith in one breath prove they are not in the next breath when they deny the teachings of love, compassion and justice by spouting words of hate and denying justice to those in need.  Yet we who try to be followers of God, or the Good in the world, are enabling these lost souls by not speaking out against the injustice or not standing with those in need.  So we are not innocent by any means.

What do we do then?  We who stand for justice, mercy and compassion need to be the Isaiah’s, Micah’s, and Jeremiah’s of our day. Like the Apostles we need to be the ones who speak with love and compassion, letting those who speak hate that we know them for what they are, lost, wounded, souls and that we are sad for them and will stand with their victims.  None of that is easy, and we cannot expect to change everyone overnight, but, being who we are, blessings to the world, changes the world a little bit at a time.  Kindness and compassion never goes unrewarded and even in the darkest moment the single candle we light shines brighter than then darkness around it.

Ruth Jewell, ©May 2, 2016

Blessed are those – Prayerful Tuesday

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Matthew 5:6

homeless, by Peter Griffin, PublicDomainPictures.net
homeless, by Peter Griffin, PublicDomainPictures.net

What does it mean to “hunger and thirst” for righteousness? What Jesus was saying is better understood if we understand how the 1st century audience understood righteousness.  A person listening to this scripture in the 1st century would have heard righteousness as justice; so those who “hunger and thirst for justice “will find justice.   However, at least if you listen to the news media, it doesn’t seem as though justice is a priority today.

In this land of so much abundance there are too many who are hungry, homeless, and lost in a world of mental disability and addictions.  Last Tuesday I volunteered at Common Ground in Everett.  About 40 homeless and hungry people and one sweet dog showed up between 8 am and 12 noon, for coffee, tea, sandwiches and snacks.  For 4 hours, 4 days a week people who live on the streets find a warm place to talk, play a few board games, drink coffee and eat snacks, or just sleep in a safe place.

Each and every one of the people served by this small shelter was hungry for justice.  Some are homeless due to alcohol abuse or chemical addictions. Some have mental illnesses, too many are veterans suffering from PTSD.  Some are young people thrown out of their homes by their parents and some are homeless through no real fault of their own.  Some have committed crimes that prevent them from getting a job, but that is a smaller percentage than most people think. Many are homeless because they lost their job and are unable to find another one.  It is one reason why some 50 something’s are on the street.  They were living paycheck to paycheck and when the paycheck was lost so was their housing and everything else.

Every single visitor to Common Ground only wanted enough to survive on, a clean place to live, enough food to eat, and clean clothes to wear.  Is that too much to ask? Each person wanted to be recognized for the person they are, with all the wounds and scars that living a life produces.  Is that such a hard thing to ask for?

Homelessness, hunger, illness aren’t sins or crimes, even though they are often treated that way.  Homelessness is the dirty little secret we want to hide away and tell ourselves it can’t happen to me, or those we love.  Well, the truth is losing your home, and/or your family, everything you hold dear can be lost in a moment. When it happens, you very well may end up on the street asking yourself what happened.

The spiritual practice for the week is to recognize the people on the streets as our brothers and sister, our aunts and uncles, our mothers and fathers.    You might carry with you an extra sandwich, or candy bar and when you meet someone offer it to them.  They may refuse, but most likely they will accept. Shake their hand and let them know you recognize them for who they are, a child of God, a child of humanity. If you are in the position to speak up for those on the street then find a way to do it.  If you are able to volunteer at a shelter the life lesson you receive will change how you view your own life of comfort and abundance.  Even if you believe you have very little it is still more than what those on the streets have.  They believe you are rich, and in meeting them face to face you will recognize how rich you are.  You probably are saying that’s not a spiritual practice but it is spirituality in action, practicing what we are taught in the Gospels.  It does no good to pray if the prayer is not followed up with meaningful action.

May each of you find the Divine in the face of a hungry man, woman, or child and may you be righteous offering justice for those in need.

Ruth Jewell, ©February 23, 2016

on being human—Prayerful Tuesday

Nursing an Ebola Victim Picture by Dr. Rudyard, Health Pictures
Nursing an Ebola Victim
Picture by Dr. Rudyard, Health Pictures

Matthew 25: 36 “I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

One of the books I read while I was on my sabbatical was Fields of Blood, Religion and the History of Violence by Karen Armstrong.[1]  As always I was impressed with her writing and level of scholarship but more than that in this book Ms Armstrong lays out the reasons for our love of violence and power.

Right at the beginning she identifies one of the factors in our continuing struggle between living in a harmonious world or living in a power driven world, the construction of our brains.  We have 3 brains, the old brain or reptilian brain is responsible for our fight or flight actions. It drives us to defend our territory for food and other resources, it is the self-centered part of the brain, most concerned with keep ourselves safe; the mammalian limbic system, which formed over the core of the reptilian brain is our second brain. It is responsible for new behaviors such as care of our young and the formation of allies with others; and the new brain, the third brain, the neocortex, is responsible for our “reasoning and self awareness that enables us to stand back from the instinctive, primitive passions.” (pg 4-5)

Ms. Armstrong proposes that the reptilian brain and limbic system are dominant within power systems that manipulate and control others.  The limbic system extended the actions of the reptilian brain to include family or a community unity but, still, this drive for power and control of others for territory and resources requires violence.  It wasn’t until about 20,000 years ago when the neocortex evolved did the idea of standing back and evaluating actions was there any question about the use of violence. Humanity really didn’t have a chance of becoming a reality until after the evolution of the neocortex and we have yet to learn how to  use the “new brain” to begin to evolve into who we are meant to be.  By this I mean most of us haven’t learned to overcome the impulses of the reptilian brain and limbic system and use our neocortex to evaluate our surroundings or our actions.  In general we humans are “subject to conflicting impulses of [our] three distinct brains.” (pg. 5)

Fortunately there is hope for us all.  A few of us are developing our neocortex’s and discovering what it means to be truly human.  I was listening to NPR this past Sunday morning when a story about Dr. Kent Brantly was broadcast. Dr. Brantly was one of the American Doctors who contracted Ebola last year and survived.  He was asked to deliver the graduating speech to the 2015 graduating class of the Indiana University School of Medicine.  What he says about compassion is important for all of us to hear (italics are mine):

“In the first seven weeks of treating patients with Ebola, we had only one survivor; one survivor and nearly 20 deaths. Losing so many patients certainly was difficult. But it didn’t make me feel like a failure as a physician because I had learned that there’s a lot more to being a physician than curing illness. In fact, that isn’t even the most important thing we do. The most important thing we do is to enter into the suffering of others. And in the midst of what was becoming the worst Ebola epidemic in history, we were showing compassion to people during the most desperate and trying times of their lives. Through the protection of Tyvek suits and two pairs of gloves, we were able to hold the hands of people as they died to offer dignity in the face of humiliating circumstances, to treat with respect the dying and the dead. And in my opinion, that made those weeks, those difficult weeks of my career a success.”[2]

Compassion isn’t offering help, it is being with the suffering of others, it is living the suffering, walking together down a road you may or may not know where it leads.  That is what Jesus did.  He entered into the suffering of others, he walk the road to where ever they were headed, that is one, maybe the first, step to becoming human.  Dr. Brantly has taken a step on a road most of us are afraid to even look at let along step onto.  The Prophet Micah tells us “He has told you, O mortal, what is good and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). To do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God, sounds easy does it not?  Ask Dr. Brantly how easy it was for him and he will tell you it is the hardest road you will ever walk, but if we wish to be the humans God has always wanted us to be it is a road we must walk.

This week my spiritual practice is more of a spiritual way of life.  I would like to invite you on a journey with me to become the “human” God wants us all to be.  To look at our actions by taking a step back and asking ourselves the following questions (I am sure there are more than these and please let me know what you would ask):

  1. Does this action support justice or impede justice?
  2. Is this action a loving act?
  3. Does that action move me closer to God or does it separate me from God?

Simple questions, but, sometimes hard to answer.  Our lives are filled with gray areas and we will need to determine how those gray, in between, spaces fit into our lives and either nurture or kill the life we want with God. This is not an easy practice or an easy way to live but I believe, at least for myself, a profitable one.  I know I will stumble and so will you.  That’s OK, just pick yourself up and start over again.  Failure is a lesson in how not to do something.  Loving life as God meant it to be was and is never easy.  Just remember you are not alone.

Ruth Jewell ©May 19, 2015

[1] Armstrong, Karen’ Fields of Blood, Religion and the History of Violence, The Bodley Head, London, UK, 2014.

[2] National Public Radio: Rachel Martin interview Dr. Kent Brantly, May 17, 2015, All Things Considered Sunday Edition.

For Unto Us – Prayerful Tuesday

John 1:1-5  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

The Nativity, Bartolomé Estaban Murillo, (1617-1682)
The Nativity,
Bartolomé Estaban Murillo, (1617-1682)

 

This is one of my favorite paintings of the birth of Jesus.  There is just something about the expressions on Mary and Josephs faces as they look at the new small being in their life that draws me in.  I once saw the original in the Boston Museum of Art and this tiny painting on black slate captivated me as no others have.

However, I must admit that despite loving this painting, I don’t see the nativity as an actual historical event.  It has been a long time since I believed in the virgin birth. I am a scientist by training and I know that while ‘virgin’ births do happen in nature, it’s called parthenogenesis, they only occur in certain species of worms and small crustaceans called daphnids.   So this event was a no go for me not long after my first serious biology class. But the importance of the birth story is not in history, it is in the symbolism of new life breaking into the world in the form of God within the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  New life, not of a baby’s, rather a new life lived in a world where all achieve their God given potential. Living in the world as Jesus did, with limitless love and compassion, offering justice and mercy to those who are in need, and offering a peace that fills the soul. Well then again maybe it is like the birth of a baby, for we all experience new insights as new birth within us.

So why I may not believe Jesus was born in an actual stable I do believe he was been born in the stables, and dark corners of our minds, societies, and cultures.  Jesus is the one who birthed new life in those dark recesses of our hearts and minds.  Who lit up the alley ways where suffering, pain, and violence reside bringing the light of love to those who were the unlovable.  In prayer and action we, you and I, continue to carry that light.  We take it to prisons, hospitals, hospice rooms, to the homeless, to the hungry, to anyone in need of the light provided by “The Way.”  At least we are supposed to.

Today I ask you to use the above painting for your Prayerful Tuesday Meditation using Visio Divina.

Visio Divina

  1. Look at the painting slowly, taking a first glance and noting the colors, people, places and things.  Remain with the image for one to two minutes. If you would like, jot down a few words about the image.
  2. Take a second, deeper, look. Where is there movement? What relationships do you see? Engage your imagination. Where are you in the artwork? What do you see from that perspective? What deeper meaning emerges? What moves you in this painting? Does it draw you in or call to you in any particular way?
  3.  Respond to the image with prayer. Did the image remind you of an experience, person or issue for which you’d like to offer thanksgiving or intercession? Offer that prayer to God.
  4. Find your quiet center. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders, arms and legs. Rest in this quiet. Let God pray in you. God prays beyond words.

May you be blessed with the birthing of new life within you.  Merry Christmas everyone.

Ruth Jewell, ©December 23, 2014

A Conversation with a Psalmist –Prayerful Tuesday

Come Lord Jesus, hear our prayer
Come Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer

As I am personally preparing for  Christmas I have been disturbed by the amount of violence and death around the world.  Peace on earth does not seem near. So as part of my morning ritual I have been doing Lectio Divina with the Psalms.  They have brought me some comfort but this Psalm struck a chord within me and I wanted to share that with you.  So this is a little different from most of my postings, as it is part of my journaling during my meditation. I am letting you in on a small part of my conversations I held with the Psalmist and God.  They are my insights of the moment, so if I say something you disagree with please be gentle, it is after all a private conversation you are overhearing.  At the end of my journaling you will find the steps for Lectio Divina.  For your own Lectio Divina meditation you may use the whole Psalm, as I did, or only a verse or two.

Psalm 10, The Message (MSG)

 1-2 God, are you avoiding me?
    Where are you when I need you?
Full of hot air, the wicked
    are hot on the trail of the poor.
Trip them up, tangle them up
    in their fine-tuned plots.

I am in the process of preparing for a Longest Night worship service and in reading this Psalm I was struck by how it matched my gut feelings this Advent.   Every day the news is filled with stories from around the world of someone killing someone one else, often many someone’s.  Just last night news came of a hostage situation in Sidney, Australia, just one more story to add to the Ferguson, New Town, Cleveland, Seattle, Portland, Houston, Afghanistan, and Iraq stories of the last number of years.  The list is too long, too many people have died, and too many children have died.  Like the Psalmist I am left wondering “where are you God.”

3-4 The wicked are windbags,
    the swindlers have foul breath.
The wicked snub God,
    their noses stuck high in the air.
Their graffiti are scrawled on the walls:
    “Catch us if you can!” “God is dead.”

This is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration but I do not feel like celebrating.  Our elected leader’s mouth words from the Bible I read every day, yet, their actions tell me they do not believe what they speak.  Are they wicked?  Are they windbags?  Well the wicked part can only be determined by God but the windbag part . . ..  Yes they are windbags, hoping that we who at least try to live a life of compassion will not notice their plans to take the last ounce of God’s abundance all for themselves.  They write bills and say “try and stop me, from denying the basic necessities to those who cannot help being poor, sick, elderly, or a child.

5-6 They care nothing for what you think;
    if you get in their way, they blow you off.
They live (they think) a charmed life:
    “We can’t go wrong. This is our lucky year!”

These insufferable, so called leaders lie and twist the truth until even the best of us are confused and dazed by the avalanche of untruths they let loose on the public. Whether they are religious fundamentalist, political leaders, in the United States, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, British Isles or anywhere they claim the spotlight and they believe no one can stop them.  They are on a role and the rest of us “be damned.”

7-8 They carry a mouthful of hexes,
    their tongues spit venom like adders.
They hide behind ordinary people,
    then pounce on their victims.

They mark the luckless,
    then wait like a hunter in a blind;
When the poor wretch wanders too close,
    they stab him in the back.

10-11 The hapless fool is kicked to the ground,
    the unlucky victim is brutally axed.
He thinks God has dumped him,
    he’s sure that God is indifferent to his plight.

The words they spit from their mouths cause fear in those who have minds that are weak and malleable. Letting these poor souls do the violence they pretend to abhor only to turn on them when they caught in their snares.

12-13 Time to get up, God—get moving.
The luckless think they’re Godforsaken.
They wonder why the wicked scorn God
and get away with it,
Why the wicked are so cocksure
they’ll never come up for audit.

We wait for you O God to respond, to let us know you haven’t forgotten us.  We wait and we wait.

14 But you know all about it—
    the contempt, the abuse.
I dare to believe that the luckless
    will get lucky someday in you.
You won’t let them down:
    orphans won’t be orphans forever.

The Psalmist sings of your knowledge of the violence we see every day.  But do you really hear the cries of the children who have lost limbs to bombs, to parents who have watched as their children are killed in front of them, as ISIS hangs those with different beliefs, as children shoot children?  Have we not sent enough children, parents, loved ones to you to serve as a sacrifice?  Do you care?

15-16 Break the wicked right arms,
    break all the evil left arms.
Search and destroy
    every sign of crime.
God’s grace and order wins;
    godlessness loses.

My heart wants to believe as the Psalmist did that you will intervene in the bloodletting of this world, but I know you will not.  It is not up to you, O God, to set this world back on the track of compassion, justice and peace.  That really is our job.  We are the ones who created these people who mock everything you have wanted for all.  We are the ones who must “gird up our loins” and speak out against injustice, violence, hatred, and war.  Only we who believe in justice, mercy, kindness, peace, compassion will change the lives of those who are oppressed, abused, injured, and starved by those who mock the world as you, O God, planned it.  We must stop cowering in our homes and our places of faith and become the prophets, the messengers, the hands, feet and voice that will bring down those who would enslave us to a life of poverty and misery.  Then, and only then, will the Psalmist’s dream come true.

17-18 The victim’s faint pulse picks up;
    the hearts of the hopeless pump red blood
    as you put your ear to their lips.
Orphans get parents,
    the homeless get homes.
The reign of terror is over,
    the rule of the gang lords is ended.

Gracious Spirit I thank you for this time of blessed meditation.  May the words and images I have seen transform my actions into walking with you in greater joy.  AMEN

Practicing Lectio Divina

  1. Choose the portion of the Scripture you wish to pray.
  2. Place yourself in a comfortable position and allow yourself to become silent, focus for a few moments on your breathing.
  3. Read the chosen text through, slowly and gently. Listen to yourself read, let yourself to savor each word and phrase.
  4. Read the text a second time. What words or phrases stick out for you? Remember God speaks to us in silence and in our listening. The words that pop out do so for a reason, pay attention to them.
  5. Read the text a third time. Are there any other words that speak to you?
  6. Sit now in silence, letting the words you have heard, speak to you and for you in your prayer, your conversation with God. What images, ideas, words spring forward?  Or maybe all of them are present in mediation.  Sit with those insights as you experience the presence of God.  Give your insights to God.  Do the insights give you new meaning or transformation of your actions, or prayer life?
  7. Now rest in God’s arms. Let God’s presence give you comfort. Do you feel the pull to return to your meditations? Then begin again. If not close with a prayer of gratitude for the time you have spent in God’s presence and the insights you have received.

Ruth Jewell, ©December 16, 2014

All Means ALL

All means ALL
All means ALL

My thoughts over the last couple of months have been over whelmed by the violence, the bullying, the tragedy, and the anger that has played across my TV screen, computer, radio and newspaper in the last couple of months.  I have seen the quote by some famous person that reads “those who keep silent in the face of evil are giving their approval,” or the pictures’ displaying one perspective versus another and which one has the greatest validity.  I am left speechless and in pain.  Yes I have heard that even one small act of mercy changes someone and I have used those very words myself many times. Do what you can and ‘wait,’ wait for minds to change, or for hearts to open,  . . . wait for what.

The scripture for Sunday came from Isaiah and begins with “Comfort, O Comfort my people” (40:1), but, I’m sorry I don’t feel that comfort.  I offer prayers, I read, and I listen.  I volunteer at the King County Juvenile Detention Center, here at church, and lead the occasional spiritual retreat and labyrinth walk, yet, except for Juvenile Detention CTR, I feel as if I am “preaching to the choir,” so to speak.  Where in all of these days of suffering, and confusion does the offering come that provides more than my comfort and brings a justly faithful, hopeful, loving comfort to those who do not share my skin color, or language, or culture, or gender, or abilities, or whatever makes them different from the so called “main stream” of the population.

This meditation was intended to be an inspirational moment.  But I am not feeling very inspirational, just too much has happened in the last couple of months.  So I ask your forgiveness for talking through some of my thoughts.  I live in a world that appears to be falling apart as I sit my comfortable, warm home.  I keep asking what will stop the building blocks our lives from tumbling into the abyss.

I am afraid we are headed into a storm of our own making that will destroy us.  We won’t need to be invaded, no; we are doing a grand job of destruction all by ourselves.   Voices of change and compassion, justice, mercy, and peace are drowned out by hateful speech by bullies in high places.  The actions and words of those high placed bullies give permission to those who fear the unknown to be violent and destructive at the ground roots level.  Hateful speech and actions becomes a cancer eating away at our will to fight against justice and mercy.

So I sit in my little home office, offering prayers, and volunteering when the opportunity arises.  I do my small acts that I pray are being added to other small acts, but I don’t know if any of it will be enough. Our denominations GLBQ organization used the slogan “All Means ALL” at our last national General Assembly.  They wanted to get the message across that everyone matters, despite gender identification, skin color, religion, or culture everyone is important.  There are very few slogans I actually believe in, but I believe in that one.  If I can do nothing other than let each and every person know how much they matter in my life, in the life of my Faith Community, and in the life of the greater community we are all part of then I have done the best I can.  That will have to be enough.

Ruth Jewell, ©December 8, 2014