Monday, August 29, 2016

They Will Know Us by Our Singing (and Our Love)

Earlier this summer, I was part of a group from church who had 5 weeks of ukulele lessons.  We had such a great time that we decided to keep meeting once a month.  Yesterday was our first meeting.

We could bring music to share or a piece to sing by ourselves.  My spouse spent some time yesterday afternoon looking for a piece we could present, him on violin and me on ukulele.  In the end, we just didn't have enough time.  He can see a piece and play it fairly easily.  I am still having trouble shifting chords.

We did find a version of "They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love" with only 2 chords.  My spouse asked if I thought that everyone would know that song.  Given that our group skews somewhat older, born before 1968, I was pretty sure that we would.  And we did.

When I first found the chords and strummed them, I couldn't make them go with the song that I remembered.  But in a group, with more of us singing and strumming, with the upright bass and the violin, it sounded just fine.

I thought of how many groups I've been in who have sung this song.  Would they be surprised by our ukulele rendition?  Probably not.

It's no wonder we still sing that song--it's fairly simple, with lots of repetition, which makes it easy to remember.  The theology isn't troubling.

The minute I typed those words, I started wondering about the people who might find it troubling.  They might ask about creeds, about choosing Jesus above all.  They might argue that we can love each other without being Christian.

But if we're Christian and we don't love each other, I'd argue that we've failed in a most basic way.  We can still be redeemed, of course.  But we do need to love each other, in all the ways that we know how.

Sharing a meal and singing together is a great way to start.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Job's Happy Ending

On Sunday, Aug. 28, we finish our reading of Job with this passage:  Job 42:7-17.  In this passage we seem to see Job enjoying a classic happy ending:  new wife, new children, fortunes restored.  How do we interpret this ending?

One standard--but troubling!--way to interpret this ending is to see it as Job's reward for being faithful.  One way this approach troubles modern theologians is the interpretation of faithfulness: is he faithful because he talks to God and listens when God responds?  Is he faithful because he stays true to God, even in the midst of suffering?  How much are we expected to endure?

As a 21st century reader, I'm troubled because I know that Christianity has a history of holding up examples like the one we see in Job as a way to encourage people to put up with difficult situations without trying to change the structures that make the difficulty possible.  I'm thinking of generations of women encouraged to stay with their abusive husbands.  I'm thinking of Civil Rights workers being told to suffer and wait for society to catch up with them.

I'm also troubled because Job seems to leave his old family behind and move on to the replacement family, but that probably says more about me.  I'm trying to see this ending as a presentation of Job embracing life and learning to live and love again.

Here's a more radical interpretation:  theologian  Kathryn M. Schifferdecker says, "Job's fortunes are restored. He (and presumably Mrs. Job) have more children, and he gives his daughters names befitting their great beauty and an inheritance along with their brothers (an unheard-of act in that patriarchal culture). In other words, Job learns to govern his world the way God governs God's world: with great delight in his children's beauty and freedom. Like God, Job gives his children the freedom to be who they were created to be."

I wonder how my relationships would change if I, too, could be more like Job at the end and God--if I could give those around me the freedom to be who they were created to be.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Who Is the Gameboard?

As I've watched people around me struggle with a variety of issues, I've also been observing whether or not they feel they have any power in situations.  I recently came across a great way of refocusing this idea.

In this post, MaryAnn McKibben Dana references the work of Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander's The Art of Possibility when she advises:  "Be the gameboard." 

So many of us see ourselves as helpless game pieces, moved by unseen hands, participating in strategies we do not fully understand.  Maybe those hands are those of our boss or upper management or the distant corporations that seem to have acquired all of our American institutions.

What happens if we see those unseen hands as God's hands?  I have real theological trouble with that view of God, that view that everything happens for a reason, a reason known only to God.  I don't believe in God as puppetmaster.  God as gamesplayer, controlling all the pieces--where is the room for free will in that.

So what happens when we view ourselves as the gameboard, not the person playing the game? MaryAnn McKibben Dana  includes this quote from Zander and Zander:  "When you identify yourself as a single chess piece—and by analogy, as an individual in a particular role—you can only react to, complain about, or resist the moves that interrupted your plans. But if you name yourself as the board itself, you can turn all your attention to what you want to see happen, with none paid to what you need to win or fight or fix. …One by one, you bring everything you have been resisting into the fold. You, as the board, make room for all the moves, for the capture of the knight *and* the sacrifice of your bishop… for your miserable childhood *and* the circumstances of your parents’ lives… Why? Because that is what is there. It is the way things are." (emphasis in the original)

I have also started to wonder how our view of God changes if we see God as the gameboard?  We get away from the idea of a God who can control all.  In some ways, we might move to a more widely expansive view of God, a God who is everywhere, not in some distant space like Heaven.  We might also move to a more sacramental view of God.

And maybe we'd move away from some of the dangerous aspects of seeing life as a giant game.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Creating Nests, Creating Construction Sites, Creating Contentment

For the last few days, I've been going to weather sites much more often than is really necessary.  To those who would ask, "Is it ever necessary?", I would answer, yes, when a tropical system is bearing down on you, it's necessary to stay updated.

But the Hurricane Center only updates the track projection every six hours.  Why, then, did I hop from site to site?

If I wanted to justify my action, I could say that the other weather services update at different hours or I could say that I wanted to see what amateur forecasters were saying.  But it's really not that.  I just liked feeling updated, plugged in, caught up.  And there's more than a whiff of enjoying the possibility of impending apocalypse that's part of my psychology.

Truth be told, I spend a lot of time going to various Internet sites on any given day.  I don't usually stay long.  But when I need a break, that's what I do.

I stay away from sites that make me angry.  I connect with friends and family on social media.  I research for inspiration for my writing.  I look for ways that others have dealt with issues.  I admire the meals of others and think about recipes--and it's the same with other art forms that I enjoy.  And I do go to spiritual sites.

Lately, though, my aching back has demanded that I leave the computer.  On Tuesday, I was feeling grumpy for all sorts of reasons--primarily because I tried to fix a student issue that I didn't create, but we were all late to discover--and I wasn't appreciated the way I wanted to be.  So I left my office for a bit of a walk around the building.

Our building is next to a construction site.  While mourning the loss of open space, I have enjoyed watching the construction of the new condo/shopping center complex.  So on Tuesday, I went to see the progress.  I like being reminded that progress can be made.

Standing at a second floor window, I saw two birds working together to build a nest in the palm tree right outside the window. I stood very still and observed for over 10 minutes. My mood brightened.

If I'm being honest, I'll confess that my Internet zipping rarely leaves me in a brighter mood.  It can be hard to avoid content that drags me down.  And of course, all that zipping can leave me fragmented.

I need to remember to leave the computer.  I need to remember to be on the lookout for creation of all types.  And then, let me remember to say a prayer of thanks to the Creator who started it all.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

To Return Again

Last night, my spouse thought I would be home by 7--but it was my late night at work, as Wednesdays have been for some time, so I wasn't home until 8:30.  It was a simple misunderstanding, but by the time I got home, he was starting to feel panicky.

He could have been angry when I pulled in the driveway or relieved.  He chose the latter.  He greeted me with a big hug and told me of his fears.  We hugged multiple times last night.  We know how lucky we are--and at some point, we will face this loss.  At some point, one of us will not be coming home.

I thought about this sudden re-orienting, this reminder of what's really important.  I thought about all of my returns.

This morning, I'm thinking about other returns--what would be the most famous return in the Bible?  The Prodigal Son?  God who returns again and again?

I thought about God, who surely wants to welcome us as warmly as my spouse welcomed me home last night.  I thought of all the times I have returned to focus my attention on things spiritual again.  I imagine God saying, "I'm so glad you're back.  I was getting worried."

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The Readings for Sunday, August 28, 2016:

First Reading: Proverbs 25:6-7

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Jeremiah 2:4-13

First Reading (Alt.): Sirach 10:12-18

Psalm: Psalm 112

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 81:1, 10-16

Second Reading: Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7-14

Here is another Gospel lesson which reminds us how different a world is the one that Jesus ushers in. It also shows us that ancient times weren't much different than ours.

We spend much of our day vying for power and position. Even in settings where there's not much to be gained by winning favor, one still sees a ridiculous amount of energy and time spent on power games. Think of the last meeting you had. Think of how short that meeting would have been if you could have gotten rid of people who spoke up to say, essentially, "I agree with what the last person said." Think of all the time wasted in currying favor with the people in charge or with each other.

Alternately, maybe you're more familiar with colleagues who try to cut each other down. Even when the stakes are small, even when the outcomes don't particularly matter, people will wage nasty battles to prove that they're right and everyone else is wrong.

Outside of the workplace, one also sees this dynamic. In volunteer situations, people often want to prove that they're indispensable. We even see this in our relationships with friends, the one place where you would think we would approach each other as equals. Likewise in marriages--many spouses spend absurd amounts of time trying to prove that one way of doing things is the right way, and all other ways are bad.

Psychologists would tell us that we play these power games because we're trying to satisfy our needy egos. We want to feel important because we spend much of our lives feeling insignificant. But instead of addressing that pain by making others feel better, we try to make others feel worse. We put people down so that we feel better. We connive and work to wound others.

Christ comes to usher in a new age. Again and again, he reminds us (in the words of today's Gospel), "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 14: 11). We don't win favor with God in the way we might win favor with the boss. God is well aware of God's importance. We don't need to make God feel like the big man so that we might win a promotion.

God calls us to a higher purpose. We're to look out for the poor and downtrodden. And we're not to do it because we'll be repaid by the poor and downtrodden. We do it because Christ came to show us how to crack open the world and let the Kingdom light shine into the dark cracks. And the way to do that is not to show how wonderful we are. The way to let God's light shine is to look out for the marginalized of the world.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Signing Our Names for Justice

How many times would you sign your name to secure justice for someone else?

I'm not talking about signing a petition, although that's an interesting angle too.  I'm talking about the governor of Virginia, who tried to restore the voting rights of 200,000 felons earlier this year with a decree that restored the rights of each felon all at once--one signature required.

Some legislators protested and the Virginia Supreme Court said that he needed to restore rights one person at a time--that's a lot of signatures, and he's vowed to work his way through every single case.

I listened to this story yesterday as I was driving home from work, and I thought of the two students that I had helped in the afternoon.  I had to go to the registrar's office, get a file, make copies of transcripts, and then try to puzzle what classes had been transferred and what might still need to be transferred.  Once we made all of those decisions in-house, and it would have been me making those decisions.  Now I'm trying to sleuth my way through other people's decisions.

My afternoon task took some time, 45 minutes per student, but it's nothing compared to what the Virginia governor is facing.

I thought about the other factor--I had students sitting in front of me, so I had to take some action.  The governor could have chosen to do nothing.  Since felons have few advocates, he'd have likely faced no criticism.  He could have shrugged and said, "Well, the Supreme Court told me no--what can I do?"

Instead, he took the route that will require him to sign his name over and over and over again.  It's not a particularly brave stance--not the kind of action that so many Civil Rights workers took in the 50's, 60's, and beyond.

But it's inspiring nonetheless.