Tuesday, August 3, 2021
Monday, August 2, 2021
On Sunday, my pastor was out of town. Months ago he had asked if I would lead church when he was gone, and of course, I said yes. When it got closer to time, and I saw the readings, I was happy--bread month!
As I listened to the Gospel being read, I was struck by the people asking God for a sign. I started there, asking "What more of a sign do people want?" From there, I went back to Psalm 78: 23-29, which we had just sung responsively. I talked about how manna had come to the people on the run from Egypt, that at first they were grateful, but then they complained about the lack of variety.
I talked about how we're not any better, and I referenced a poem I once wrote that began with the line, "She would complain about the taste of pies in Heaven"--and that's all of us. Then I made my way back to the Gospel, with Jesus telling the people to hold out for the true bread, which is him.
I asked us to think about what nourishes us. Society will give us specific answers, answers usually designed to sell us stuff. I talked about Richard Rohr's book Falling Upward, and his theory about the two halves of a human life. For the first half, we work towards the milestones that our society tells us we should want: the education and degrees, the job, the spouse, the children, the house. Then we might get to the midlife and wonder what it has all been for.
If we're lucky, we come to the question of what nourishes us, and we start sorting that out. If we're really lucky, we move towards a life that really matters.
I said that the past 18 months had triggered some of that for many of us, and that the next few weeks might offer additional challenges. I pointed us to verse 34, and introduced N.T. Wright's idea that this line would make a good prayer: "Give us this bread always." I challenged us to use the influx of bad news as the monasteries use bells--to remind us to pray. So that every time we hear a piece of bad news, we should use that as a reminder to pray: "Give us this bread always."
Along the way, I talked about the inbreaking Kingdom of God, not as a place that happens after we die or in the far, far future, when we've had a chance to transform society, but it's happening right here, right now, shimmering just behind the surface of what our society tells us is real life. And we have a chance to be part of it. We need to ask not only what we nourishment we need, but what our society needs. And then we can pray that Jesus gives us that nourishment always and in all ways.
Sunday, August 1, 2021
I often tell my literature students that they can tell when something in a story might be a symbol because it shows up again and again, taking on an unusual significance. Our lectionary creators want to make sure we understand the importance of bread in the ministry of Jesus.
You might say that you already know. You take communion every week. You've heard that story of the loaves and fishes multiplying. Maybe you even pay attention to the bread that you buy each week as you choose the most nourishing loaves. Maybe you savor some bread and wine with your cheese on any given week-end, and you contemplate the life-giving properties of your snack. Despite all the recent attacks against carbs, most of us know that some variation of grain has kept most of human civilization alive more reliably than any other foodstuff.
The Gospels this month, however, remind us that there is much more to life than sustaining our all-too-human bodies. We hunger and thirst and we crave anything which might guarantee that we'll never hunger or thirst again. Jesus reminds us that it's natural for humans to want bread, but he tells us that we sacrifice so much if we stop with physical bread. Jesus reminds us of our larger purpose, which is communion with God.
In the language of economics, we need to pay ourselves first. We can't possibly do the work that God calls us to do if we're starving for spiritual bread.
Somehow, create some connections so that you can develop spiritual habits to go with your other habits. Pray while you're brushing your teeth. Listen to the Bible (via CD, tape, or download) as you drive to work. Have some spiritual sustenance delivered to your e-mail inbox every day. When you call your mom, check in with God when you hang up the phone. When you update your Facebook status, remember that God wants some facetime with you too. When you eat food, say grace, even if it's a snack and not the meal that you crave.
We are created for so much more than our earthly eyes can see, so much more than our cramped brains can comprehend. Spiritual habits and disciplines start to crack open our vistas so that we can enlarge our possibilities.
Over and over again, our spiritual texts ask us why we hunger for that which is not bread. Let's start training ourselves to hunger for the true nourishment.
Saturday, July 31, 2021
I spent the last week working on a sketch. In a way, there's nothing unusual about that. But in a way, it was different because it reminded me of an important life lesson. Here's the finished sketch:
On Friday, July 23, I started a sketch. It was going to be of a woman facing forward with a flappy hat on her head. But I hated the way I sketched her eyes, so I decided to change it by turning it into a sketch of her back. I covered the face with marks that I thought would be hair, but it ended up looking like a veil or a shroud.
I don't have a great before picture, because I hated the sketch on the first day and thought I would abandon it. Here's a not-great screen capture from my morning watch session:
I put the sketch aside thinking I was done with it. But then I thought about how the hair/veil along with the hat made me think of a beekeeper's headgear. And so, the next morning, I played with it a bit more. I added some bees. I added some beehives in the distance and a jar of honey in the foreground. On day two, just 24 hours after I was ready to abandon the sketch, I decided that it had potential.
On Sunday, July 25, I added the mountains in the background and started to add some color. Over the next days, I continued to add color and to think about the area at the bottom of the sketch. I had thought it would be a fence, but I didn't like my options for fence color. If I made it a wood fence, I worried that it would blend in with the cat, the jar of honey, and the basket. So I decided to make it a stone/marble wall.
As I've sketched each morning and as I've spent the rest of the day thinking about what to do next in the sketch, I've thought back to day one when I planned to abandon the sketch. And as I kept showing up, I found more and more to like, and I had more and more ideas.
Did I execute them all? No. Did I perform them perfectly? No. But that's not the point. My skills have improved, but again, not the point.
The sketch has given me delight and made me interested to know what will come next. And it's reminded me not to give up on a creative endeavor too early.
Friday, July 30, 2021
For months I have known that I would need to do an online orientation before I was allowed to take seminary classes. The orientation is not set up so that one can do it way far in advance; for fall term, the online orientation opened Monday, five weeks before classes start.
Thursday, July 29, 2021
Wednesday, July 28, 2021
The LORD rained down manna upon them to eat. (Ps. 78:24)
In this Gospel, we continue to see Jesus hounded by the crowds. They understand what Jesus offers: the miracle of food in an uncertain time. Jesus knows what they're up to. Jesus understands what they seek. But Jesus also knows that they need more than just a meal's worth of food.
At one point, the crowds ask him for a sign. I have a vision of Jesus sighing and wondering what more he can do. He’s multiplied food. He’s offered them parables and teachings. He’s healed the sick. He's cast out demons. What more do they want?
He understands their deep hunger and yearning. They mention Moses, which leads me to believe that some of them miss the deep connection their ancestors had with God. Perhaps they thought it was easier in the desert, where they just went where God led them and ate the food God gave them. Perhaps they grow weary of the distractions of modern life, the diversions offered by Greek and Roman culture. They want to know where they can get some modern-day manna.
We might feel the same way. We might sigh heavily, thinking of all tasks we must do simply to keep body and soul together. We might wonder how we can find time for one more obligation. We might miss the simpler lives that we may think believers once enjoyed. But we can enjoy that easy relationship too.
Again and again in the Bible, we see God, who simply wants to be with us. We don’t have to transform ourselves into spiritual superheroes. God will be content to watch T.V. with us, to have fun with whatever creative play dates we’ve arranged with our children or our friends, to go for a walk in the neighborhood.
The Bible reminds us that God even wants to be with us during the not-so-fun times. When we’re stuck at work, eating microwave popcorn instead of dinner again, God wants to be there. When we’re trapped in traffic, God doesn’t mind commuting with us. When we’re so immersed in child rearing that we wonder if we’ll ever get to talk about adult topics again, God wants that experience too. When we’re feeling lost and lonely, God is willing to endure that too. When we don’t know how we’re going to put food on the table, God will help us sort that out.
The sustaining bread of life is right there, always ready, always fragrant and nourishing. The enduring food is ready to be shared, ready to be multiplied. The table is ready; come and eat.