Young Jesus at the Temple

We briefly meditated on some of the events of Jesus’ birth. Now, I want to take us on a brief side trip to the Temple at Jerusalem when Jesus was a young boy. This meditation is based on text from the Gospel according to Luke.

I am following the actual text with a brief explanation of why I think that these types of meditations can have real meaning. Later this week, I’ll share the meditation from this text.

Luke 2:41-52 (NASB)

41) Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the
Passover.

42) And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast;
43) and as they were returning, after spending the full number of days, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. But His parents were unaware of it,
44) but supposed Him to be in the caravan, and went a day’s journey; and they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances.
45) When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem looking for Him.
46) Then, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.
47) And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.
48) When they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.
49) And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?”
50) But they did not understand the statement which He had made to them.
51) And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52) And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.


It’s important to remember that the purpose of these exercises is to learn to know Jesus better in order to love him more. That’s a difficult endeavor. After all, Jesus died 2,000 years ago. I’m sure that many of you have heard the statement, “dead men tell no tales.” But, the New Testament does tell a tale. It is the story of a young man who lived and loved passionately. He had a special place in his life for those who dwelt on the margins of society. The sick and infirm; the hungry and poor; the oppressed and rejected. These were the people he was drawn to…and, who were drawn to him.

At the end, the tale seems to grow taller. This young man was cruelly put to death by the Roman occupiers of his homeland. He was buried in a tomb. Three days later, so the story goes, he came back from the dead. He was seen by many others who later attested to this miraculous event. Then, he was gone. There are many people who try to say where it is that he went. The consensus opinion is that he went to a heavenly paradise where he lives to this day.

If there is any veracity to this tale, then perhaps it is possible for us, today, to get to know him. Of course, it’s easier to get to know folks on Facebook. At least there we can see text and images that real flesh and blood people share. We can’t know Jesus that way. We can only know him through something that the ancients called ‘faith.’ That’s a really hard word to get a handle on. So, let’s change it a bit. The New Testament was written in a form of Greek. The word that was used to express ‘faith’ is the same word that was often used to denote ‘trust.’ So, let’s say that we can know the person, Jesus bar Joseph, if we trust him. If we trust that when we use our minds to enter the stories as participants or observers, Jesus actually guides us. How does that work? Well, what do you get when you cross an elephant with a rhino? But, I trust. I truly think that as I insinuate myself into the stories, Jesus somehow shares a bit of himself with me. He allows me to know him a little better. And, the more I get to know him, the more likely I am to follow him.

Yeah, it’s a convoluted process. It depends on thinking somewhere outside the box. But, for me, it’s reality.

And, I’m sharing a bit of my reality with you. A part of me hopes that I can introduce the human Jesus to you. Not that theological, otherworldly myth created by the church. You know, the one where Jesus stands with his finger on the ‘Smite’ button. Ready to squash any so-called sinner or heathen for the slightest misstep. But, the Jesus who touched and healed a blind beggar. The man who released people from the bondage of disease and death. The person who loved his friends and literally gave his life so that they could live.

I want to introduce you to Jesus, my friend.

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Flight to Egypt

This is the fourth part of my meditation on the Nativity. It will also be the last on this topic. In the next installment we’ll take a quick detour through Jesus’ childhood before spending substantial time on his public ministry.

King Herod was livid. He had met a few days earlier with a group of astrologers from the East, so-called Magi. They reported seeing a star that, according to their charts, revealed the birth of a new King in Israel. Arriving in Jerusalem, they had been brought to Herod, the current King of Israel. He welcomed them and inquired about their journey.

“In the western sky, the heavens revealed a new thing!” one of them exclaimed. “A King has been born! A King who will rule over Israel!”

Another said, “We followed the star so that we may worship the child!”

While Herod was gracious to these strangers, he was not happy about their message. However, he wanted to keep them happy in order to get as much information from them as possible.

The travelers were treated to a special feast before being sent on their way to continue following the star.

“When you find this child, return to me with a full report. I, too, wish to see this new King and worship him,” Herod charged them.

Days later, reports came to Herod that the Magi had left Israel secretly. No one crossed Herod! He had killed one wife and several of his own children! The great Caesar Augustus had once remarked that it would be better to be one of Herod’s pigs than one of his sons. Who did these damned foreigners think that they were? All of Jerusalem was on edge because of the King’s rage. Herod considered himself God’s anointed King. After all, he had built up the Temple and made it the envy of the whole world. His building projects were unrivaled in the Roman empire. How could God allow something like this? In Herod’s world, there was only ONE King!

Someone would pay for this. He would send a clear message to ANY would-be usurpers. A message that would not be quickly forgotten.

Meanwhile, in Bethlehem, Joseph had a dream. In the dream an angel warned him that Herod was sending soldiers to kill Joseph’s new son.

“Flee! Go where Herod cannot find you! Go west to Egypt!”

Joseph woke soaked with sweat and his heart racing.

“Mary! Wake up! The Lord sent a warning! We must leave here! NOW!!!”

The young family packed quickly and found a group of merchants going to Egypt. When they finally arrived, they found a community of Jews where they were welcomed. Joseph was especially welcomed. A good carpenter was always needed. Mary, Joseph, and the young Jesus were comfortable and safe there. But, it was not ‘home.’

As they were on their way to Egypt, Herod’s forces arrived in Bethlehem. They went from door-to-door and put all boys who were two years old and younger to the sword. Herod made sure that he would have no rivals.

A few years later Joseph was again visited in a dream. The messenger told him that it was safe to return to Israel. Those who had plotted to kill the young Jesus were now dead.

Joseph packed up his family and traveled back to Israel. But, because of fears about Herod’s successor, Joseph took the family to Nazareth rather than back to Bethlehem.


As I reflected on this story I felt the fear and anxiety that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus experienced. We in this culture can’t truly understand what it’s like to pack up all of our belongings and run for our lives. They went from a comfortable home with family and friends to refugee status over night. I sensed, though, that both Mary and Jesus had a deep trust in Joseph’s leadership.

So many historiographers portray Jesus as somewhat immune to ordinary emotions such as fear and anxiety. He is shown as a person who is in  total control, rather than a normal child. For these writers Jesus would certainly not trust in a mere human! He had a hotline to God! Yet, the stories in the synoptic Gospels show a human side to Jesus. I can follow someone who understands life as a vulnerable person. He was a child who depended on his parents for his life and well-being. He was a real person whom I can relate to.

However, not everything about this meditation was easy. I had a very difficult time with this story. God had sent a messenger to Joseph to warn him of Herod’s plan. There is nothing here that would indicate that Joseph knew the lengths to which Herod would go. I don’t think that he would have run away without warning others if he knew that Herod was going to kill all of the young boys. And, if Joseph would have warned others, why didn’t God? They could have taken their children away until Herod’s anger cooled. But, that didn’t happen. How many children lost their lives in this massacre because God neglected to warn them. Did God not care? These are the kinds of hard questions that people ask. And, for many, or most, the answers are wholly inadequate. Who could swear allegiance to and follow a God who would allow such an atrocity?

I asked the Father, why? Why were the parents not warned? I sat quietly waiting for some kind of response. Eventually, I got a ‘reply.’ I did not hear any audible voice. I can’t say with certainty that ‘God said…’ This was all taking place in my mind. But, according to Albus Dumbledore, that doesn’t mean it’s not real.

What I heard was, “Do you really believe that I would do that?

Whoa! What? You’re saying that the story is not true? If not, why did the writer include it? Did he add this simply in order to use the Jewish Scriptures to add some kind of credibility to the life of Jesus? He wrote about Rachel’s wailing and how God called his son out of Egypt. Both plot points that this story makes possible.

In the light of what I’ve learned about God over the last several years and the response noted earlier, I must view this passage as a literary device. It appears that the writer, 1) Did want to tie the passages in the Jewish Scriptures to show that Jesus was, indeed, the Chosen One of Israel, and 2) To show the utter depravity of Herod. And, by extension, the entire Herodian culture.

We can dismiss the historicity of this passage. But, we cannot cut it out of the text. Regardless of what we may think, this story is part of the inspired canon. What we can do, however, is put it in its place under the feet of God.

I’m fairly sure that Ignatius wouldn’t approve of where I’ve gone with this. But, it is impossible for me to attribute the massacre of innocent children to the loving and merciful Father that I know. Nor, can I ascribe some abstract notion of sovereignty and authority to this.

The God that I worship would NOT be complicit in such an act…PERIOD!

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Jesus is Born!

This story is pretty much the same as one I posted a few years ago when I experienced the Spiritual Exercises for the first time. I edited some things to better suit what I experienced now and added some comments to the end of it.

Entering, we greeted those already gathered. “Shalom! Baruch hashem Adonai!” “Peace! Bless the name of the Lord!” Unpacking our donkeys, we noticed that there were a lot of people already present. It seems that the whole clan had answered Caesar’s demand that we return for this census. Joseph helped Mary up to the living quarters while I got fodder for the donkeys. As I turned to climb the stairs I saw Joseph gesturing angrily.

“No guest room?! My wife is going to give birth at any moment! You must make room for her and the child!”

“No, we cannot. There are too many people. We cannot have one room given to her alone.”

“Wait,” one of Joseph’s aunts said. “We can fix a place for her down below. There is plenty of fresh straw. And, we can put blankets down to help make her more comfortable.”

Mary, being young and new to the family looked at Joseph and nodded. She was already suspect, being pregnant already. She did not want to give the family any more reason to look down on her.

Evening came. Mary was having contractions every few minutes. One of Joseph’s aunts acted as midwife. They made Mary as comfortable as possible.

Joseph was upstairs with the rest of the family. He was pacing the floor. One cousin scolded him, “Sit down and relax! Everything will be fine. This is not the first child ever born!”

But, everyone knew that many first pregnancies did not end well. Especially, when the mother was as young as Mary. In addition, both Joseph and Mary were anxious about the child. That strange man that had appeared nine months ago had said some very strange things about this child. As the birth drew near, the young parents wondered what kind of creature this was that was about to enter their world.

It seemed as though Mary had been laboring for hours. A final push, and the child arrived! With a cry, the child took his first breath. The midwife lifted the child and tied off the umbilicus.

“It’s a boy!”

Joseph gave a sigh of relief. The others began to pour bowls of wine and a party celebrating the birth of a first-born son began. They sang and danced and drank. When Mary was cleaned up and the child wrapped in clean cloths, Joseph was summoned to come down. He looked compassionately at Mary. She was so strong and brave…no longer a child. Joseph reached into the feeding trough in which his newborn son had been laid. He picked him up and lifted him toward heaven.

“My son, Yeshua!”

A little later I looked up and saw a small group of people entering the house. By the staves that they were carrying I could tell that they were shepherds.

“Who let this rabble in?” I thought. Shepherds were not usually welcome among respectable people. They walked over to where the child lay sleeping.

“We were out in the field tending the sheep. Suddenly, there was a great light in the sky! We feared that something was going to take our sheep and harm us! Then, we heard a voice saying that a child had been born…here…in Bethlehem. The voice said that this child is the Messiah who we have been waiting for!”

Another shepherd spoke up saying, “Then there was a great host praising God! They gave God glory and said that peace was to reign between God and those whom God favors!”

We poured bowls of wine for the shepherds and continued to celebrate throughout the night.

However, Mary had a puzzled look on her face. She said nothing!


As I reflected on this story, I wondered what my takeaway from it would be. Ignatius had encouraged us to see what ‘spiritual benefit’ there was. Yeah, there was the miracle of birth. But, that had been done for millenia. There was the worry and waiting. Again, not new. Even the shepherds showing up wasn’t that all unusual. Just some run-of-the-mill guys showing up to pay respects to the new parents.
Then, I realized something. This WAS my takeaway. What makes this so special is that it’s not all that special!
Ok, ok…I hear y’all whispering out there. I can see the looks on your faces. “What do you mean, not special?! This was Jesus’ birth! That makes it not only special, but unique.”
Yeah, I get it. But, let’s take a moment to think about it.
Yahweh, the God of god’s desired to show love to the world. God wanted to break down barriers and establish ‘table fellowship’ with us. What better way to do that than to join with us so that we can join with God?
This story reveals that the Son of God is just like one of us. Shoot! He IS one of us! He didn’t come down from some lofty mountain like some hero of old. He didn’t appear out of a cloud or flame. He didn’t come walking up out of the sea.
He was born from a woman…just like us. He had a family that loved him…just like us. He grew up in a specific culture in a a specific place and time.

  • JUST LIKE US!

I thank God for this! We have a Savior who, in every respect, is just like us. This Jesus had the same experiences that we have. He had the same wants and needs. He knew what it was like to be loved and accepted. And, he knew what it was like to be hated and rejected.
And, it all began with a simple birth, just like ours.

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More Sunday Musings

This morning I was listening to Fr. Gene Sherman continue his messages on the Apostles’ Creed. The purpose of this series is to give people a basic foundation for belief held my followers of Jesus. While I don’t agree with some of what Gene shares, (there is no compulsion to do so), I do find it refreshing listening to someone who actually learned how to do exegesis. Unlike so many others that I’ve heard.

Today Gene spoke on the portion of the creed that states, “I believe…in the forgiveness of sins.” That idea is absolutely foundational to Christian belief. God is the one who is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”

One example he used was the story of the Father and Two Sons in the Gospel according to Luke, Chpt. 15. Gene gave the usual take on how gracious the father was to both sons. After being so unjustly used by the youngest, the father received him home again with open arms.

What struck me today, though, was something I had read dozens of times, but failed to really recognize. That’s not unusual with a pericope like this that is so packed with good stuff.

The story goes that a young man left his father and brother and took his inheritance. He then lost it all living an extravagant lifestyle. Ultimately, he had to hire himself out to someone who put him to work feeding pigs. To a Jewish ear, no one could fall further than that. Finally, the young man “came to his senses” and thought that while he sat there with nothing to eat, his father’s servants had plenty to fill their bellies.

What caught my ear was that when he realized what he had done, the first thing he thought of was his stomach. Hunger had driven him to a place where he could decide to return to his father’s home. It overcame his pride and shame.

So, he left for his fathers home, all the while rehearsing the lines he would use to ingratiate himself with his father.

(Now, before anyone gets their boxers in a bunch about how I worded that last sentence, let me be clear about something. I truly believe that the young man in the story was repentant. Somewhere along the line he realized that he had treated his father shamefully. He had, in fact, wished him to be dead by asking for his inheritance. I’m not diminishing that at all. But, we all have many motives for the things that we say and do.)

When he finally returned home, his father ignored all social protocol and ran to meet his son. He welcomed him home with new clothes and reinstated him to the family with his own signet ring. What happened next is what struck me.

He held a banquet and slaughtered the ‘fattened calf.’

The young man came to his senses spurred on by his hunger. Here, his father lavishly welcomed him with a great feast.

Many who exegete this emphasize the father’s role with both sons. With the youngest is the way in which the father went ‘over the top’ in his welcome. Jesus used this story to show the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, (those who thought that they were the true keepers of the faith; the ‘gatekeepers’ to bring it into contemporary parlance), that they, in fact, did NOT know the Father. Their preconceptions of a righteous and just God mandated that their ‘god’ be bitter and retributive to those who acted, well, like the young son in the story. Yet, Jesus revealed a Father who was willing to stoop to unbelievable low levels in order to welcome the young man and lavish good things on him.

That is how God is. When we are hungry and starving, God is there to prepare a great feast for us when we return. God gives from God’s own abundance to the weary and wayward. BTW, God also gives “everything he has” to the older son who remained with him faithfully. But, for those of us who come to our senses, God has a special welcome for us.

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From Nazareth to Bethlemhem

This is part two of the Nativity meditations. This one is about the journey that Joseph and Mary took from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea for a census that Rome had decreed. Part one is here.

It was early spring in Galilee. The early rains had been good and the crops were beginning to break through the surface of the rich earth.

Joseph made arrangements for he and Mary to travel to Bethlehem in Judea. Judea! All that way just to make Rome happy.  What a pain! It was one of the busiest times of the year for the young carpenter. Plows and tools needed to be fixed. There were carts and wagons to prepare. And, there was talk of rebuilding the town of Sepphoris about 4 miles north. But, is any time really a good time for Rome’s nonsense?

Mary wasn’t looking forward to the trip, either. She was nearly to term with her firstborn. Childbirth was hard and dangerous for any woman. It was especially so for a girl barely beyond childhood herself. She would be leavingf her family and the other women who had supported her throughout the pregnancy.

“Take plenty of towels and clothes.”
“More blankets would be better.”
“Don’t let those ‘men’ tell you how you feel or what you need to do!”

Mary would miss them hovering over her.
So much to remember! So much to do!

Joseph put Mary into the cart he had arranged. She could not walk that great distance. And, riding a donkey? Not hardly in her condition! The pack animal was laden with the food, water, and other essentials they would need. Joseph said goodbye to his friends and led the animals down the road.

At the edge of town the young couple met the person who had helped make the arrangements. He was a short man with a gray-flecked beard and a quick smile. He looked like the typical person who didn’t do ‘real’ work for a living. But, he had a gift for bargaining and had an eye for details.

“Hello, my friends!” he called to them. “The soldiers are here and the others from Capernaum will be along shortly.”

The soldiers were from a local Roman garrison. Several of them were going to new assignments in Judea. The man had talked with a Centurion and arranged this trip so that his group could have the added protection. Although the trip would not take too long, the road was fraught with danger. There were bands of thieves and Zealots who had no problem robbing and killing unwary travelers.

Joseph and Mary had traveled South many times for the festival at Jerusalem. They joined with family and friends to sing and dance.  The events of that night so many long years ago were remembered. No, more like reenacted.  Their ancestors had sacrificed lambs and sprinkled some of the blood on the door posts and lintels of their homes in Egypt.The angel of death then ‘passed over’ those houses. It was a time to celebrate and remember that God had chosen them for God’s own people! And, for the children? The trip was a great adventure!

This time was different. There was no celebration to look forward to. Joseph was now a responsible adult. He was about to become a father!

The afternoon Galilean sun was brutal. So, they traveled during the cool mornings and evenings. Progress was slow. Mary had to stop often to ‘relieve’ herself. Pregnancy was not all fun and games! The soldiers mocked that Jewish woman with the weak bladder.

“C’mon woman! We don’t have all day!”
“Carry a bucket!”

As these men laughed and mocked, Joseph and the others did their best to hide their hatred for these invaders. Yes, they brought a kind of peace to Palestine. But, at what cost? Their freedom?

The caravan followed a road that went through Samaria. They could follow the main trade route and pick up the road from Caesarea Maritima. That would take them to Jerusalem. From there it was only a few miles further on to Bethlehem.

At night they would stop and make camp. Several small fires sprang up. Clay pots clanked as they were brought out for the evening meal.  The women began to prepare the meal while the men tended to the animals and made up the camp.

The soldiers moved off by themselves. Joseph could hear their coarse joking and laughter.

After they ate and cleaned up, someone lead them in saying the Shema. Another began singing one of the Psalms of Ascent. Those sacred verses that had been sung by countless pilgrims on their way “up” to Jerusalem.

As they turned East on the road to Jerusalem, Mary started to worry. A few times along the way she had experienced pains and cramps that told her the child was becoming impatient. Some of the older women noticed and stayed close to her. This road was no place for a child to give birth to a child!

The caravan finally arrived at Jerusalem. There were people everywhere! Shops were open and the keepers stood outside calling to any who would listen.

“Come in! I have the best and purest oil for your lamps!”
“Chickens! I have chickens that are the tenderest and tastiest anywhere! Hey! You travelers! Come and buy! These will sustain you on your journey for many days!”

Some  said goodbye to the young couple. They had ancient roots here. The soldiers also went off to the garrison near the Temple mount. Joseph and Mary turned to the road that would lead them West out of Jerusalem then South to Bethlehem.

Soon they saw the town. Although it was small, Bethlehem boasted of being the burial place of their ancestor Rachel. She was the beloved wife of the Patriarch Jacob. It was also the hometown of the greatest King to ever sit on the throne of Israel: David! Oh, to have a King like him again! Not some lackey like Herod. That half-breed was nothing but a Roman puppet.

In their hearts, every person in Judea and Galilee hoped and prayed for the day when Adonai, the Lord, would raise up the promised Son of David. This Messiah King would return Israel to its former glory and strength.

“Hear, O Israel…”

Joseph took Mary and the cart to the center of town. He saw a well and a few shops. He inquired about the location of a certain family, relatives of his. Someone directed him to a small home near the edge of town. When they arrived, Joseph called out, “Shalom! I am Joseph bar Yakov! I have come with my wife for the census!”

A man came out looking rather put out at this interruption. His gray beard matched the scowl on his face.

“Joseph? Son of Jacob? I know a Jacob who had a son who was a little brat! Always chasing the animals and making a nuisance of himself. But, you! You are a grown man! How can this be?”

“Uncle!” cried Joseph.

A big smile broke out on the old man’s face and the two men embraced and kissed. It had been a long time, nearly a year since they had seen each other.

Joseph helped Mary climb out of the cart and presented her to his Uncle Elihud. Others flowed out of the house and a great welcome was made.

After many hugs, kisses and slaps on the back, the young parents-to-be were taken into the house and upstairs to the living quarters.

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Greetings, Mary!

This is the first meditation on the Nativity that I wrote about. It’s a story that I envisioned as I followed the prompts of Ignatius. This one focuses on what the Church has called The Annunciation, the calling of Mary to be the mother of Jesus.

I heard a loud call from above. Looking up, I saw a great eagle flying in large loops. Leisurely, he floated on the currents of air, rising and falling like the terrain before me. As I watched, it seemed as though my mind was floating, like the eagle. Higher and higher it rose until I was looking out at the world through the eyes of my friend far above.

“Wow! Look at this! I can see forever!” I thought.

We began to fly faster. In and out of clouds, the landscape far below became a blur. I saw rivers and lowlands slowly morph into the checkerboard of cultivated fields of wheat and maze. A sudden updraft carried us into a range of mountains. Alpine forests gave way to snow capped peaks. Dark slices of granite cut its way out of the white world where nothing grows.

Soon we dove nearly straight down toward a small town at the base of the mountains. There were people and animals going about their daily business. Sellers and buyers, traders and farmers. Simple folk. Living life as their forefathers had taught them.

Without warning we were suddenly flying over a large city. What a diversity of people! So many colors and smells. Merchants in their stalls calling out to anyone who would listen, “Come here! We have the most exotic cloth from the far reaches of the world! Come see! Come buy!”

Others were herding animals through narrow streets to sell to those who sold hides and meat. So many people! Laughing, crying, loving, and dying. Humanity.

I also saw many…too many…who were on the margins. Those destitute multitudes whose lives were truly without hope. Poverty and disease stalked them like wolves stalk sheep. They were helpless victims of systems that ostracized them because they were somehow “different.” They looked different and they sure smelled different! Not everything is rosy in this world.

Suddenly, I was standing in a large room with thousands of other beings. It was brightly lit and there was singing throughout. In the center of all of this there was a round table at which three beings sat. One clearly had the shape of a person. But, this person seemed to be the very source of light in the room. Next sat someone whom I can’t describe clearly. He or she did seem to have a feminine quality. But, beyond that I could not tell. The third was simply there. This one seemed to be “Being” itself. No gender, no age, no anything that I could tell for certain other than “Presence.”

I saw scenes like I had just experienced with the eagle. People. Everywhere. But, these people seemed to be walking aimlessly. They simply wandered around as if lost.

“It’s time,” I heard the Third Being say.

“Yes,” the others agreed.

I heard what sounded like a trumpet and suddenly there was another being standing next to the table.

“Gabriel,” the First One said. “It’s time for you to go and prepare for my departure. Hurry!”

This other simply nodded and was gone.

“It has begun.”

I blinked, and found myself on a hill outside of a small village. On my left I saw a young man walking toward the village. I knew that this was the person that I had just seen leaving on some sort of mission. I followed him into the village. The street was lined with buildings built of mud bricks and wood. We walked toward one at the far end of the street. It appeared to be a shop of some sort. Above the shop were living quarters. He walked up stairs on the side of the building to the roof where he found other steps leading down into the main part of the upper floor.

He walked confidently down a narrow hallway. Wool curtains covered the entryways to various rooms. Pulling back one of the curtains, he entered room. Inside was a young girl, maybe 14 years old, sitting on a bed.

“Greetings, Mary!” the young man said.

The young girl, Mary, jumped. She was terrified to suddenly find herself in the presence of a young man!

“Who are YOU?!” she cried. “How did you get in here? Where is my father?”

“Peace to you. You have found favor with God, the Ruler of the Universe!” he said. “God has chosen you to share in God’s own mission. From above, the Spirit of God will come to you and fill you with God’s presence. Soon, you will bear a son who will bring about the redemption of his people.”

Mary sat dumbstruck. Who was this person? How does he know me? Doesn’t he know that I’m not married yet? I can’t have a child! I will be taken out of the village and stoned as a whore!

These thoughts and many others raced through her young mind.

But then, she stopped. What if the things this person said are true?

“Let it be as you have said,” she replied at last.

With that, the visitor turned and walked out of the room. Mary quickly got up and looked out into the hallway. There was no one there.

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I want to share a couple thoughts about this story. This is drawn from my journal as I was meditating with Ignatius’ prompts. Although Ignatius wanted people to see the sin and depravity in the world by looking at all of the people and cultures, I couldn’t do that. He saw all of these people as destined for an eternity in hell. I saw them as simply lost, like “sheep without a shepherd.”

In Gabriel’s encounter with Mary, (in my imagination angels don’t have wings and wear diapers. In fact, in this case I could almost envision Gabe wearing a brown UPS uniform), there was a reciprocity that most people miss. I wrote in my journal, “Thus began the history of humanity cooperating together with God.” In every other interaction between humans and the Divine, the human is usually “acted upon.” Abraham was told to go to a land that God would show him. He was also told to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Moses was told to go to Egypt and free his people. He protested, but God basically told him to shut it and Go! Now, I know that there are hairs here that can be split. But, I see Mary as being the first person who really had a choice. She could have said, “Uh, no thanks. I think I’ll pass.” Considering the culture, that would have probably been the expedient thing to do. Like I heard her say in the story, she very likely could have been put to death for a pregnancy out of wedlock. Looking at it like this, Mary literally “gave her life” in order to agree with God.

How can I do any less?

Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section.

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Sunday Musings

I’ve been attending a local Anglican Church for the past couple of months. I really appreciate the liturgy and weekly communion. But, this particular church doesn’t seem like it would be a good match for me. A bit of history…

I first went to this church while in Seminary. I had an assignment that required that I interview local pastors about how they handle pastoral care. I met with the Rector of the church and we had a good chat. I soon attended a few times to check them out.

They are a conservative Evangelical group. At the time I met them they were in the middle of a lawsuit over their continued use of the building they were in. You see, they had split from the main Anglican Church in the U.S. mostly over the ordination of a gay bishop. Like I said, they are conservative evangelicals. They lost the suit and have been somewhat nomadic for the intervening years. They finally landed in a building that’s about a 2 minute walk from my house. So, it is convenient for me. Especially, since any other church I’ve attended has been at least a 30 minute drive.

Anyway, like I said this church is an odd one for me. I’m a progressive who is staunchly pro-LGBT. I don’t hold to an inerrant view of Scripture. That includes things like the 7 day creation and the flood of Noah. The Rector believes all of this. (At least as far as I can glean from what he has said from the pulpit.)

So, the question that begs asking is “Why”?

To be quite honest, I don’t know for sure. I have spent the last couple of years searching for a community of Christ followers that I could be a part of. And, for someone like me, the pickin’s are slim. The choices are usually between liberal main line denominations and evangelical mega-church wannabes. Neither of those fit. My wife even told my that the only church I would be happy in would be my own. (That thought has crossed my mind.)

I continued to pray and reflect and meditate searching for something, anything, that might help.

This small Anglican church kept coming up. So, I started to attend some evening prayer meetings and Sunday services. I found myself comfortable with the traditional style of worship. I even find myself smiling during parts of the liturgy. But, the overtly conservative vibe struck dissonant chords in my mind. The sermons, which I find to be a distraction, are definitely drawn from a neo-Calvinist point of view. Anyone who knows me knows that I am NO flavor of Calvinist. Yet, I have kept going.

Today, God shined a bit of light on things for me. (Thanx be to God!)

The Rector is preaching a series on what Christians believe. He is using the Apostles’ Creed as the outline for the series. Today he used the text from Paul’s letter to the Church at Ephesus. The second chapter of the letter has a portion that deals with the way that Jews and Gentiles should relate. For those who aren’t familiar with this, these two groups did not play together well. The Jews considered themselves the only true people of the only true God. Gentiles were everyone else. In the nascent Church, these two groups found themselves thrown together under one roof. Both sides claiming worship the same God, but in vastly different ways. The example given today showed a potluck in which the Jewish group brought only Kosher foods. No pork, no shellfish, no meat from pagan sacrifices. The Gentiles showed up with their BBQ pork and lobster. You get the picture. Not on the same page at all. So, here comes Paul. The Jewish theologian and the Apostle to the Gentiles. Weird.

He wrote:

“For he himself, (Jesus), is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”  (Eph. 2:14-16, NIV, 2011.)

The point the priest today wanted to make was that the walls that separate people from God and one another have been broken down. He went to great lengths to show that we are all in this thing called ‘life’ together. And, that none of us are perfect. We all need God, for sure. But, we also need each other.

As I left today, I stopped to great him at the door. I said, “And, the walls that separate conservative evangelicals from progressives have also been broke down by Jesus.”

That’s how I can continue to worship with this group of sinners saved by grace. Cuz, I’m one of them.

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

If you know anyone who might find these ramblings helpful, (or entertaining), please invite them to come over and chat.

A Walk with St. Ignatius

I’m currently revisiting “The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius.”
I first went through these exercises a few year ago with my spiritual director.
Recently, in my morning quiet time I have felt a need to go back and take another look. Why? I don’t know. It’s just a feeling. I’ve found that feelings I get like this during contemplation should not be dismissed. They usually lead to something pretty cool.
For the exercises, Ignatius encouraged meditation that involved the use of “fantasy,” or, the imagination. This is a form of meditation is what the old timey theologians described as “kataphatic.” This type of meditation is usually defined “prayer [that] has content; it uses words, images, symbols, ideas.” It involves the conscious memory to place a person in a relationship with God. In the Exercises this involves imagining various situations, mainly from Gospel stories, where the person meditating “places” him/herself in the story as a participant or observer. One is encouraged to see the environment, taste the food, smell the animals, touch and feel things like the wind. The text becomes a tour guide while the imagination supplies the world being toured.
I realize that our own personalities, memories, and knowledge will color these meditations. That cannot, nor should it, be avoided. After all, the purpose of these exercises is to forge a deeper relationship with God for ourselves. So, we must bring our entire self to them.
Yet, God’s grace guides us. That’s where faith comes in. We can trust that we’re not going too far afield. Plus, these exercises are primarily designed to be used with a trusted Spiritual Director. Someone who will assist in discernment and help keep us on track.
With that in mind, some interesting interpretations and understanding can come out of the experiences. I want to share some of mine.

During what Ignatius called “the First Week,” there are a couple of meditations on the Incarnation of Jesus and His Nativity. Those are just a couple of high-sounding words that mean “when Jesus was born.” I am using the following text for the outline of the meditation. For those of you keeping score, this particular passage is taken from the New International Version, Biblica, Inc., 2011.

We’ll begin our journey with my next post.

Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God went the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.
You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.
For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.
“May your word to me be fulfilled.”
The the angel left her.

Luke 2:1-7
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

As always, please use the comments to add your own thoughts or to ask questions.

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How Can a Follower of Jesus Reconcile Violence in the Scripture?

*Note: This by no means a comprehensive treatment of the question of violence in the Scripture. These mental ramblings are simply meant to inspire thoughtful reflection.

I read and listen to a lot of different people with widely varying worldviews. There are evangelicals and progressive Christians. Over there are the atheists and the Nones. Muslims, Jews, Buddhists. I entertain the thoughts and ideas of many people. Every once in a while, even a fundamentalist Christian sneaks in.

The reasons that I do this are many and varied. I’m not afraid of ideas and questions. We are all passengers on this Pale, Blue Dot hurtling through space. We all have responsibilities to each other and to the planet itself. We neglect these responsibilities at our own peril.

I’ve interacted with folks outside of my own faith tradition, several who question the basic morality of Christians and even the Christian God.

They react to Christians who say “God is love,” or “You can’t be a moral person without God as your moral compass.” They site the number of people who say that they follow Christ, yet live like someone has placed a magnet too close to their ‘moral compass.’ It doesn’t seem to lead them toward true North, but toward some barren desert on the outskirts of BFE, (you can Google that yourself).

It isn’t a far stretch for them to observe that if someone claims to live according to the words of their god, then that god MUST be of similar moral and ethical fiber as they are themselves.

So, the questions arise, “What about how your God commanded His people to totally destroy their enemies”? “Their enemies’ women and children?” “What kind of god would command such a thing?”

And, they are justified to ask such hard questions. The sacred texts of all of the Abrahamic faiths have passages that talk about the so-called righteous destruction of god’s enemies. And, in some cases, people who are not enemies, but happen to be living in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Believers then feel compelled to defend God. (Like that’s even possible.) They respond with things like, “Well, God is God and can do whatever God wants to do.” Or, “God must have given those people a chance to repent, but they chose not to.” Still others simply say, “I don’t know, but if God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Worse yet, many conservative believers use these texts to excuse violence against ‘others.’

Progressives don’t fare much better. They rationalize the text by alluding to the fact that these are ancient texts written by and for ancient people. So, it looks like God simply met them where they were culturally and ‘allowed’ certain behaviors that we enlightened folks in the 21st century find abhorrent. Or, they just ignore these texts. Of course, these are non-answers that simply seek to avoid the hard questions.

In fact, any and all responses like these do nothing more than perpetuate the idea that God is some sort of sadistic monster.

 

Then there’s the curve ball…Jesus.

 

The God that I see revealed through Jesus as recorded in the Gospels looks nothing like the God displayed in the Hebrew Bible.

What should one do with this apparent contradiction?

One person in the 2nd century C.E. came up with a unique way to look at this conundrum. His name was Marcion. Marcion came up with the idea that the God of the Hebrew Bible was not the same God as the Father of Jesus Christ. According to theologian Alister McGrath, Marcion believed that “The Old Testament relates to a different God from the New; the Old Testament God, who merely created the world, was obsessed with the idea of law. The New Testament God, however, redeemed the world and was concerned with love.”[1] Historian Justo L. Gonzalez adds, according to Marcion “Jehovah is an arbitrary god, who chooses a particular people above all the rest. And he is also vindictive, constantly keeping an account on those that disobey him, and punishing them. In short, Jehovah is a god of justice–and an arbitrary justice at that.”[2] Marcion went so far as to create his own canon that eliminated texts that did not conform to his special interpretation.

I suppose that’s one way to deal with the hard sayings of the Bible. Just cut them out and ignore them.

The thing is, we really don’t have that option. We’re stuck with what we’ve got.

So, how do we reconcile God with divine and human violence?

Simply put, we don’t; we can’t.

To explain away texts that the Church considers inspired in some simple, easy-to-wrap-my-brain-around-the-unwrappable isn’t something that we are entitled to do.

But, there may be another way to read these texts without ignoring or reading past them.

Recently, while spending time in contemplation, a thought occurred to me. Human history has been fraught with acts of violence and genocide. We don’t need to look any further than our own history in the U.S. Our very existence as a nation came about at the hands of European domination that was given strength by the Bishop of Rome, himself. In the late 15th century, Pope Alexander VI issued a papal Bull entitled, “Inter Caetera.” Basically, the Pope stated that any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered” and dominated by Christians. That’s how Columbus could get lost, yet “discover” land that was already occupied.

But, all of this is another post.

Some countries have recognized the abuses that have been heaped upon others. Notably, South Africa and Canada. Both of these countries have taken steps to reconcile their violent and oppressive pasts.

South Africa had a history of treating the indigenous Blacks living there with forced domination and violence. This system of “apartheid” was designed to keep the white minority in power over Blacks and other people of color at any cost. And, the costs were high. Many died and the freedom of all was taken away.

Finally, after much domestic and international pressure, South Africa ended apartheid in 1994. They set up a tribunal type commission whose mandate was to work toward reconciliation of ALL of South Africa’s citizens. The commission allowed people to have grievances and abuses recorded and, in some cases allowed for amnesty for those who came forward to report their own culpability. It was NOT a way for the oppressed minority to ‘get even.’ It was a way to get the wounds out in the open where they could be treated and healed.

The results have been breath-taking. South Africa has created a functioning democracy that they can be proud of.

Canada also began a process to help heal its own genocidal past. As European colonists invaded North America they ushered in an age of systematic elimination of the Indigenous People who had inhabited this continent for many thousands of years. The brutality and injustice of the colonists knew no bounds. From dislocation, to starvation, to the infamous Boarding Schools, Aboriginal people suffered.

“Reconciliation is about forging and maintaining respectful relationships. There are no shortcuts,” one person involved with the process wrote. It is, in a nutshell, the overarching framework for the Canadian effort. There are many who don’t feel that this goes far enough,. Canada still asks the Aboriginal people to accept the reconciliation effort on the terms of the colonists. This is a valid complaint. But, it is a start. The Canadian government is beginning to understand their own culpability in the genocide and are becoming more inclined to work toward a better relationship with the First Nations.

A common thread in these actions is acknowledging and repenting from earlier behavior that caused hurt to others.

What if we read the violence written in the Scriptures in a similar way?

We could truthfully acknowledge the violence. Yes. Whether the violence actually happened or not, the ancient writers recorded them. And, the people who gathered the early Church Councils canonized them. These facts we must accept because, Duh!, they’re written down.

However, we don’t need to accept the interpretations of these texts that have been passed down to us. God gave us rational minds with which to think and contemplate these words. We are, I believe, commissioned to read the Inspired texts and allow them to live and breathe in our contemporary world. Therefore, we can forcefully denounce the violence for what it was: an abhorrent violation of humanity. There really is no way around it. The actions depicted in Scripture are hateful and bigoted. There is NO redeeming value to them whatsoever.

Through confession and repentance we could claim LIFE for ourselves, our friends and enemies, and the whole of the Cosmos.

I believe that the God revealed in the Gospels would be pleased with this. In fact, maybe God has been patiently waiting for humanity to grasp this. Perhaps we can enter into a new aeon of peace and prosperity with all of our co-inhabitants on this Third Stone From the Sun.

[1] McGrath, Alister E., “Christian Theology: An Introduction”, 4th Ed., Blackwell Pub., 2007, p. 126.

[2] Gonzalez, Justo L., “The Story of Christianity:Vol. 1, The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation”, HarperSanFrancisco, 1984, p.61.

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Blessings!