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Torturous Testimony from Muskasy

It happened again last night. In an NPR story on the differences McCain has had with the Republican party, the reporter said that McCain opposed "harsh interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding. When did the entire mainstream media decide to join the Bush administration in making a clear moral line sound like it's negotiable or debatable? McCain is opposed to TORTURE, and that's why he's opposed to waterboarding.

Like the vast majority of Americans, I'm against torture--torture of good people and torture of bad people. I cannot understand how a Christian, someone who strives to be the disciple of a man who was tortured unjustly, could believe otherwise. But I don't think you need a religious reason to be against torture--you can make very clear pragmatic and political arguments against it. Everyone seems to understand this except the Bush administration and its puppet, Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

It doesn't get much worse than this: At a Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday, Senator Kennedy asked Mukasey, "Would waterboarding be torture if it was done to you?" Mukasey responded, "I would feel that it was." How did this become a matter of subjective feelings? Waiting in line at the DMV can feel like torture, but drowning someone IS torture.

Mukasey then continued, "This is an issue on which people of equal intelligence and equal good faith and equal vehemence have differed..." Really? When then let's have the person who is advocating the torture of prisoners stand up and defend it in public. But then again, why defend torture when you can just call it a matter of opinion, an open debate?

The Washington Post editorial board wrote its strongest, clearest editorial on the topic this morning, saying that the Bush administration's policy has done "untold damage to the moral standing of the United States". But they don't just scold Mukasey--they give Congress and every U.S. citizen a charge to end the erosion of our moral capacities by passing legislation that closes any legal loopholes and outlaws all forms of abusive interrogation. I for one am going to write my legislators today to plead with them to do just that.

What I Learned From Mary Aitken

I learned through the email grapevine that a dear old friend, Mary Aitken, died Sunday night at the age of 87 at the nursing home where she had lived for the past four or five years in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Hearing of her death has made me think a lot about what I learned from her, and abut what a privilege it was to be her pastor for eight and a half years.

If you knew Mary, it might be a bit of a surprise to read the previous statement. For one thing, Mary was pretty demanding. Even when I knew her, she didn't get around that easily, but she still wanted to go places. It took a huge effort Mary to the Gardner museum, the Harvard Faculty Club and other locations for our Bible study's art discussions and luncheons. And she constantly requested that I visit her, even if I had just been to her apartment for an hour the week before. She had multiple health crises in the time I knew her, so it's not surprising that my kids actually thought her name was "Mary Ache-in".

But the truth of the matter is, I enjoyed being around Mary. It certainly helped that she loved babies and children, and all three of my kids spent plenty of time crawling around the floor of her apartment, playing with her Rock-and-Roll Elmo and eating all the candy and ice cream sandwiches that she saved for them. And she loved to talk, so I learned her complete life story within the first year of our acquaintance. From that point on, I loved to hear the way in which favorite stories cycled back and back again. Soon, we had shared memories of her past.

At one point, Dibbie and I were discussing Mary's insistence that we both come over to her apartment and watch a new video she had gotten about the trans-Canada railway. We were both a bit amused at Mary's excitement about something so mundane, but then Dibbie said, "The thing is, Mary enjoys life." I had to agree.

Mary was not a spiritual sage. In fact, she really struggled with her faith. She was haunted with regret over how her mother had died, and her inability to care for her at the end of her life. She was really bothered by several other situations of unfairness she had encountered in her life, and found it very difficult to forgive wrongs done to her. But I still found her inspiring, in large part because she was able to get really excited about small things and really touched by small kindnesses. And also, she was able to fall in love, or at least develop a massive crush, and dream of finally getting married at an age when she could only walk with the help of a walker.

Okay, so that was probably a bit crazy of her. But who cares? I think of Mary sometimes when I hear some wise soul go on about the importance of truly Being Present to the Here and Now. Mindfulness has a lot going for it, but sometimes living in a state of denial, living in a fantasy world isn't such a bad option either. When I knew her, the Here and Now of Mary's life was pretty tough, and it only got worse over the past five years. But she had an ability to detach from her circumstances and float around in memories and in dreams. Since she often invited me to come along on these journeys, I got to see their benefit too.

I loved Mary, and I loved being her pastor. I wish I could be in Massachusetts Friday to bid her farewell.

Update from Kenya

I just received an update from Edward Simiyu, the amazing Kenyan pastor of the City Harvest church who Caitlin Kelley and I met in Uganda last May. Edward and his church's response to the recent post-election violence in Kenya has been a very strong reminder to me of what it means to serve the Prince of Peace. I can't do what he's doing, but I want to support him every step of the way because what he's doing sounds a lot like what Jesus calls his disciples to do. Follow the links (added by me) for more news and some jarring photos. To see what he's talking about on a map, look here or here. He refers in his letter to Aaron and Kaarli, two young Americans working in Kenya for Youth For Christ (I think). They were also at the Amahoro Africa conference, and were also impressive and inspiring people. Please keep all of these people in your prayers.

Here's Edward's letter:

Dear Praying friend,

This update comes to you when shocking violence rocked and led to partial destruction of some otherwise peaceful towns of Nakuru and Naivasha. Cynthia (one of our staff) went on official duty to minister to the displaced in Burnt Forest and together with a team of 20 from Nairobi Chapel team conducted the first ever Sunday service for the displaced yesterday.

They are now stuck in the area due to the roadblocks that have seen the death of a Catholic priest and close to 20 others forcefully removed from Public transport vehicles and killed. Last night was difficult for them as raiders attempted to raid and kill the displaced close to the police station where the team is putting up. The police thankfully repulsed the raiders.

It is now official that the road are unsafe without police escort and the situation has worsened since Friday last week...worse than when the caravan of hope went out... The team is trying to get to Eldoret before they can be escorted back to Nairobi, ironically via Burnt Forest again. The police in Eldoret are reportedly overwhelmed by violence further northwest near Turbo towards Webuye (The home of our Webuye Pastors Expositors Conference). Over 20 or so roadblocks have been erected for ethnic cleasning...

Peace gathering in Kibera

On Saturday, January 19th, I held a breakfast meeting with 22 leaders in Kibera, Laini Saba that is also the home of Kibera Transformation and Development Project (a ministry of City Harvest church). The agenda was "How to Restore Peace" by critically examining the impact of (past) conflicts. Some of the worst violence continues to be experienced in Kibera especially around Fort Jesus. It is around this area that the impressive Africa Inland Church was razed by arsonists. Aaron and Kaarli graciously availed themselves to share experiences of what they have seen in Africa over the two years they have been on the continent.

The two hour deliberations saw the leaders make interesting proposals: that we meet again in about two weeks time and hold similar conversations in the hotspots and have as many of the inciters of violence attend. Thankfully our young civic leader has contact with a number of inciters and promised to not only host the meeting but also invite the inciters of violence. Our mediation plan will include engaging warring parties to carry out joint reconstruction of homes etc as a way of rebuilding peace and trust.

Please pray that we shall see calm return to Kibera through these efforts. Pray also that the on going mediation talks led by Koffi Annan will yield lasting peace and reconciliation. One major concern that I have is that the violence, if it continues (and if it hasn't already) may head into an irreversible gear; that of personal/tribal grudge and revenge militias which the two leaders may be unable to contain regardless of who is or becomes the legitimate president. It will be remembered that many conflicts on the continent started as small feuds that then escalated into decades of bloody civil strife by not being contained early enough. Pray also for Aaron and Kaarli. They have so far put a neutral face to my efforts by among others taking peoples' attention from asking questions as to whom I am and my tribal affiliation which is now a very sensitive issue.

Friday 25.01.2008

After our return from the clash torn North Rift areas two weeks ago, our report reached churches in the City with positive responses emerging. Nairobi Chapel has sent two trucks this morning to the region with humanitarian assistance. They also gladly received our consignment of foodstuffs to deliver to those affected. We are sensitizing as many churches with the hope that they will do the same. Indeed many are already involved in some parts of Nairobi.

Asante for standing in prayer with us.

Edward Simiyu

Edward M. Simiyu
Team Leader/Senior Pastor
City Harvest Ministries
P.o. Box 7276 Nairobi 00300

The Transfiguration

Exodus 24:12-18
Psalm 99
II Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

Have you ever had a "Mountain Top Experience"?  Is that term even familiar for you?  Having hung around churches most of our lives we have heard several people share their own stories around their "Mountain Top Experiences".  Most of the time it goes something like this...

"And so we were all there together, and we had been praying and singing, and I really felt God show up" or "I had been on retreat by myself for the weekend and as I was walking along the lake I saw an egret gliding across the water as the sun was coming up and I knew in that moment that I was in the presence of God." 

Without having done any official research, anecdotal evidence tells us that there are a few common characteristics of a  "Mountain Top Experience"
•    intentional time away from normal pace / events / people / surroundings of life
•    a different physical / geographic setting (not necessarily on a mountain top)
•    some sort of experience of / meeting with / different understanding of God

This week we are looking at two of the original and archetypical "Mountain Top Experiences" in the stories of Moses going up Mount Sinai and Jesus going up an unnamed high mountain.

Preceding this week’s Exodus passage, Moses has been on the mountain with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and seventy elders of Israel.  There on the mountain, they find themselves in the presence of God, whom they see and then in whose presence they eat and drink.  In this week’s reading, Moses has been summoned by God back up the mountain to receive the tablets.  He takes with him his assistant, Joshua.  We don’t know much about Joshua – only that he is referred to earlier in the Exodus and that he ultimately leads the Israelites into the Promised Land after Moses’ death.  Up on the mountain, a cloud descends and Moses spends 42 days and nights (code for a long, long time) in the presence of God.

The Psalmist writes about the experience of Moses and Aaron and the elders.  The verses echo many experiences with God throughout both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.  God is praised for his responsiveness, his mercy and might.

In Matthew, we encounter Jesus with James, John and Peter.  They have been traveling and teaching and healing.  These men have been through a lot.  In particular, Peter seems to be marked.  He has walked on water and saved in his moment of doubt by Jesus’ hand.  In an infamous exchange, Peter has declared that Jesus is the Son of Man – the Messiah, much awaited in the Jewish tradition.  In response, Jesus has proclaimed that Peter is the rock on which the church will be built.  In the next breath, Jesus scolds Peter for his lack of faith.  We know a lot about Peter’s experiences with Jesus.

So here they are on the mountain.  They must have been weary, drained by all that they have seen and done.  In a scene that echoes the literature of the Hebrew scripture, Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah, his face and clothing shine, and a voice speaks from the clouds, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”  As Jesus comforts his companions in their understandable awe, he asks that they tell no one of this vision until after he is raised from the dead.  Hmmm.

What would you do?

2 Peter was written as the apostle Peter’s testament.  There is debate about the actual author, but clearly, the letter was written to pass along Peter’s experiences and his teachings, perhaps by one of his own disciples. In a way, the testament is a fulfillment of the command Peter received when Jesus appears after the resurrection.  Even after Peter has denied Christ in the shadow of the cross, days later Jesus affirms him and commands him three times…if you love me, feed my sheep.  In this week’s reading, the author of 2 Peter is witnessing not just to the experience on the mountain, but to the reality of personal experiences with God and the obligation that comes with these experiences.

  • If we have some sort of “Mountaintop Experience”, whether we seek it out or have one imposed on us, are we obligated to respond in some way? 
  • What must we do to prepare ourselves for these types of Experiences?  Is there anything we can do, or must we simply wait for God to initiate the meeting?
  • Can we orchestrate, or ‘force’, communication with God?
  • In what ways do you prepare for or invite encounters with God? 
  • Who do we expect to validate the prophecies we hear or the experiences that we have?

"Great God, humble us so that we will be capable of hearing your Word.  We thank you for the gift of yourself in the Scripture.  We rejoice in its complexity.  Give us the simplicity to be confounded by your Word.  Amen"

Stanley Hauerwas
Prayers Plainly Spoken

Breaking Things Up

My daily email from The Writer's Almanac this morning reminded me that today is the anniversary of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. Immediately upon reading that, I had a vivid memory of that day. I was in my freshman year in college in 1986 when the explosion occurred, and I was spending every morning buried in a building at the edge of campus trying desperately to pass Intensive Japanese. I was walking to lunch after class when I heard the news from another student. Later studies showed that something like 85% of Americans heard the news within an hour after it happened.

But the ones who heard it first were by and large kids in school. Because Christa McAuliffe was on the plane, the first "Teacher in Space", thousands of schools broadcast the launch live and every classroom gathered around the television. I've heard a number of my peers describe that experience--the shock of the adults, the confusion of the kids, some of whom exclaimed "cool!" and other of whom burst into tears as the smoking pieces of the shuttle shot off into different directions against the bright blue sky.

I've heard a number of people describe the explosion of the Challenger as one of the defining experiences of my generation--"Generation X" or whatever we should be called. I think this might be true, and not just because so many of us can remember where we were when we heard the news.

My parents' generation remembers watching the first lunar landing and hearing Armstrong's claim that all of mankind was stepping forward in that moment. My sense is that they believed it, too. Technology was the engine of progress, and governments and groups gathered their resources to create massive projects that Pushed Us Forward.

But my peers and I grew up with technology. I'm on the older edge of GenX, and even I had computer classes in grade school. I did all my writing, from high school on, on a personal computer, not a typewriter. So technology was a tool at my personal disposal like a toothbrush or a paintbrush, not a source of wonder and awe. The television program I do remember watching during high school was "The Day After" a nightmarish depiction of the aftermath of a nuclear attack on the U.S. And then came the Challenger explosion. The lesson for me and my peers? Technology isn't much good for holding us together. In the end, things fall apart.

And yet, technology is embedded in the culture of my generation, so our response was never to reject the tools but rather to use them differently. Is it any surprise that a generation with the image of a technological masterpiece splintering into the air embedded in our memories is perfectly happy to let technology become more diffuse and more diverse? The technological masterpieces of our generation look a lot more like Wikipedia than they look like a lunar landing. Hundreds of thousands of entries, mutually edited and refined, connected in purpose and vision while remaining not just tolerant but nurturing of mind-boggling diversity and the opinionated argument that involves.

All of this brings me to our conversation yesterday with about 14 women and one man from the Iranian-American-Muslim community. My favorite part of the afternoon came at the end when we responded at our tables to the question, "What question could we ask that would move this conversation to the next level?" When we de-briefed our answers, I was amazed at the widely differing approaches our groups had taken. One table asked, "Who is responsible for the sanctions against Iran, why are they continuing, and how can we change them?" Another table asked, "How can we begin to tell the story of our history together?" and another said, "How can we broaden this conversation to include a much larger number of people?"

And then a young woman in a headscarf took the microphone and said, "The question that we felt would take this conversation to the next step is 'Would you come to my house for dinner?'"

That question rang true to me. I liked all the others, too, and I do hope we have another, larger conversation eventually. But it just might be that the next step is for a couple of us to have dinner together. If a million of us had dinner together, in groups of four or six or seven, maybe we'd even prevent the next war. That's the kind of process that I have faith in.

Paying Attention to Peace

Rosa was in a pensive mood as we walked along the bike path to a friend's birthday party yesterday. She'd been re-reading the journal she had written in each day of second grade at the start of the school day. "I noticed something," she told me. "Last year I wrote a lot about the world. You know, helping it out, making it a better place."

"Hmm..." I said. "Why do you think you were doing that?"

"Well, if you are actually going to make the world better, you have to imagine it better. Don't you think, Mama? Otherwise you just complain all the time. And then you end up noticing all the bad things and you end up complaining even more."

As usual, she had a good point. We talked the rest of the way about how once you start imagining a better world, you can notice parts of that better world already happening in our not-so-perfect world here and now.

Today, I'm getting ready to notice the way in which people are working now to make peace with each other, even in the midst of nations and leaders who conspire to make war. Our congregation has invited about 15 Iranian-American muslim women and men to join 15 of our for a conversation over cookies and tea this afternoon. Our conversation will be led as a "World Cafe", a process that is both simple and ingenious. It releases the collective wisdom of a group like nothing else I've experienced.

This is a conversation that has been several months in the making, and when we first considered it, there was so much talk of war with Iran coming from our President and other national figures that I was becoming convinced that another juggernaut had started to roll. War would soon be unpreventable. Things have calmed down a bit since then thanks to the bravery of some members of the "intelligence community", but the situation is far from resolved as recent events have reminded us.

Even Rosa knows that when you expect to see hostility every where, you'll be likely to notice it. So today I am getting ready to notice something different in my interactions with Iranian muslims. I am getting ready to build a relationship that might be one of thousands which will--just maybe--change the expectations of our leaders.

Epiphany 3

Isaiah 9.1-4
Psalm 27.1, 4-9
1 Corinthians 1.10-18
Matthew 4.12-23

Have you ever been called to do something you did not think you would be able to do?  Have you ever felt pulled toward a lifestyle change that you were afraid you would not capable of living?  Have you ever turned away from something because you were afraid of how it might change who you are or that it might cause you to stand out from your neighbors or peers?

This week we continue in the season of Epiphany.  It is a season that calls to mind the basic creation realities of Light and Dark, and this week is no different.  We see people who are brought from the Darkness in to the Light of God because of their obedience to (their maintenance of relationship with) God.  We see examples of people who had the courage to stay true to their commitment to God rather than follow along with what conventional / popular wisdom might call them toward.

In Isaiah we see the prophet singing the praises of God in reference to the just ruling of a King.  Isaiah was in favor of having a King because he believed that the Davidic line was instituted by God, and in this case (as best as we can discern) he is excited by what King Hezekiah has done, and will do, to keep the people of Judah safe.  There were even hopes Hezekiah might be the one to reunite Judah and Israel. Isaiah is assuming that because Hezekiah has / will remain faithful to God then they will find themselves in wonderful places and no longer in places of Darkness.

The Psalmist talks of God being his Light and Salvation.  God is strength, a lifegiver, a protector. Even when there are enemies all around, the writer talks of sacrifices with joy and singing to God.  In this Psalm we get to see in to the head and heart of the writer as he convinces himself that staying faithful to God is the right thing to do. 

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul is trying to take some of the confusion from the people.  He is calling this community to a new level of humility. Because of its location and status within the Roman Empire, we can assume that the community in Corinth was accustomed to a highly defined social structure.  The message Paul is delivering is not just monumental for this church, but for the society in which this church community existed.  Evidently there has been some in-fighting in their young community because some folks feel that there was a hierarchy within the community related to who Baptized them.  Paul reminds them that their salvation is not related to social status.  He re-focuses them toward the truth that the message of Christ is literally the power of God for those who hear / accept it…no matter from whom they received it.  Those from whom they receive the gospel message or by whom they were baptized are humble disciples, obediently responding to a call for which they may or may not have been prepared.

It might be helpful to remember that 1 Corinthians was written to an early (first generation) community of Christians.  It was penned to a community of Gentile Christians prior to the writing of the gospels of Matthew, Luke and John.  The gospel message as we read it today was actually shaped by the experiences of early Christian communities like this one to which Paul writes.  The gospels were written in response to needs observed as these early communities struggled to understand how to function through the events that followed Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, the ensuing period of waiting for a second coming, and the eventual fall of the Temple.  These early churches were caught in the midst of discerning what Jesus’ message meant to their political and social circumstances day by day.

Matthew gives us his version of the calling of the first disciples.  (There is plenty to guess about why Matthew’s version is different from John’s, for today we will simply remind every one that Matthew and John were written after the fall of the Temple in 70 CE, probably both to Jewish Christian audiences).  Being a disciple of a rabbi was not a hobby.  Rabbis only called disciples they believed had the intellect and the ability to teach their yoke (teachings / interpretations of the Torah specific to each rabbi).

So we see Jesus walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee and he sees two fishermen doing their daily work.  They were fishermen.  They were certainly important to the economy, they were certainly important to the markets, they were certainly important in keeping their families alive.  These were men that worked hard with their hands and their bodies with boats and fish every day.  However, we can assume they did not spend a lot of time in the temple or the synagogue studying Torah.  We do not know if they “applied” to be the disciples of any particular rabbi or not.  What we do know is at that moment, they were not out looking to become students of anyone.  They were working.  They were fishing.  But when their call to follow a teacher came, they dropped what they were doing with obedience and followed.  The text says “immediately”  - “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

Much like the early community of Corinth, we read these words with our own experience of hierarchies, prerequisites to authority and status ascribed to certain roles, certifications and offices or positions.  We also read these words sometimes feeling called to do work that we feel woefully unprepared to do.  Like Simon and Peter, we are happily mending our nets and preparing our boats for the next day of fishing.  Call comes at unexpected times and in unexpected places.  If we are truly disciples, how do we respond?

+How does your Christian community understand its call?  What levels of authority or status exist within that community?
+How do you let go of the work in front of you to respond to the call of one who needs you?
+How do you understand the call placed on your life?  What do you think you need in order to be prepared to respond to that call? Can you respond with obedience without preparation, authority, expertise?
+What gives a person the authority to build the Kingdom of God?

Blessings On Each One of Us, Lord
Blessings on every creature as we attempt to make sense of our lives,
to find the meaning in them, and to praise you,
Our creator, for all that you lay before us.
Form our words.  Shape our lives.
Open our hearts and mouths to share our words and our lives
with those who hunger for your words and your life.
Thank you that our gifts can touch others.
Thank you for the ways others bless us.
Open our eyes to see, our ears to hear
Our spirits to witness those gifts, those blessings.
You who created sun and moon and stars;
You who can see the scope of infinity, guide us,
so that we wander not in the wilderness, alone,
but toward your oasis with a camel
and a community traveling beside us.

Cathy Warner, in Courageous Spirit: Voices from Women in Ministry


           As many of you know one of my challenges is setting appropriate boundaries for my time and energy.  It is so hard for me to balance "taking care of myself" and taking care of others.  I have prayed for healing in his area for a long time. My tendency to do too much for others and burn myself out is deep seated and may even be genetic.  My mother before me did the same thing and so did her mother before her. 

            One day recently I was in the midst of preparing holiday dinner for 16 family members and I was "taking care of myself" by going to the therapy pool for my arthritis.  That day, Jean was at the pool.  Jean has known me and loved me for 30+ years.  She told me:  "Normale I think this year you are going to get the award for most improved boundary setter"   

            There is a thin line between being happy and proud of myself and being arrogant.  When Jean said that, I was so happy and proud of myself.  I was just about to step over the line into arrogance when I started to get this strong knowing that I needed to stop by the Nursing Home and visit Jan on the way home from arthritis swim class.

            One of my yearly recommitment commitments for the last couple years has been "to allow God to use me without consulting me".  Since I am over scheduled most of my life, it is almost always inconvenient when God is "using me without consulting me".  It is only in the last few weeks since I have lived into my boundary setting healing more that it has occurred to me that if I am going to make this commitment yearly, it would be a sign of healing for me to leave some space in my life for God to use me without consulting me.  Keeping a life schedule as tight as mine is counter-productive to God using me without consulting me and it is counterproductive to me learning to set appropriate boundaries and take care of myself better.
            When I asked God to heal me so I could set more appropriate boundaries, I had a very definite idea of what "setting appropriate boundaries" looks like.  I had a clear vision of how I will be different when I am healed.  I had just visited Jan the day before and so my vision of "taking care of myself better" definitely did not include an unscheduled stop to visit Jan the day before my big dinner party.  A little voice inside of me was saying "Jean just gave you a at-a-girl for your improved boundary setting .. you can't just live into that and be happy … no-o-o …. you have to rush off to visit Jan… get thee hence Satan … you can't pull me back into my old ways....  Then there was this other voice in my head:  "Is this God using you without consulting you?... no God would not ask you to fit yet another thing into this day".
            And so it went back and forth… Was it my sickness of doing too much for too many calling me to visit Jan or was it God trying "use me without consulting me"?  I just could not shake that feeling.  I had to go see Jan. 
            The bottom line is, when I arrived, Jan's situation was desperate.  She had been moved to a new room, dumped there and forgotten with no telephone to call for help until I arrived.   When I arrived at the nursing home, I was standing on "Holy Ground".  It was one of those moments when God pokes a divine finger through my ordinary life and makes my life extra-ordinary.
            What I learned from that situation was that although it is important to hold a vision of what it will look like when I am healed, I can't be rigid about that vision.  Sometimes the very nature of my disease makes it hard to see what being fully healed looks like.
So thanks to God and community, I have made great progress with my setting appropriate boundaries healing and I realize anew that I cannot do this alone.  My healing is not something that happens and then it is done. 
            As I age there are going to be more and more aspects of my body that will not "heal" if I define healing as having my body completely "normal".  As I age sometimes healing may be about a shift in attitude rather than physical healing.  Maybe healing will be about being grateful for the percentage of my body that does work and figuring out a way to accept with love the percentage of my body that does not work. 
            I can pray for healing and have this rigid vision of how the situation has to change for me to consider myself healed.  If I pray for healing in that way, my healing depends on my opinion of what "healed" looks like.  I may or may not consider myself healed.
            Or I can pray for healing knowing, in faith, that the healing has already begun and that my task is to notice, with gratitude, what healing looks like.  To notice with gratitude what has shifted in me mentally, physically or spiritually, even though I have not healed physically the way I hoped.  
            My healing cannot be blue printed and demanded to be a certain way.  My healing is a process and must have soft edges that join with my connection to the Oneness of God because what "healed" looks like changes in every moment.

Epiphany 2

Hebrew Bible:     Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm:    Psalm 40:1-11
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
New Testament:  John 1:29-42

Do you ever worry that you’ll miss the boat?  That the perfect opportunity will come along--the Thing you’ve hoped for--and you will be too afraid, too distracted or too vain to walk away from what you Have and Risk achieving What You Have Waited For?  Or do you ever feel like you have all that you need, and in that Space of Satisfaction, do you think that you might have missed something that you should have seen?

Whether it is a vocation, a relationship, a house, a trip or an item on the clearance rack, you’ve probably passed up an opportunity without knowing or perhaps even considering the opportunity cost.  Or maybe you boldly moved toward the unknown, not passing up the newly presented opportunity.  But what did you leave behind?  What might you miss?

This week Epiphany continues, and the readings shed more and more light on who this Jesus is and the possibilities he represents.   Last week, Jesus was consecrated and set apart.  This week, John testifies about the meaning of this consecration and Jesus begins to gather his disciples.   We get to watch the disciples ask what it means to take a risk.

In the Isaiah passage, a first-person voice paints a picture of what God desires of a certain chosen servant.  God’s charge is to do something bigger than merely save Israel: God says to Isaiah, "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."

Wow.  In the context of the early Christian church, that was probably read in light of the expansion of Christ’s teaching beyond Judaism toward Christianity; but in our context today, what does it mean to ponder God empowering a servant to shed light in dark corners so that salvation might reach the End of the Earth?  There is a chance our own call is not all that different from Isaiah’s or Israel’s call.

The Psalmist reflects on a God that is steadfast.  These words are obviously written by someone that was confident of God’s faithfulness.  She (or he) was certain of his/her calling to be in relationship with God.  Over time, God has proven faithfulness to the people.  This is a God who has drawn the people out of one bad spot after another in spite of how they adhered to written laws and the observance of sacrifices and offerings.  Psalms were the prayers and the hymns for Jews in Jesus’ day.  As you stretch your mind around these words, think about Jesus learning from these same words in his community.  How would that shape a teacher?  A prophet?  A leader?

The Epistle reading is the greeting from Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth.  There is a lot packed into these few lines. Paul is reminding this community that they are “called” to be saints.  He reminds them that grace has been given to them…not earned.  He reminds them that God is faithful.  While they wait, while they grow together, called into community because of their fellowship in Christ’s teachings, they cannot earn this love from God.  It is faithfully offered to them with Grace.

It seems that encouraging someone to accept Grace is tantamount to asking them to risk that God’s Love and Forgiveness actually exist and might even trump one’s own guilt-driven flagellation.  Trusting what God tells us is a difficult thing to live in to some times.

Two really important things happen in the gospel lesson this week.  One is that John testifies to his own disciples that the spirit descended at Jesus’ baptism, revealing to John Jesus’ place as “the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”   By naming Jesus the “Lamb of God,” John references the Passover lamb and makes a direct connection between Jesus’s coming and the deliverance of Israel.  John believes that this Lamb of God has come to take away the “sin of the world.”  He does not reference the sin of this person or that person or the sin of those who don’t follow the law or of those who trip and fall over some social expectation.  No, this Jesus was sent to take away the sin of the world.

This raises an important question about what we might be missing today.  In Brian McLaren’s book,  The Secret Message of Jesus, he wonders with his readers if we have maybe been asking the wrong question for thousands of years.  He marvels at the complexity of parables, wondering if they are puzzles that call us to struggle with words to find deeper meaning.

What if Jesus wasn’t here to save us individually, but to save us collectively, to take away the Sin of the World?  Certainly John read the prophets and the Psalms and would have picked up on the visions of salvation that reaches the end of the earth or of a God that did not require burnt offerings or blind obedience to a law.

Another question brought up in this week’s reading is found in the movement of Peter and Andrew from being John’s disciples to being followers of Jesus.  After John’s testimony, Andrew, who has been following John to this point, goes to find his brother.  He nudges him, “Hey, this is The One.  This is the Messiah.”  Jesus now has his first two disciples--Peter and Andrew.  It is a new beginning. They felt The Pull or The Drawing or The Calling inside of them so deeply that they knew they needed to attach their entire livelihood to Jesus (we will do more thinking about what it means to be a disciple another day).

But what if Andrew hadn’t quite grasped what John was saying?  Were there those with John who heard him and looked the other way?  In Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical Jesus Christ Superstar, Ciaphas the High Priest comforts Judas by telling him he has “backed the right horse” by turning Jesus over to the Jewish authorities.  How many heard John’s message and later Jesus’ message and didn’t “get” it. How many of us have read these same passages and “backed the wrong horse” intentionally or otherwise.

In Christian community, each of us in called into the fellowship of Jesus.  Even if we don’t recognize the circumstances of the call, we choose daily in our choices and actions whether to heed that call.  Without question, all of us occasionally back the wrong horse.  And there is Grace when we make the wrong choices or move past a chance to shed Light in Dark Spaces.  We get a chance tomorrow and the next day and the next.  God is faithful and by Him, you were called into the fellowship of his Son.

+Where do you feel called?
+Do you sense that opportunities have passed you by?  If so, what do you do differently because of that?
+Is it risky to accept Grace?
+What is the difference between your sin and the sin of the world?
+What is the difference between your love and the love of the world?

The eyes of my heart, O God,
    are clouded over by daily cares and fears.
By the power of your Holy Spirit,
    restore my sight.
Cause the scales to fall from my eyes,
    through the study of your holy Scriptures,
        that I may suffer no confusion
        but walk forth in confidence,
        with your word being a lamp to my feet
and a light to my pathway;
through Christ who is true light and vision.  Amen.

Laurence Hull Stookey, This Day: A Wesleyan Way of Prayer

Perfectionism Again

Posted for John Lobell.....

John     Good Morning, Jesus.

Jesus    Good morning, John.

John     I awoke with the radio alarm at 7 this morning, but didn't feel slept out, so I went back to sleep and woke at 8:30, feeling rested.  But I'm resentful that I'm getting such a late start for my day.  I still have a split mind on how to run my life: "by the numbers" or more intuitively. Both have their advantages.  These past few years I have consistently moved toward intuition, and I connect that movement with my deepening life in you, Jesus.  My body/mind/spirit has so much wisdom that my mind alone can't account for or replace.  My experience certainly finds the intuitive stance more helpful.  You are wonderfully wise, Jesus, and in no way do I find you living or teaching "by the numbers."  Your yardstick is rooted in love, not numbers, laws or any measurable units.  I can remember very few times in my life when I have not been aware of clock time - time measured by numbers.  I used to try to live my day in hourly or half-hourly increments.  This long pre-dates my occupational "need" to see clients for an hourly visit; it has to do with trying to be "efficient" in some vague way; if I measured my time I could find out how well I was "using" it.  I never worked out a way to actually use this notion, but measuring time remains a persistent habit. Even today, I can't imagine not wearing my watch just for this one day.  My dis-ease with sleeping more (because my body told me to sleep more) is rooted in my old habit of allotting so much clock time for this and so much clock time for that.  Today my whole day feels out of sync because the clocks are an hour and half ahead of my usual daily schedule.  This seems goofy to me; does it seem goofy to you?

Jesus    Do you need to ask?

John     Unh!  No.  I wish I could just let go of all the craziness I still carry around.  I've spent a lot of my time (personal and occupational) in the last half of my life digging out such foolishness in myself and changing it.  Recently I've been more into letting you change it.  That works better. It's more efficient.  Oh, God!  How can I let go of this craziness?  It's
still guiding my thoughts as I share it with you.  More "efficient!"  This is all a variant of my old perfectionism, isn't it?

Jesus    Unh!  Do you need to ask?

John     No.  I'm sad and angry that I should still be so deeply stuck in old habits.  Even as I thank and praise you for the wonderful changes you're making in me, I'm thinking in terms of the kinds of "success" that I deplore.

Jesus    John, John.  Slow down.  Remember you're human.  You're imperfect. You will be imperfect when you die.  Being perfect is not what this life is about.  It really isn't.  What your life is about is exactly what you are doing: slowly and steadily turning your will over to me, in love.  Of course this disturbs and upsets your ego and all it's desires for you!  That won't change.  As you learn to come to me, and surrender to me and my love, I am giving you rest.  You experience that.  It doesn't seem like that to your ego.  It's painful to your ego.  And to the rest of your body/mind/spirit it's glorious.  You're facing into the basic choice that God offers you, as was offered me: Whom will you serve?  I affirm that you are choosing me over your ego.  Your ego hurts and resists.  As you persist in this change, your ego will shrink (not disappear) but will become tolerable, as you're discovering physical pain is tolerable.  Hang in, John.  You're on your way home.

John     Thanks be to God.  And to you, Jesus.  I love you.