Thursday, December 25, 2014

God as Tiny Tim



God as Tiny Tim

            In the recent Exodus movie Moses ends up dialoguing with the Great I Am, otherwise known as God.  I will admit that for Hollywood it is a challenge to depict the Almighty but in this particular cinematic venture God is portrayed as a young boy whose face is often a bit grimy and who speaks with a British accent.
            That is a bit of a reach since in the Hebrew Bible God’s name could not even be written because it was so holy and removed from human reach.  The writers of the sacred text would substitute “adonai” or “Lord” instead of using the word “God.” 
            The filmmakers did not let such holy otherness get in the way so God comes off as a mixture of a young Jedi Master and Tiny Tim.  Actually believe it or not that is not the part that bothers me.  Portraying the divine has always been a bit of challenge and should be.
            It is what “the kid” does that concerns me.  After Tiny Tim convinces a reluctant Moses that he should return to Egypt to pronounce the famous “let my people go” speech, Moses goes back and decides the way to free the long pent up slaves is to teach them guerrilla warfare and how to shot bows and arrows from ever position possible.
            Tiny Tim is not pleased with this strategy.  It may be because according to my Bible such beat’em by armed might technique simply is not there.  So God gets mad and like an angry child tells Moses to bug off and get out of the way.  Of course that part is not in the original story either but remember the creators of this version never let the bible get in the way of a good story.
            When Moses shouts at Tiny Tim and asks how he is supposed to free the slaves without force “God” simply says, “I don’t want you to do anything.”  “What am I supposed to do then,” responds an astounded Moses.  With his best Jedi Master look God simply says, “Watch.”
            Then comes the part that is really troubling.  The plagues start happening like some wild video game.  The Nile turns red with blood because huge alligators that resemble something out of a bad Disney movie start chomping on unsuspecting Egyptian fishermen.  Then come a series of calamities all getting worse than the one before including frogs, flies, boils that no cortisone cream can soothe, hail like the size of softballs, and finally a shadow that comes over all of Egypt that looks very much like that scene in the War of the Worlds when the aliens overshadowed all the good people on earth.
            As the shadow passes over all the first born of Egypt have sudden cardiac arrests including Pharaoh’s prize possession, his only son.  It is truly awful.
            God comes off as a very spoiled kid who is used to having his way or else.  As a working theologian this kind of stuff is not good for business.  I have enough trouble trying to deal with “why bad things happen to good people” without movies like this making God out even more capricious and calculating than the original story implies.
            All this is to say that when I try to interpret the Old Testament to people who say something like, “How this angry and vengeful God can be the same God that Jesus calls “Abba, Father,” I tell them that the Old Testament is a bit like the Grand Canyon.  You cannot take one of the many layers and dig it out and then say, “Now this is the Old Testament.”   Quite frankly some of those layers need to be mined and explored.
            The realization that there are some newer layers on top is good to know also. Some of those early layers in the Old Testament are what you might call “heavily theologized” renditions of what happened.  It is often the theological view of the writers and editors that we witness when we hear the story. 
            This Christmas again we will hear the story of a God becoming a child.  This time it is not a Tiny Tim look alike but the real thing.  What this child ends up doing helps us take another look at those layers. It seems that one reason Jesus comes is to help us get a better picture of the real God.
            This child of Christmas does not say “watch” but asks us to participate in the healing of the nations rather than the destroying of them.  An historical examination of those plagues that were done with all those special effects by Hollywood can reveal some rather natural explanations of how those “natural disasters” may have happened rather than being the result of a vengeful, angry God who acts like a spoiled child.
            If you want to wrestle with what the Bible means and not just what it says for God’s sake, and I’m not using that phrase lightly, do not pay much attention to what you see on the big screen.  The recent Exodus movie makes for good special effects but the Bible needs to be viewed absent the popcorn version.
            I know God will appreciate that and Tiny Tim probably would too.  God bless us everyone.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Annual Christmas Poem: Into the Silence

Into the Silence

Into the silence of a world
weary of waiting
came but a whisper
though
eager hearts wanted
a crescendo of wonder

“Overcome our longings with
shouts and cries of
‘no more tears’”
came the pleas from
so many who thought
God to be asleep
if not dead

But the very awake God
shaped a sound that
was unexpected
and the soft cry of
the child was
heard only by those
who were still listening

So shepherds thought the
stars just might be singing
but what did they know?
No one would listen to them
for they were ones
of no account

And strangers who watched those
same stars heard what sounded
like, “go and seek,”
so they followed their hearts
though some
doubted their minds
and thought their long journey
foolish
  
 So the whisper was discovered
in the awesome silence
of a world surprised
and God said to the silence
and to the seekers and shepherds,
“Emmanuel…I am
now one of you.”

And so now this year
in the midst of so
much noise
Will you listen again
to the silence?
If you do you will hear
God say,
“Love is born for you”

Jody Seymour
Christmas 2014

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Between the Laughing and Crying Jesus As I sit here behind the desk in my office I look up to my left and on the wall is a picture of “the laughing Jesus.” Many people who come to my office make comments about this picture which depicts Jesus with his head slightly tilted backward and his mouth wide open as he laughs. His eyes are closed and one might wonder why he is laughing. We do not know of course, but the picture can open the door of one’s imagination. Perhaps he is laughing in response to one of the religions leaders, who has just chastised Jesus because he healed a man on the Sabbath. “You are kidding aren’t you,” Jesus may have just uttered. “You are more concerned about a religious observance than you are about this man’s well being?!” Or maybe Jesus is laughing because one of the children he has just blessed despite the lecture by his disciples that it is inappropriate to be spending time dealing with children who after all should be seen and not heard; has just pulled at his beard. Just after Jesus closes his mouth and ends his laugh is when he looks at one of his serious minded disciples and says with a bit of a chuckle, “By the way if you want to really understand what this new kingdom I am bringing is like, you must become as one of these children that you seem to want nothing to do with.” We may never know why Jesus is laughing in my picture but to my left there hangs another image of him and we all know why he is crying. This Jesus is hanging on a cross. His head is again tilted slightly but this time it is titled downward. If you look close there are tears in his eyes. You say, “I have never seen tears in his eyes.” O, they are there. He is in the process of dying on that tree. As with questions that come up about his laughing one might ponder what the tears mean. Is he crying because of the physical pain he is enduring? Is the source of the tears the memory of words that pierce his soul; words like, “I will never deny you,” or “That’s him, the one over there” that were spoken by Judas? Maybe he is crying because he feels so all alone. Even his father seems absent. So I live my life between the laughing and the crying Jesus and so do you. He laughed for you and for me, and he cried for you and for me. I think he still does. He laughs at how we get tripped up on religious stuff when the big picture of helping God heal the world is so much more important. He laughs when we think we can hide our thoughts from him because we are ashamed of them and perhaps he whispers through a smile, “Come on you don’t have to do that, it’s me.” And I suppose he cries when we get so busy that we forget what it took to gain our attention. He still weeps when we ignore the people who are forgotten. He came so that no one would be forgotten. Thank you Jesus, for laughing with me and not at me. Thank you for the tears you shed because you loved me and us so much. I shall bow my head and say to you, “Keep me between your laugh and your tears.”

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Poem Night Sounds


Night Sounds




There was the sound that

seemed to them

like angels singing

but imaginations run deep

with shepherds

who spend long

nights waiting

for dawn



But this night dawn came

early, for the sounds

were accompanied by

dancing lights that seemed

like fire that

wanted to burn away

the fear that

filled them



“Do not be afraid,” the night sounds

proclaimed

and then spoke

of great joy that would

fill all the silences

that had been

waiting to be filled

including those

of lowly shepherds



And so they made their

own night sounds with

words that said

they would go down into

the sleepy town

that was so silent

but seemed to be

waiting on them

to come



And now the child waits

for you to listen

to the night sounds

because he wants to speak

into your fear

and say to you

that angels’ voices

spoke truth….



“Unto you is born a savior”



Jody Seymour

Christmas 2013

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How Can Anyone Love Hate so Much? What God Might Have Said to the Hijackers.

How Can Anyone Love Hate so Much?




On this anniversary of 9-11 I still wonder how those who flew the planes into our buildings and our souls could love hate so much. When I see the haunting faces of those young men who piloted the planes I ponder where exactly was the crossroad where they stepped into the land of shadows; a place where they could only see reflections of an enemy that needed to be attacked simply because we were “the other.”

The way they lived among us and calculated their task in such a way as to inflict maximum pain in the most visible way possible reveals the depth of their love of hate for us. “What did we do to you that you wanted to hurt us so much,” I want to ask the faces on the TV screen? But there will be no answer because they took the questions with them along with the innocent lives of so many to the ashes that they longed to create.

“You will be martyrs for Allah as you fight this Jihad,” is what they were told and they believed it. Somehow they were going to be rewarded in Paradise for their hate.

As the famous Dr. Phil expression so goes, “How did that work out for you?” If Paradise is what I think it is and not what they imagined it to be there was quite a surprise waiting for these martyrs.

I can hear it now as they faced the God they longed to meet:

God: What in the hell were you thinking. Yes you heard me right. This was Hell

you created. Don’t go calling what you did anything to do with Heaven.

You see all those people coming from around the corner over there?

Those are the lives you took. Many of them are still wiping the sleep from

their eyes assuming that this must have been a bad dream. I’ll be spending

some time with them in a moment but for now sit down and listen.



Whoever told you that I was the one you did this for got lost a long time

ago. No religion owns me or has the right to use my name to justify their

cause. In a book they now call the Bible, some of the stories sound like I

like that kind of stuff but those folks got it wrong too. O I know they call

it the Word of God but it needs to be interpreted and studied for what it

is rather than trying to make it what it is not. If you listen between the

the lines of that book, I clearly say that no one or no religion has a

monopoly on me. You people just can’t get over trying to do that.



Now about your religion; Yes, I know you have your sacred book but

you have done the same thing with it that many Christians and Jews

do with their sacred text. You have made it conform to your narrow

view of life and of me. Now you know I am bigger than any word,

any book, or any religion.



What you think you did for me you actually did for you. Your religion led

you to hate my children and the hellish part of it is that you did it

in the my name. By the way I do not have a name. All your names

for me are more a reflection of you than of me. In all of your sacred

books you kept wanting to name me and I resisted all of your efforts.

The only reason I allowed you to use names for me is that you kept

wanting to claim me. I realize now that I should have not given you

even that privilege because you have misused it.



You have a lot to learn about me but there’s time now for you to

learn. For now, I want you to come over here and meet the people

whose lives you took. You did not know their stories but I did.

Now it is time for you to learn their stories. You got lost in your

own story and thought it was the only one. And when you claimed

me as the narrator of your story you were so very wrong.



So now it is no longer 9-11. It is 9-12 forever. I wish I could send

you back to tell others of your mistake. When will my people ever

learn?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Dirt and Dough

Dirt and Dough




His hands were in the dirt and hers were in the dough. Earl was a gravedigger and his wife May baked cakes for the upper crust of the delta Mississippi culture. They lived next door to my grandma and were like family.

Earl weighed all of 110 pounds soaking wet but May made up for it. She must have been kin to the Pillsbury doughboy or it could be that she loved her own product a little too much. She sort of wobbled when she walked but she sure could make a fine cake.

She made her living selling beautiful cake creations and Earl made a living in the dying business. As a young eager child I often watched May prepare her cakes. Her kitchen counters were often covered with dozens of pans filled with sweet recipes known only to her.

I also once was able to witness Earl do his handiwork. Just like May ended up most mornings covered with a light coating of confectioners’ sugar and dough so Earl came home most days covered in shades of Mississippi mud. He began his work with a backhoe but the fine tuning had to be done by hand. It was messy work but someone had to do it.

I always thought they made an interesting pair; thin and chunky, sweet and bitter, dirt and dough. One of their professions was necessary, the other was elective; but both were good at what they did.

Earl got a good laugh out of the reality that when I traveled down south my first summer of high school I told him that my summer job was digging graves and cutting grass for the Department of Cemeteries in my home town. I was now part of a strange brotherhood.

I often tell people some interesting stories that come from my four years of digging graves. We gravediggers have a certain code so I can’t tell you everything. Suffice it to say that I love sharing some of my cemetery stories which end with, “Yes, you might say that when it comes to the ministry I worked my way from the ground up.”

One perk that came from my days between the tombstones was that after a few days our orders were to either toss the flowers that surrounded a freshly covered grave or pile them on top of the site so that we could mow around it. After all, life must go on after death.

I would often glean some of the flowers that still had life in them and surprise my girlfriend at her cheerleading practice by presenting her with a bouquet of roses or even lilies. The other girls were impressed not only by my amazing tan but by the chivalry of the flower delivery. It must have worked because that cheerleader is now my dear wife.

May made many people happy with her cakes and Earl provided a necessary service for those whose cake eating days had come to a close. In my work now I love being present for the sweet times; baptizing babies, marrying starry eyed lovers, creating engaging worship experiences, and once in a while knowing that I nailed a good sermon. It is like being dusted with confectioners’ sugar.

And of course there are those end times that are not so sweet; doing the funeral of a stillborn infant, holding the hand of the person who just got the bad diagnosis, listening as someone shares the death of a dream or a relationship, and standing beside someone who just knows that God is dead.

Life is too short not to eat cake so eat cake. And yes there is a grave at the end of every life story but the grave is not the end; trust me I know.

I don’t work for the Cemetery Department anymore but the agency I work for now assures me that beyond the dirt there is the dough. The likes of May are preparing divine desserts. I’m sure of it.

So in the words of Jesus loosely translated: “Smell the wildflowers, pay attention to the birds of the air, notice children, offer grace every chance you get and don’t worry so much about the grave because May and I are preparing a place for you so save room for dessert. Earl’s work was honorable but his efforts were not the last word. Life is full of dirt and dough but in the end it will all be ok…trust me.”

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What if Jesus Had a Blog


If Jesus Had a Blog

 

            If Jesus had a blog I wonder what he would have written?  Maybe something like:

 

            I can’t believe it.  I made this wine the other day for a party after they ran out and still some people complained that there was not enough Merlot.  Then the Chardonnay crowd asked what year was the vintage? Speaking of fruit, I wanted to remind them of that story about that first couple who picked some fruit that they were supposed to leave on the tree. Those folks at the party needed to be made aware that even though Adam and Ever were not picking grapes it was then that the wrong questions started to be asked, but I decided just to let them enjoy the party.

            Then the other day I had to break up a fight between James and John.  They both wanted to be “number one.”  I tried to tell them that being number one on my team might mean being the water boy instead of the quarterback but they only looked at me like I had two heads.

            I guess the thing that surprises me most about people is how no one seems to be paying attention to life.  In the midst of some theological debate the other day between Peter and Thomas I put my hand up and told them to hush up.  Then I made the whole lot sit down right where they were standing.

            It happened to be in the middle of a field and I’m sure they wondered why I told them to sit.  I then asked them where it was that they were sitting.  Thomas said, “Well it’s a field Lord.”  “Yes but what’s in the field?”

            Finally Matthew said, “Uh flowers?”  I then picked one of the wild flowers and held it in front of Peter.  He always wants to be the leader so I thought I would give him a chance.

            “Peter, what is this?”  He looked at me as if he felt sorry for me and responded, “It’s a flower Lord.”  “Well ponder this flower for a while and you’ll start understanding that life is more than the worry all of you have about who is first and what we are going to eat tomorrow.”

            No one said anything for a while, which was good.  I need to teach this bunch how to be silent and listen.  There is going to come a time when they will need that skill.

            I had an interesting conversation the other day with a woman at a well.  I needed to be away by myself and besides I was thirsty.  This woman was there when I arrived and she started to hurry off knowing that she was not supposed to be seen alone with a man especially in the middle of the day.

            I stopped her and asked her if she could lower the bucket and get me a drink since she was getting ready to fill her water jug.  “I’m not supposed to even be talking to you.  Number one, I am a woman and you are a man; and number two I can see that you are a Jew and you obviously know I am a Samaritan.”

            “What if I told you I don’t care about number one or number two?  I care about you and besides I’m thirsty.  By the way what if I told you that I could give you the kind of water that would quench your thirst forever?”

            “The well’s not that deep sir.”

            “Maybe you ought to go ask your husband about all this.”

            “Well I don’t really have a husband at the moment.”

            “I see…then these guys you are hanging around, who are they.”

            “How did you know that?”

            “I know things.”

            “Are you some kind of prophet?”

            “You could say that.”

            “A lot of us have been looking for a really great prophet to come along and finally set thing right.”

            “What if I told you that I’m your guy?  How about a drink of that water; yours and mine…”

            It was an interesting conversation and unlike my dear thick headed disciples I think she understood what was going on.  I’m pretty sure her life will never be the same.

            Well this blogging thing is interesting.  I might keep it up but then things are getting rather hectic so hopefully some other folks will write down some of what I’m doing and what I’m trying to say.

            That’s all for now and if you’re reading this remember, “Blessed are those who have eyes to see and who really take the time to see.”