Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lite Brite

I suppose the toy called, "Lite Brite" is rather mundane now compared to video games and Transformers that turn from trucks to tree top giants in a few twists but in our children's day a Lite Brite was something to be desired. In case you have been living in a cave for lo these many years or you've never had or been around children, a "Lite Brite" is a plastic "screen" with holes in it. You then place multi-colored pegs in the holes in order to create a design or picture. Once the pegs are arranged you flip the switch and "tah-dah" your creation lights up.

In Jewish wisdom teaching there is the story of Ein Sof. Ein Sof is the God-like power of the infinite that decided to create "something" so that it would have something with which to relate. The problem is that when this "creation" happened the energy was so powerful that the "containers" in which the "light" was placed could not contain the light. The vessels broke into pieces. This event is called the "Shevirat ha-kelim" and the "sparks" that became a part of the broken pieces are called "netzutzot."

This means that parts of the divine light are all over the place but they are in "pieces." Life becomes both a recognition that all of creation contains elements of the divine light and the growing awareness that the true task of life is to help "God" put Creation back together again.

I know this is not the story that is told in the Bible about Creation but I still like what the story has to teach those of us who will listen even if from a distance. One of our Creation stories (and yes there are two if you pay close attention: Adam and Eve/ and/ the Seven Day account) ends with "broken people" being cast out of the garden. Before you know it Cain kills Abel, there is a terrible flood because people won't listen, and the remaining folks decide to "be like gods" and build a tower tall enough to "see it all.".....sounds like broken vessels to me.

So the idea of life being about helping God get the light back in the bottle sounds pretty good. Life then becomes about partnering with God in the healing of the world. Our Jewish heritage has an expression for that too: Tikkun repair the world.

There are those in our faith tradition who still think that God is working with some time-table to destroy the world. Then there are those who pay no attention to any tradition who think our role is to "consume" the world as a commodity.

I like the tradition that says we are to recognize that all of life is sacred because it all contains pieces of divine light...even though the light is contained in broken vessels. It takes vision not just sight to "see" that divine in some people...and I'm at times that "some people" because sometimes I act like a really broken vessel. I hope someone has the vision to see the light in me when I forget it.

Let's be about helping God heal the world. Some people think God is not present because there is so much that is broken in our world. This old tradition may just help us see that in the brokenness God is there...and we are supposed to be there too...helping God heal the world. So I come full circle. Creation may be God's "Lite-Brite" and we are to start putting in the pegs to help God make a bright future.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Let the Fish be Your Teachers

Every couple of years Betsy and I take a snorkeling trip. In the next few days that is where I will be. There is something very mystical and refreshing about spending some time with God's fish. I woke up this morning wondering just what made it so and then a verse from the book of Job popped into my mind. (No it didn't I had to look it up and then it popped into my mind...don't want you to think I'm dreaming in scriptural technicolor or something.)

In one of Job's rantings (that's right when you hear about the "patience of Job" it is a stretch...with "friends" like Job had, his patience included debating, defending, and generally ranting at them and God for eight or nine see, you might be more patient than you think in terms of "biblical patience.") Job wonders how he can perceive the ways of a very mysterious God. A clue comes in Job 12: 8...When Job again ponders just how he can ever comprehend the hidden ways of God he is told, "Speak to the earth and it will teach you; and the fish will explain to you."

Ah so you see my trip is really a kind of "fishing expedition" to ascertain the ways of God! Why this could even end up being tax-deductible if I frame it right.

Forget the tax benefit, the real value of putting your head underwater and looking at these beautiful creatures is that for a moment you share a silent world with multi-colored wonder. Sometimes while floating limp and steady I find myself staring at a fish who is staring back at me. Of course I'm just visiting its world and I cannot tell if it is simply being "patient" with me or studying me.

I imagine what the fish might be thinking: "Who is this strange un-colorful being that floats on the surface with a pipe in its mouth in order to breathe? Poor thing has to have help to even stick its head in my world. It must be of low intelligence not to be able to figure out how to breathe in my wonderful space without having to reach above for life. Is this poor creature with appendages bobbing about its body like so much seaweed not aware of the life giving surrounding that gives it life and support? Why does it not simply take in its surroundings and live? It has to artificially connect itself in order to even look at me. I suppose it is looking at me. Those eyes are hidden behind some screen so it can't even feel the glory of my world. Poor thing. I've seen its kind before. They appear to be so trapped in their world and somehow it seems that those who come this way look at me with longing as if they desire to really be in my world. Why don't you take off your mask and breathe with me? Enough for now O strange one. Go back to your limited life. Come visit when you can. You seem to need it."

"Speak to the earth and it will teach you; and the fish will explain to you..." It may take a bit of imagination but if we listen carefully, Creation can "teach and explain" that which we seem to not understand in other ways. So now I shall go forth in order to learn some lessons on how to be...from some of Gods' special fish.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Though the Moutains Quake

One translation of Psalm 46:2 says, "Though the earthquakes come and the mountains fall into the sea we will not be afraid." Watching the pictures that come from the destruction in Haiti makes me wonder about the value of those words. I see the fear in the people's eyes and the shock on their faces.

So what does the writer mean that they should not be afraid? God isn't stupid. God knows that there are some really good reasons to be afraid. I believe God is in the middle of all that destruction and rubble with God's children so I know God understands their fears.

The ancients who wrote the words of the Psalms believed that the earth stood on "pillars" and those foundations could be "shaken." What is affirmed is that in the midst of the pillars being shaken and the mountains falling into the sea God is present.

What I see and hear a lot is how faith is shaken when the pillars of the earth come tumbling down. A terrible earthquake is an extreme example of how our world can collapse. People's world's collapse when the doctor says those words that the "results of the test are not good." Pillars shake when someone says, "I don't love you anymore." Foundations crumble when dreams disappear.

The reason I'm able to stay in this crazy, wonderful work of ministry is that I've come to see that though the mountains shake and fall into the sea both literally and figuratively there is an unseen presence that is underneath the pillars. That presence does not keep the foundations from shaking.

Some people have no use for a God who would "let that happen." The God of the Psalms never says that the pillars will not crumble. They will. God is beneath the pillars and beyond the fear. To fear does not mean that our faith is too weak. To fear means that we need faith when things come crumbling down and life makes no sense.

Jesus knelt down in a garden one night and basically said, "Hey dad can you maybe keep the pillars from crumbling, I have some other things I want to do?" The pillars crumbled anyway because this God decided to enter life in the midst of all the ruins...not fix all the ruins or keep the destruction from happening.

So we will again need to join in the healing of the nations as we seek to help our brothers and sisters in Haiti but think not that God was sleeping when the pillars shook. God has heard them shake before. There's no stopping the shaking because God is not a wizard pulling leavers or a magician who makes rabbits or earthquakes disappear.

Our God is one who promises that there will be a new heaven and a new earth where the pillars will not shake, but for now we have to reach deep and access faith. After Jesus did not get his request for the pillars to remain firm he walked out into the night and stepped into the destruction for us...and for those dear people of Haiti.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Beginning in a Cemetery

My first job was digging graves and cutting grass for the city cemetery department. All four years of my High School I spent those hot summer days either behind a lawn mower weaving my way through tomb-stones or at the end of a shovel whose blade had to toss dirt from the bottom of a newly dug grave where we had to "square it out." It was not glorious work but it paid good, $1.25 an hour...and I got a great tan.

I meet some interesting folks in the cemetery; no not the dead ones, the other ones. There was Junior who drove the truck that would dump us young ones at the cemetery. Junior's front two teeth were left in a grave somewhere. He liked to sing while he know whistling through the cemetery and all that.

Then there was Dillon who operated the back-hoe that did most of the heavy work when it came to digging the graves. The "summer help" had to jump down in the grave after Dillon did his digging in order to tidy things up so that the vault would be level. After all you don't want the new tenet to "sleep away their days" in an uneven manner.

And there was Joe, who was our "supervisor." Joe never did much expect boss us around and try to convince us all of how smart he was. I used to think, "If you are so smart what the heck are you doing in a cemetery...all the time?" Anyway, Joe loved to tell us of his exploits with women. If half of them were true he should have always been a very tired man.

Joe knew how naive I was. He liked to use that. "Want to taste this," he once asked as he offered me a jar of crystal clear liquid. I knew he ran moonshine on the side and I did not want Junior and Dillon to think I was a wimp so I leaned my head back and took a swallow. I discovered why it is appropriately named "White Lightning" because I still have a streak of that stuff running around in my system somewhere. I've tasted other "alcohol products" I must admit but never anything like that.

So as you can see I had my beginnings in a cemetery where some of my "real" education took place. It can be awfully peaceful in a cemetery when you are left there all alone with a lawnmower and told that you would be picked up at 4:30. This was before the days of I-Pods and headphones so I had to make my own music. There was a lot of time to ponder while I soaked up the rays that would end up giving me that golden tan that drove the girls wild. (See Joe did have an affect on me.)

Seems that later I ended up getting some other education and in fact found myself doing something professionally because of something that happened in a cemetery. No, I'm not a gravedigger but I do offer news about something whose origins begin with an empty grave. The story I get to share has its own cast of characters who are as "colorful" as Dillon, Junior, and Joe. It seems that as one child so aptly put it when told just who Jesus chose for his disciples, "He sure was not a very good judge of character."

So the story may seem to end in a cemetery but in fact begins there...and...yes the story is full of characters. I smile now as I think about the truth that I may have "started" by filling up graves and I'm going to end by proclaiming the unbelievable news that those same graves will end up "empty" of what really matters. It all began in a cemetery.

Bless you,

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

How to See God

He stood there waiting to talk to me. He was silent until one of the big people who was talking to me after one of our Christmas Eve services finished. His father indicated that he wanted to ask me a question.

I knelt down to his eye level and said, "Well, what is your question?" "If Jesus sits on the right hand of God, who sits on the other side," he said? Come to think of it I have not really thought about that. I wondered where he got the "sitting on the right hand" stuff anyway. Then I remembered that we did use the Apostle's Creed a few Sundays ago. How is it that children pay attention when "big people" read "right on" by? (For you "big people" who are reading this and who might have gone right on by it says, "He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.")

But hey, I was the "answer man" with the robe on. I was the supposed to be the theological, biblical "expert," right? I accessed my mental flash drive. I was not sure that what I was about to say was right but that's never stopped me before so I spouted out, "Well, if Jesus is on the right side and God is in the middle then I suppose the Holy Spirit is on the other side."

He looked at me with wonder. Then I said, "The Holy Spirit is different from God and Jesus. It's mysterious...It's like our breath. It is the way God 'gets' to us so to speak." I then waited. I at least have learned to wait when it comes to answering a child's question. You don't want to jumble things up too much with a lot of words.

He hesitated not one moment and then said, "Then on a cold morning when you breathe you can see God." My goodness. I laughed...not a laugh of disrespect, a laugh of wonder. I sure never thought of that, but hey he's right. On a cold morning you "can" see God when you breathe.

"Why you could say that," I responded. Then I looked up at the child's father and said, "You know that was really good." His ,I think proud Dad, simply said, "He's a curious child."

Well I tell you it was one of my favorite Christmas gifts. I often use a certain phrase when I do the Benediction at the end of worship. I say something like: "May the God who created you in moments you did not know, bless you. May the son who came to live for you and die with and for you, bless you. And may the Holy Spirit who can enable you to do far more than you can do by yourself and who is AS CLOSE AS YOUR NEXT BREATH, bless you."

And now, thanks to this dear child I could say, "And if you want to see who sits on the left side of God go out on a cold morning and breathe." Jesus comes through again: "To understand the Kingdom of God you must come as a child." Thank you dear one for leading me closer to the Kingdom....So to all the "children of God" out there, go out on a cold morning and breathe. The One who made us "is" as close as our next breathe...and now you and I know we can see it.


Friday, January 1, 2010

Does the Dog Have the Right Idea?

As I write this my dog is snoring beneath my feet. Her favorite place is in the dark space under the desk next to my feet. As I create, she dreams of younger days when she used to not sleep 18 hours a day. Her sleeping visions may take her to those paths she used to run. Now arthritis and too many dog biscuits (our fault) leave her with a tired frame which can barely get itself up from underneath the cave she visits beneath the desk.

But then maybe she has the right idea. After all we barely get the Christmas tree to the curb, the wadded up wrapping paper to the garbage, and the nativity scene back to its resting place in the attic before another terrorist tries to blow up a plane. Maybe I ought to join the dog in the comfortable dark place.

But alas it is Epiphany. The Grinch might respond, "Epiph-a-what?" Yes, the new calendar on the frig might offer us the chance to make some resolutions that will last as long as the flavor of chewing gum and the news may be so bad and dark that we want to claim our own hiding place but the Christian year once again proclaims, "the light in the darkness." Old Isaiah says in the text used for Epiphany, "Arise shine your light has come," but as soon as the old boy spouts out the supposed good news he follows it with, "a deep darkness shall cover the earth and a deep darkness the people." That's like finding that the prize in the Cracker Jax box is a ticket to an amusement park that closed last year.

But the truth is often paradoxical. The light does come at the darkest time, but it comes. Epiphany means, "to manifest the light." So let's have an epiphany for Christ's sake. I still remember my uncle using that expression when I was a little boy. "Get the kid some candy for Christ's sake," he would shout.

In case some of my relatives are reading this, the uncle was the one Dad's side of the family. He was the one that everyone thought was a bit crazy, but I always liked him. As I child I remember he smelled funny. I later found out that the smell came from the hours he spent at the local "watering hole."

Anyway, let's have some Epiphany for Christ's sake. Sure there are people who want to blow us up and yea we're still fighting two wars...sort of...but it will do no good to join my dog in the shadows. Heck, let's remember that Christmas happened even if the tree is headed for the landfill and the manger scene is tucked away. While my dog snores let's sing (for Christ's sake), "I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow Jesus/God set the stars to give light to the world/the star of my life is Jesus/In him there is no darkness at all/the day and the night are both alike/the lamb is the light of the city of God/Shine in my heart Lord Jesus."

Ok..I know there are dog days...but hey, it's Epiphany...for Christ's sake

Bless you