The Bible says… (part 2)

I’ve been thinking about what I think the Bible says…and realized that in some ways it was incomplete.

What I said there is still very definitely my belief, but sometimes people end up asking, “Well, then, what do you believe the Bible says? My response in the last post was this:

God loves us–completely and fully. All God asks in return is that we love God…and our neighbors.

Obviously that’s my paraphrase…and that doesn’t satisfy some who want specific words–words from the Bible. Okay, I can understand that.

So…as I’ve listened to the debates and political “discourse” (although I’m not sure it’s been discourse as much as it’s been seeing who can yell loud enough to get their points heard), these are the words from the Bible that I believe are what the Bible says to us today. They come from the NRSV version (emphasis added by me):

Matthew 22:36-40

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 25:31-45:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”

The Bible says…?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve sung the song “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”

I sometimes wonder today, though…I hear a lot of people saying “The Bible says…” and then that’s followed by some statement that I have to go “huh??” at.

Here–in no particular order–are some things I believe about the Bible (definitely not a complete list, though):

  • It’s not a scientific textbook…it doesn’t give a history of the development of the earth.
  • The “biographies” found in it were designed to make a point, not be full of facts and figures, as we would expect of a modern biography.
  • It has a variety of writings – poetry, letters, court histories, “biographies” – and to treat them all the same doesn’t honor the various forms.
  • It’s full of contradictions…and that’s okay, because it’s a collection of writings by people trying to make sense of their world at various times and ages.
  • Both the Hebrew scriptures (what Christians often call the Old Testament) and the New Testament are important to read.
  • It would be possible to come up with a list of laws to be kept every day…but you’d have to figure out which of the contradictory ones take precedence.
  • We all pick and choose which portions of the Bible speak to (and for) us.

Most importantly for me, the most important thing that the Bible says is that God loves us. Every one of us…each one of us…regardless of where we live, how we worship, what name we call the Divine…every one of us–without us having to do anything to earn that love.

And if you want to ask me what the Bible says, this is my response:

God loves us–completely and fully. All God asks in return is that we love God…and our neighbors.

And if you want to continue the question by asking who our neighbors are…they are anyone and everyone we share this planet with.

 

Praying–and working–for peace

Since December 3, 1993, my faith tradition has joined millions of others around the world who pray for peace on a regular basis. The short Prayer for Peace service has taken place every day, praying for peace in general but also specifically with a focus on an individual country each time. Yesterday I had the privilege of again playing for the service, and the hymn that we sang really spoke to me.

It was written by Geoffrey Spencer, a former leader from Australia (and a friend)…a man who in many ways spoke prophetically and was ahead of his time. His words were not always appreciated, but they were often prescient.

As I look around our world today–and especially what is happening in my own country–this is one of those times when I think his words provide a challenge for us all.

Why should the earth disclose a face
distraught by pain and anguish?
And how can hearts that beat with ours,
in tortured bondage languish?

Should men despair, or women weep,
in cruel deprivation;
or haunted eyes in children mock
the bounties of creation?

Oh, may our hearts be tuned to hear
their cries of quiet weeping,
and may the echoes of distress
disturb our restful sleeping.

The rich resources of the earth,
a table set for sharing,
are bread and wine for humankind,
a sacrament of caring.

The word made flesh in Christ declares
our lives belong to others;
so let us take our stand beside
our sisters and our brothers.

Let heart and hand reach out across
the walls of tribe and nation,
till every voice on earth shall raise
a hymn of jubilation.

As a follower of the Carpenter who came to change the world, the fifth verse especially speaks to me. He never said that following him would be easy–in fact, he indicated it would be difficult…and many would say that what he asked is impossible. But if we want a better world for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren…we really don’t have any choice but to see others as sisters and brothers. We have no choice but to find others who want peace as well, regardless of whether we call the Divine by the same name…or look alike…or worship alike…or have the same political beliefs.

Is it going to be easy? No. But is it possible? I believe so…because I am reminded of a quote often attributed to Margaret Mead…and because the small group that followed the Carpenter shows its truth:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Which way is up??

A couple of weeks ago I had one of the most frightening times of my life. We were taking a couple days vacation at a beautiful resort with an indoor/outdoor swimming pool. At one side of the indoor pool there was a large water slide, which ended in a shallow (3′) section of the pool.

We’d been watching a couple of young girls go down the slide, having a great time…and we decided to try it ourselves before we went back to our room. We climbed the steps to the top…and my slight queasiness should have been a red flag for me. But I ignored it, deciding that I wasn’t going to let my timidity hold me back.

While there wasn’t anything to hold onto while getting yourself in place, it wasn’t that hard to get ready to go down. My last thought before letting go was that it might be fun to keep my eyes open until just going in–to see what was going on.

But…

As soon as I let go and started down the slide, I felt completely out of control! I know I screamed most of the way down…banging into the sides and going much faster than I had ever anticipated.

I did manage to close my mouth before landing in the water, although I did get some water forced up my nose–not unexpected.

What I didn’t expect was the complete disorientation I felt. I did not know which way was up.

The water wasn’t that deep, so it should not have been difficult to stand up. But it was. I kept kicking, but never felt bottom…couldn’t tell if I was going up or down. I finally hit my head–fortunately lightly–on the edge of the pool, so was able to grasp that edge and stand up…choking and gasping.

Some folks sitting at the edge of the pool had been about ready to come in after me because they sensed that I was flailing…not in fun.

I have never been so scared in my life…so disoriented…so unsure of where I was.

While that was a physical disorientation and scare, I’m finding it also a good metaphor for what I am feeling in other ways. As I read the news…as I see posts on Facebook…I wonder which way is up? I hear and see words being used that I thought we (as a country) had left behind years ago. I hear and see comments about those who are “different” that marginalize them and indicate that they are somehow not of as much worth. I hear casual talk about bombs…about going to war…and I fear.

Which way is up??

It’s that time of year again…

So…it’s that time of year again. Time to put away the winter clothes and pull out the summer ones. But not completely.

The weather forecast is calling for a chilly night again tonight (about 39 degrees), although it’s supposed to warm up again–at least somewhat–next week.

I’ve almost done this several times, but every time I was about ready to, the forecast called for a return to more winter-like weather.

But I decided that today it was the right time of year.

I put away almost all of my winter clothes…just kept out a few items that can work for either cool spring days or winter. I kept out a few jackets as well that will work just about any season. So hopefully I’m ready for the next few days.

For many of us, we’ve also just recently celebrated a time of putting away the old and entering into the new. Last week was Easter–a time that acknowledges death and yet rejoices in the power of life over death. In some ways that sounds so easy…after all, we see it happen every spring as trees and other plants bud out again and the grass turns from its seeming death into green.

But it’s not.

For life to triumph over death, something has to die. Our old way of seeing…our old expectations and hopes…sometimes even loved ones.

It’s not easy to let go of all that.

But every time I seasonally change my closet, I’m reminded that there are things I have to let go of…they no longer fit…I no longer like them…I don’t need them. And the same is true of my life.

It’s that time of year again. Time to let go…and time to be reborn!

Sunday’s coming…

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t gone through some difficult times in their lives. For some that’s caught up in the loss of a loved one…for others loss of a job…or a faith crisis…or anyone of a myriad of things that can send one into dark places.

About 2000 years ago, there was a community that went through another difficult time. The one they had followed…the one who challenged the status quo on behalf of the poor, the dispossessed, the “other”…this one who came in unconditional love had been taken by the authorities…beaten…crucified…and buried. His followers didn’t know what the future held–for themselves but also for what he believed and taught. Was this the end?

We know the story. We know that his death was not the end–but the middle of the story. We live the end of the story by the way we live. It is our responsibility to keep his teachings and actions alive…to stand with and for the poor, the dispossessed, the “other”…those the status quo would call “less than.”

We know that when they laid him in the tomb…and they went through the dark days of mourning…we know that Sunday was coming…the day of resurrection!

And so, for all who are in dark places…for those who wonder if the church is dying…if there is hope for the future, I would simply say this:

This is not the end. Sometimes we have to go through a time of death in order to come out on the other side into the new life that is beyond anything we can currently imagine. This isn’t to say that it’s easy. It’s not. But Sunday’s coming…!

 

Welcome the stranger…

Last night I sat in on a wonderful evening of story-telling from members of (and about) my faith tradition. Some of the stories were funny…some were more somber.

My faith tradition was birthed in the United States, but it did not have an easy birth or childhood. We were “different”…we challenged the status quo…and we became refugees. We were driven from place to place, and our founder was ultimately murdered. In many ways, it’s a wonder that we survived.

But the story that caught my attention last night was of one of those times of wandering. We were forcibly driven out of our homes in winter. We lost most of our earthly possessions–and many families did not know where their fathers were…or even if they were still alive. The journey was a difficult one. Sometimes we were able to find shelter–even if it was dirty and smelly; sometimes we were denied even that. Ultimately we found people who cared…people who saw us not as “other” but as human beings in need. We found a city of 1500 who were willing to take in 5000 refugees who had nothing. We found a temporary home while we regrouped so that we could go on.

As I listened to that story, I thought about the parallels with today…with my parents’ generation and my own.

In the 1930s there were people fleeing and looking for a place of shelter. They were people who had lost everything and who were afraid for their lives–and the lives of their children. Some found shelter, but many did not and perished.

Credit Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Today there are many fleeing and looking for safe places for themselves and their children. Some have found shelter–but many are still looking.

Yes, they are “other”…they are different.

But I am part of a country that has grown from the contributions of immigrants and refugees. I am part of a faith tradition that was welcomed as refugees. I am also part of a bigger faith tradition whose story includes both being welcomed as a stranger–and then being challenged to do the same to others. My people were welcomed…and I grew up believing this poem by Emma Lazarus:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)