Total Pageviews

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Good Prayer

This includes the Biblical text in italics with my comment in regular style:
In Nehemiah 1 we read the recollections of a Jewish man living in exile and serving the foreign king. His brother visits him and tells him that things in Jerusalem are awful (he uses the word “shame”--very terrible in this culture) and the people are in dire need. 

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. The degree of commitment to his people and love for Jerusalem is a great model for prayer. It should be grounded in authentic care and concern, i.e., love.
 And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, Note that the praise of God begins this prayer. I read Thomas Merton today and he said we use such extraordinary praise of everything from toothpaste to sandals that there is little left to really say about God. Everything is “awesome” now. But in truth, God is awesome and great beyond our imagining. Note, too, that Nehemiah establishes the proper relationship with God. We (Israel) are His servants (a word which can imply worshipper, ambassador, beloved and trusted servant). In prayer, the right relationship is vital; we are God’s command, He is NOT at ours. The prayer continues..
confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father's house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Note the corporate guilt (the people) and the personal (I and my fathers). Even on the personal level the whole family is seen together. This corporate sense (i.e. A church mentality) is communal and reminds us God is in Covenant with a People of which we are part. It also sees sin as a barrier to our relationship and a cause of much of our problems. The need for CONFESSION and REPENTANCE cannot be overstated in a prayer life.
 Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ Saved by God’s grace and mercy, saved by faith (trusting God and entrusting themselves to His care) the people of Israel by God’s mercy and kindness were offered a covenant—which had expectations and conditions. The Torah is guide and instruction, the Lord’s will for His people, as well as Law and Rules. The fruit of disobedience is death and exile. Notice the prayer is a long remembrance of God’s acts. All good prayer is rooted in salvation history and remembers. Hence, reading the Bible to learn the past is needed to pray. They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. (always grace and redemption. The Lord gives life, He gave life, He is mighty to save) O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” The final petition has to do with Nehemiah’s intent to ask the King (whom he serves as cupbearer) a favor on behalf of his people. In the end, our prayer is best when it is focused on mission and ministry, when it seeks to benefit others as well as ourselves.
Nehemiah gives us a wonderful model for prayer. Remember and Praise, remember and confess, remember the covenant and rededicate yourself (in Jesus the new covenant). And in your tears and heartbreak have hope and trust; for our God saves!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bureaucrat Savior?

Some eight years ago or so, my son played baseball with a boy named Cyrus. They lived down the street from us and I enjoyed talking with the father. He was from Iran and self-identified as a former Muslim and a Persian. He said he was a follower of Zoroastrianism (an ancient, dualistic religion from the region of Iran). His use of the term Persian was an application of an ancient name to his contemporary identity. As we all know there is a great deal of stress and tension between the US and Iran, something which is only increasing with the advent of advances in nuclear material suitable for creating a bomb. In fact, there is some reason to believe that Israel may bomb Iran this week or next. Such an event could unravel into a serious war affecting much of the world (gives you something to pray about!).

Currently our Daily Office has readings from Ezra and Nehemiah (and the prophets at that time). Ezra and Nehemiah are interesting documents. Many believe that the human author(s) of these works (there are definite signs of multiple sources) are from the school of 1&2 Chronicles (which are obvious re-editions of 1&2 Samuel and 1&2 Kings). The historical reconstruction of the period based on Ezra and Nehemiah is much debated in terms of chronology. Part of the problem is the writings are driven by a non-chronology agenda. The focus is on the more important to the less important. Even so, there is historical value in the books.

One major theme is new life (resurrection) as the exiled Jews return to their land and rebuild. The spiritual reading of the text provides ample cause to trust God for the future, even when, perhaps especially when, things look hopeless. Even if judgment is harsh and seems complete (as in the Fall of Jerusalem and the leveling of the Temple) there is always hope for a future restoration. Today, there are many Jews (and Christians) who hope for a third Temple rebuilt in the place of the Second Temple destroyed in 70AD .In my own prayer over the readings I find myself reviewing "the fall" of Christian faith and the church in contemporary culture and remind myself that there is always reason to believe the future is in God's hands.

Another element is the use of ancient terms (like "Israelites," or calling the peoples of the land by names of folks who were long since gone) which convey the writer's desire to describe the return from exile as The (Second) Exodus. If you pay attention to the parallels it is pretty clear. This is a reminder that we are a "Remembrance" Religion. The Judaeo-Christian faith is rooted in remembering the saving event in the past and participating in it in the present. The Jewish Passover and the Christian Eucharist (a redefined & reconfigured passover meal itself) are all about remembering. Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance of me." We live in an age of forgetfulness where history is considered a useless pursuit. I sometimes wonder if the disease of Alzheimers is somehow a result of that (like the go-go 90's and hyperactivity and ADHD). If my reading is accurate, then the Ezra-Nehemiah cycle is a blue print for understanding the circularity of history and the realization that the biblical story is OUR story as well (in each age).

One last thing. Today's reading is about the Persian King Darius being told by the Jews that they were rebuilding the Temple based on the decision of King Cyrus (who is, in Isaiah's prophet work, an unknowing messiah working God's will for His people). Darius tells his aides to search the records which they do, and they find the original declaration. The Jews receive Darius' blessing (and financial support) to continue and finish their work. When was the last time you thought of administration and bureaucracy as God blessed endeavors? And yet, it was archivists and and functionaries who play the key role in saving the day for the Jews. Samson and King David get wide play in Heroes of the Bible because of the "action/adventure" element. My guess is government employees are seldom told that they, too, can be heroes in the Biblical model. Yet, that is how God saved the Jews and the Temple was rebuilt.

Some things to ponder and think about today....

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

People in pain often ask me, “Why?” My answer is “God does not reign, yet.” Jesus is very clear, His disciples are to pray for the kingdom to come. It makes no sense to pray for something to come if it is already here. We live in the last days of the Prince of this world; a “time before” the Kingdom fully comes. Sin and death may be defeated and powerless, but it does not always feel like it. This is why we pray!

Luke 18:9-14 is a well known parable. The popular interpretation is close to accurate: religious guy is a hypocrite and the sinner gets it right. However, the tendency (as I have encountered it) ends up sounding like this: Thank you God that I am not a hypocrite like that religious person. I don't go to church and I don't do all those religious things and I believe in you and I am fine. In other words, the same kind of prayer that Jesus condemned.

Luke has gathered his collection together to make a point. In order to understand the parable of the Pharisee it is helpful to see the context. First of all, Luke 18:9 says  Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous. What is key is the previous verse asks the question, "when the son of man (Jesus) comes will He find faith on earth?  Faith IS trust. The man trusts in himself (not God). In fact, the Greek means he prayed TO himself! This is a parable about not having faith/trust in God. It is about being a person looking in the wrong direction. Luke 16:15 Jesus said, “You (Pharisees) are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows the heart.” Jesus is teaching us about that. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus reminds us that piety is not the only challenge, so is wealth. Self-centeredness with wealth is also a soul killer!

In chapter 17 Jesus tells stories about the need to forgive. Then Jesus cures ten lepers only one comes back. Being Forgiven and Healed (two sacraments!) are signs of God’s reign is beginning in our midst. The healing and forgiveness are the Kingdom of God starting to grow among us (like wheat in weeds!).

17:20ff Jesus reminds us that suffering and rejection are part of the birthing of the Kingdom; that justice we long for will come after a time of trial and tribulation. Why so much pain? Because we are in the Last Days of this age! And Jesus is the one who carries the most pain on the cross. God, in and through Jesus, is a participant in the suffering of the final days.

This is the context of the two parables.
One is about a widow seeking justice. Jesus says it is about “the need to pray always and not lose heart.” This is a stunning admission that the life of a disciple will be a struggle against despair. Jesus assures us that God will answer our cries for justice. In the Bible the Jews regularly “cry out day and night” for this justice/salvation. The parable illustrates the church's commitment to prayer to pray "Thy Kingdom come" with assurance that God may be “long suffering” but He will deliver His people “quickly” or better “suddenly.” When deliverance finally comes and Jesus returns, it will be like a flash of lightning.

Note, the parable ends with the question, “But when the Son of Man comes will He find faith on earth?” Earlier the disciples ask “increase our faith.” Jesus wonders if there is any faith in us to increase…

In today’s parable, the Pharisee does not trust God. In the actual Greek “he was praying to himself”; Himself, not God! And what was he praying? Thank goodness I am so awesome. I am “wealthy” in pious practice. “Gosh, it is good to be the elect!” Now jump ahead 18:18; a rich young man comes to Jesus. He keeps all the commandments. Jesus says he lacks one thing: give to the poor. He is very rich. He relies on his wealth. He can’t. Our wealth—in whatever form it takes, materially or spiritually, cash or piety, cannot be trusted.

The Least, Last, Lost and Losers know this. The tax collector prays for forgiveness from far away. He has to be far away because of His sins. He has no status. He is an outsider by his own choice. He just comes to God begging mercy. Now see 18:15. They are bringing babies to Jesus. The disciples try to shoo them away. Jesus says, “let them come!” Then the statement—you have to accept the Kingdom like a child—the kingdom is made up of children and sinners. Accepting the nobodies is accepting the kingdom.

Back to our starting point. The kingdom is about MERCY: forgiveness, healing, helping. Until the kingdom does come and God reigns totally we are to cry out day and night and never lose hope.
Until the kingdom does come we act like we believe it is coming;
we forgive others debts as we have been forgiven,
we heal wounds, physical, emotional, spiritual like Jesus
we love the outcast
we care for the needy.
This is the Kingdom work of Jesus.
It is our work.
It is a glorious and joyful task

Friday, October 25, 2013

What do you do then?

We read this section from a letter of Polycarp to the Philippians yesterday, and it stirred up lots of feelings and some thoughts:

"(7)To deny that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is to be Antichrist (1Jn 4:2-3) To contradict the evidence of the Cross is to be of the devil. And to pervert the Lord's words to suit our wishes, by asserting that there are no such things as resurrection or judgment, is to be a first-begotten son of Satan. So let us  have no more of this nonsense from the gutter, and these lying doctrines, and turn back again to the Word originally delivered to us."

Polycarp was a disciple of John, who was a disciple of Jesus. Pause to let that sink in... He said that John was dismissive of heretics and Polycarp was equally so (he called  Marcion a first born son of Satan to his face). Those of us who read the Fathers regularly find ourselves encountering this type of strong language. It has an impact, then, on how we view and interact with "the children of Marcion" in our own age.

There is a long-standing tendency to see Christianity as "being nice" (recall in the movie The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy's Auntie Em when confronted by the mean woman about Toto said that she couldn't say what she wanted to because she was a Christian woman). CS Lewis makes this same point in Mere Christianity (dating to 1942). While the word 'nice' does not occur in any Bible I have read, there are certainly sections of Scripture which can be used to make the argument that we are to be patient, kind, merciful, respectful, humble, etc.---and that can end up looking pretty "nice."

The problem is, there are people perverting the Word to suit their wishes, and there is gutter nonsense being preached and taught in churches, and there are heretics who have wormed their way into pulpits and national church offices and all manner of positions of authority. Being "nice" to heresy and heretics can easily devolve into support of heresy and heretics. It is to become one yourself. Yet, it is also true that those errors and sins are already in my heart and must be ruthlessly uprooted and destroyed in order for me to live. Job one is my own conversion. Still, to ignore heresy in the wider church is to sit idle waving to folks on a path that leads to death; which may look nice but it isn't. So what then do you do?

Culture/Religious wars have raged for decades, and one might ask to what end? The death toll has been low physically, but spiritually there are lots of casualties. I carry my own wounds and I inflicted many based on feedback I received. I think many of the issues are very important and I know doing nothing only emboldens the liars to continue to lie. However, as a catholic fellow I am keenly aware that my "conservative" evangelical allies would have taken me to the stake in days gone by, before the "Liberal/Modernist Christian became the number one enemy; and I am aware that yesterday's foe can become today's friend and I wonder if tomorrow some of those with whom I lock horns might become a compatriot. One has to stand for the truth and one has to submit to God's Word if one wants to follow Jesus faithfully. Is fighting others part of the deal?

Well taking a stand may not be best expressed as fighting (Yes I know Paul fought the good fight...). The problem with fighting is the tendency to 'project.' We demonize the opposition (see Polycarp's words above). We ignore the truth or goodness in them and ignore the error and evil in ourselves. As much as the white and black hats of mythic cowboy stories is a helpful guide in understanding right and wrong, in real life cowboys are not purely one or the other. This does not mean all things are morally equivalent and it does not mean that St. Francis and Adolph Hitler are the same. However, it does mean that war damages the souls of participants and "fighting for Jesus" can be just as devastating to one's holiness as any other war because one can be blind to the fact that it isn't always Jesus which I am really fighting for. Lots of times it is me and my opinions. And lots of times it is a value system which is contrary to Jesus. And sometimes I just plain want to win the debate (okay, not sometime, all the time...).

I do believe there are people who are Antichrist and I have met and interacted with people who are 'of the devil' in what they teach and believe. I am not slow to identify such things, either. However, war seduces us to destroy and hate. And we are blind to that in ourselves. We are blind to our sin. We are blind to our error. We are blind to so much and blind guys in a war can create lots of collateral damage.

So what then to do? Polycarp provides an answer in the next paragraph:

"(8) Let us never relax our grasp on the Hope and Pledge of our righteousness; I mean Jesus Christ, who bore our sins in his own body on the tree; who did not sin, neither was guile in his mouth (1Peter2:22,24), who steadfastly endured all things for our sakes, that we might have life in Him. Let us imitate that patient endurance of His; and if we do have to suffer for His Name's sake, why then, let us give glory to Him. For that is the example He set for us in His own person, and in which we have learnt to put our faith."

What do you do then? It begins with trusting the Triune God, being faithful in love and truth, being willing to take a stand for Jesus and all the while loving those who see things differently--even if they are mean and hurtful--being more focused on worship, thanks and praise and embracing the cross.  It means suffering. Suffering, like Jesus, not inflicting pain, like a normal person wants to in a war. So if you are on the cross you are in the right place, and if you are holding a hammer and nails be aware that you are a victim of war and in the name of truth you have embraced the lie, in the name of faith, you have rejected the Lord.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Benedict and the Bible

St. Benedict loved Jesus. Jesus is the center of the Benedictine spirituality, but Scripture is its cornerstone.
If we want to hear the voice of God, the authoritative source is the bible. It is here, in and through those words, that our Lord speaks to us.

He scheduled life to include several breaks in the day to pray three psalms and read from the Bible. Each week all of the psalms were recited and over time many of the monks memorized all of the words of the psalms. It is literally the case that their lives were drenched in the psalms. Using the psalms to pray, therefore, is an ideal practice. It is intrinsically dialogical because we use God's Word to address God.

In addition, the monk was expected to do lectio divina or Divine Reading. The practice is to take up the Scriptures and to begin reading, then when one is struck by a particular word or verse, one stops to ponder it. The long slow process of talking and listening continues until one feels a sense that it is time to move on. One continues reading until one stops. It is not very delineated and a different approach to what most of us adopt. We tend to identify a set section and read it completely. Meditating on the word opens us to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

Lastly, the monk also studies. Prayer with the Bible is not meant to be study. The hard work of learning all we can about the Bible context and the inter-relationships between texts is an intellectual discipline. As one learns one is better able to "hear" God in prayer times.

The Bible is the constant companion of the monk. We are not monks, but we can adopt a practice of regular intervals of prayer and readings. Imagine how you day would be if it began and ended with some psalms and a reading; and during the day you included three breaks of a couple minutes to do a short psalm and a reading. It would focus us and connect us to God in a deeper way.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why a Sacramental World View is Helpful in Understanding Sacred Scripture

Typically we see a ‘conflict’ (sometimes ugly and heated) between the “Bible people” and the “Sacramental people” (usually divided as Evangelicals and Catholics). As we wrote a few days ago, every heresy is an insight into truth gone wrong. It over-emphasizes one particular aspect and de-emphsizes an important corollary (the pendulum swings too far in one direction).

The sacramental worldview does not worship things or believe nature is divine (like pagan or pantheist). The sacramental worldview does not worship “the spiritual” and consider salvation to be an escape from this world (like the Gnostic). Instead, the sacramental worldview acknowledges God as the Invisible, Spiritual Source of all created things Who has become incarnate in the world and redeemed all things in Jesus Christ. Jesus is THE Sacrament of God the Father (in and through Jesus we meet God). The church is THE sacrament of Jesus (in and through the church we encounter the Body of Christ). The activities of the church are sacraments of the Lord and His ministry among us today. Jesus is MEDIATED in and through concrete reality.

So far, so good, but what of the Bible? It is “the Word of the Lord” or “The word of God.” However, how we understand this matters. Some folks worship the Bible. They equate it with God. They emphasize the DIVINE and the spiritual. They also ignore the human. The words of Scripture are thought to be ‘timeless’ and ‘spaceless’ and there is no need to do anything but read them (here and now---wherever or whenever that is) and the ‘common sense’ meaning is readily available for our understanding. No mediation of God’s word in and through human language here, it is simply and literally God’s word (and by the way it is also translated into English which we tend to gloss over).

On the other hand, some see God as too spiritual, too removed from the world. SO the Bible is just a human document attesting to the ancient faith of an ancient people. It may inspire but in general it is not needed. It is old and probably outdated. This approach (Progressive Christians) usually places the authority of Scripture under human reason; which quickly ends up looking like whatever agenda the particular person has. Hence the Bible is critiqued by us, not us by it!

A sacramental view says the Bible is the Word of God. It (Spiritual) comes to us in and through (Material) words, books and human authors. It has all the limits of human writing (e.g. you can find a misspelling or a grammar error in the original). Like all language it is limited because concrete. (If you say “God is love” you are not saying “God is truth.” You have to say something which means you cannot say everything at the same time. Language cannot always convey all we want it to, hence the expression, “I am at a loss for words.”)

Words are limited. God is not. SO the Bible is NOT God. It is God’s communication IN and THROUGH the sacred writings. Approaching the Bible in this way means that we respect its authority while acknowledging its reality as a collection of human (divinely inspired, yes, but still human) writings. Understanding ancient context is, therefore, needed to understand what is being communicated.

That is how God is. He communicates to us in and through people and events, through sacred actions and sacred writings. To fail to see BOTH the creature and creator, the human and divine, the material and spiritual is to miss the truth. To fail to understand what mediation really means (in and through) is to fall into paganism (with a Christian-like veneer). That error can lead to real paganism (toss out Jesus) which I think explains much of the contemporary religious scene in America today.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Overview of 2 Timothy

Second Timothy is concerned with church life in the post-apostolic era. A brief overview of this letter will highlight the main concerns which we should consider to be a direct address to each of us.

It begins with an affirmation of faith. Church leaders come from families. Adults are required to provide the same formation for the children among us as Timothy had. They have been set apart and ordained in baptism--called by grace and called to suffer for the Gospel.  Yet the suffering is for a purpose. With trust in God we are challenged to hold to the standard of sound teaching in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Returning to the theme of suffering, now pictured as the discipline of a soldier, an athlete or a farmer we are told to Focus on proclaiming the Gospel: Jesus is the Messiah, He died and rose from the dead. We await His return. This is our faith and we need not be ashamed to embrace it and proclaim it.

Preaching in word requires a life witness as well. Our deeds matter and we are told to avoid the snares of sin and senseless controversies. Exhibiting the Christian virtues of righteousness, faith, love and peace, we should sincerely and seek to bring our opponents to Christ and His truth.

Such fidelity is a challenge to any leader. There are forces at work to undermine our determination to stay the course. Standing for Jesus Christ will be costly. 3:1 There will be  chalepos/hard-difficult-dangerous-fierce kairos /times coming in the eskatos/last days. The list of human misbehaviors  begins with (Men will be lovers of themselves) and includes the horrifying word(inhuman). The long list describes what we see each evening on the nightly news. We might find ourselves singing: “there is awful evil, that I know for the Bible tells me so…”

The letter goes on to warn that even within the church false teachers will worm their way in. The description of unfaithful church leaders “always instructed but they cannot learn the truth” is applicable today in the contemporary churches. To stand against such men will produce problems, but then, the letter reminds us, anyone who wants to lead a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” The tragedy of heresy is then spelled out: “Wicked people and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and themselves deceived.” It is as true today as it was in the first century. It is just the way it is…

The solution? Continue in what we have learned and cling to the God-breathed Sacred Writings which contain all we need to know to be faithful in righteousness and good works. The challenge? People have itchy ears—people find someone to preach what they want to hear. There is always someone there to twist God’s word…

2Timothy is an open letter to all of us. It is an exhortation to faith and faithfulness. The conflict with sin and heresy, the struggle against oppression and persecution always threaten to drain the church of life. But we know God is faithful and has called us in Jesus Christ to proclaim the message whether times be good or bad. We live in not so good times and they are getting worse. God is faithful. We have hope and so we can hear the challenge: You must endure; do the work of a herald and carry out your ministry fully.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

If God wants us to know Him?

If God wants us to know Him, why doesn't everyone know Him?

If God is revealing Himself in and through the world why is it so hard for so many folks to see and hear?


And the answer is, "why questions" are really not helpful when it comes to answering the deepest questions of life.

What we know is Genesis tells us that from the beginning God was sort of absent already. Adam and Eve were left on their own to do battle with nature (subdue) and protect (watch over/guard) the Garden. Apparently it is a necessary condition for us to grow and choose. The environment is conducive to His ends, even if we do not understand 'why'?

Fortunately, most of us have had plenty of experience dealing with people who did not understand "why" we were doing what we were doing. We understood and we know it made sense even if they didn't. Kids are especially adept at not understanding why. They are a good model for reminding us that we cannot understand the answer to our question, "why?" So we have to trust.

Ironically (and we experienced it tonight in our prayer group) God is around. He does manifest Himself: in prayer, in Scripture, in nature, in music, in events, in thoughts, in books--and in all those "coincidences" which decorate our lives. After hearing God speak among us we decided we do not always trust God enough or sit quietly enough.

God is there, maybe we need to trust and listen.
Another insight from St. Benedict confirmed in the lives of a small group of struggling Christians tonight....

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Search Foundation

The Benedictine way is to seek God always. The life style is composed of prayer, of work and of study. Working is seen not as a curse but a blessing. It provides us with our daily needs, saving us from becoming idle. The Franciscan ideal, absolute poverty, living by begging, has much merit. Yet, it can devolve into an adolescent freedom. One who is spiritually immature and chooses to embrace such a life can be a leech, enjoying the fruits of another’s labor. (The truly holy who have renounced possessions are willing to go without for long periods of time to combat this danger.) However, work, too, has its dangers. It can become a replacement for God, consuming our energies and our passions. And work is associated with money: Mammon.

Benedict thought that it was good for the monk to work. It kept him busy. However, the work was not to keep one so busy that there was not time for prayer. Regular hours were set for prayer. If working is something which we understand today, the times for prayer are probably less graspable. In my experience, most Christians have a minimalist approach to prayer. Sunday worship is no longer valued. Few churches have public prayer scheduled during the week. So regular times for daily, communal prayer is foreign to our experience. It could be different, but probably won’t be any time soon. Yet the personal practice of set times for prayer is possible. The use of the psalms in combination with readings from the Ancient and New Covenant can be done. If one chooses, three periods could easily be set aside at the beginning, end and some mid-point of the day. At each time a psalm or two could be prayed with a time for reflective reading on a section of Scripture. It would take about five minutes to do it reflectively, a total of fifteen minutes a day (and easily expanded to more). Benedict gathered his monks more frequently and for a bit longer than that, but the basic model is sound. Add to that a time of actual study each day, or several days each week, and you suddenly have a life style intended to follow Jesus and center on God.

God is every where—veiled by concrete creation. We who seek Him know that an ordered life and structured prayer are ideal for the search! He reveals Himself in the ordinary, but our efforts provide us with keener awareness of the ‘unveilings’ among us.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Off Road Mishap

Seeking God 2

The sacramental world view affirms that the invisible God (spirit) communicates in and through material reality. It is hard to explain how the spiritual is at work within and through the corporeal. [Like the mystery of body and soul] However, the ‘fact’ that reality is constructed in such a way opens the possibility of the foundation of Christian Church life, namely Word and Sacrament).

The Bible is the Word of God. Yet it was written by men. The written documents have a history. There were events, these events were remembered by participants and passed down orally to others. At some point in time the oral tradition was written down. We believe God is at work in the people, in the events, in the remembering, in the telling and retelling of the story. He is present in the preservation of the memories. He works in and through humans as they construct narratives to explain the ways of God. We believe that God reveals Himself in and through these written words which are fully human yet divine documents.

Balancing the concrete and spiritual has never been easy. Churches and people tend to lean one way or the other. We like things simple. We prefer either/or. It is why we construct theological systems--we desire clarity so we filter out whatever does not fit into our system. Seeking to be spiritual we can end up in the ditch. We deny the concrete and ignore the human. Perhaps it is expressed in anti-procreation, or amoral sex, ignoring the needs of the poor to save their souls, or calling the Bible infallible (but defining that in a way foreign to the Scripture). We seek “only” God and the human disappears from the equation. Salvation is about escaping the material universe; justice does not matter much. They believe that knowledge (Gnosis is Greek for knowledge) saves. If you know “something” (it is usually secret) then you can escape and be part of the “special group.”

On the other hand, there are those who see only the concrete is real. The materialist disdains whatever cannot be measured, counted and seen. In their mind, the “spiritual” is a fantasy.

Then there are the pagans. The concrete is divine for them. They worship stone and star. They are into “magic” i.e. rituals used to control the ‘gods.’ Everything is god they say (in the pantheist version). There is not God above and beyond it all.

The apocalyptic (un-veiling) world view of Jesus assumes a veil. The concrete world is a veil which hides the invisible God. Yet God acts in time and space, with time and space as tools. So the world can be used to hear God and encounter God. Bibles and baptism, eucharist and church members are all the means in and through which we catch of glimpse of the veiled God, It is a mediated presence, but real none the less.

Obviously, Catholic and Protestant faith can go off the road as well. Holding them in tension is hard, and as we veer right or left we end up off the road. Too often we have a clear vision of the error of “the Other,” but fail to see our own tendencies. Yet in avoiding going “their” way we probably are prone to overcompensate and go off the other side. The sacramental world is a balancing act, a middle way of tension. It is a struggle to avoid going off the road, but it is where truth and love reside.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Seeking God 1

We are studying the model of St. Benedict for Christian living. The Anglican ethos is derived from the monasticism which dominates English Christian history. A brief survey of the most significant figures in evangelizing this land reveals a large number of monks. The role of the monastery continued to shape and form the English (and later Episcopal) manner of worship and fellowship.

(for more info copy go to this website)

Benedict was born during the time of Rome's decline (c483) which is why his rule is especially significant to us today. This association (i.e. "The Benedictines") emerged from the chaotic period of  the pagan 'reformation' (de-formation) of the Roman Empire. Much of the learning and greatness of that society were lost (hence, the term "Dark Ages") and the monks were the link between modern and ancient time. As we watch with trepidation the problems facing us today (parallels to Rome) it is worthwhile to embrace a model which has proven to be "successful and sustainable" over time and space. Benedict has a tested approach.

With that in mind we are studying the book St. Benedict's Toolbox by Jane Tomaine. It is a helpful approach to implementing the Benedictine way. There are numerous other great books on Benedict (including The Rule and various commentaries upon it). [The Benedictine was is broad so be aware that a wide range of folks are drawn to it. Like Bible commentaries, people tend to "find" what they "bring" to the text.] It is meant as a guide book, with the advantages and disadvantages of such an approach.

The way of Benedict can be summarized as seeking Jesus, always and everywhere, in community, through a disciplined life of prayer, work and study. Obviously, such a model is adaptable to all manner of circumstances and Benedictine monks have thrived in various places and conditions. The rule is aimed at laymen and does not have a clerical focus. It is a rule of life which can be helpful in ordering a local parish/church. Obviously, our Christian communities are made up of 'nuclear families' which gather for prayer. We do not all live in one monastery together. Yet, we can still find some operating principles in the guidance of this holy man.

The Benedictine model is God-seeking, Christ-seeking, brother/sister loving and ordinary. The last component is most significant. The Jewish Bible is replete with stories of people just trying to live on the earth in relationship with God. The Lord's command to be fruitful and multiply is mundane. Most of us will never have a remarkable mystical experience, hear voices or have a robust spiritual life with all manner of amazing connections with God. Most of us will eat and sleep, laugh and cry, say our prayers and trust God's mercy. We will live ordinary lives (which find hope in our belief in God, even if He is 'quieter' than we like).

The Way of Benedict is to understand the ordinary is God's preferred mode of interaction. He comes in and through concrete reality. (I have written about this often). Our task, if you will, is to remember God throughout the day. It is an awareness/gift and also a discipline/work. One can be overwhelmed by a sudden inflow of awareness or one can sit in silence and focus. Sometimes it is both! In the days ahead I want to share some insights from the learned master from the 6th Century. It is a journey worth taking together.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


 see Luke 17:11-19 (the healing of the ten lepers)

Jesus provides us with a guide for living. He never asked anyone, “If you died tonight do you know where you would go?” His vision goes far beyond “going to heaven.”  He is centered on the Kingdom of God—a Jewish concept permeating the entire Jewish Bible. Everyone knew God is king. The surprise is God’s offer of inclusion extending to the last, least, lost and outsiders.

In ancient times being a citizen was a special status. Not just anyone was a citizen and few people had any hope of that status. This was true of Roman citizenship. It was also true of the Jewish understanding of their covenant status. Outsiders remained outsiders without any assumption of rights.

For Jesus’ hearers, God’s offer of citizenship in His kingdom was a great grace and an unfathomable blessing. Even more amazing, entry to the kingdom was at Jesus’ invitation. “Trust Me,” Jesus said, “and you will have Life with God the Father.” This Grace does not mean, however, that there are no expectations. Becoming a citizen is always a process and being a citizen includes expectations. You make an oath of loyalty to God. You live under God’s laws. It is worth it because you can enjoy abundant life and freedoms spelled out in the Gospel. There great benefits, far greater than the cost (hence it is always grace) but do not be deceived, there is a cost. To quote Jesus, the cost is “everything.”

The last few weeks in our Sunday Gospels Jesus has taught us what allegiance to the Father and citizenship in the kingdom look like. It is very challenging. There are several keys: love and faith are primary. After these, (especially in Luke) it seems Jesus is quite focused on a right relationship to money and the virtue of mercy and forgiveness.

The Christian citizen is expected to treasure God over everything else, especially mammon. Jesus commands us to be generous with it. He warns us against pleonexia. (Literally the obsession with ‘having more’)

The Christian citizen is also expected to be merciful in imitation of the Father. God has forgiven us and we are told to do the same to those who hurt us. This is very hard to do, especially if you have been deeply hurt. Focusing on our sins rather than our hurts, however, reveals that even if we are victims, we are not innocent. We can forgive and trust God to be just in His judgment. We must learn to love, even the unlovable

Since generosity and mercy are so hard why does Jesus demand them? Because …
·        Greed kills us. If we are never satisfied we can never be happy. It makes us envious of others and bitter about what we do not have. It cuts us off from God.
·        So also is unforgiveness; which Jesus called a deep rooted tree producing bitter fruit. We spend too much time counting our wounds and focusing on our pain; unable to give mercy we are also unable to receive it. (So says Jesus over and over)

Today we see the third component, gratitude, which ties the other two together.

Saying thank you is hard when you are greedy.  It is hard to be grateful when you constantly want more. How can you be thankful for what you get, after all, when it is never enough? Anger and bitterness are not fertile ground for gratitude either. When we feel entitlement we focus on what we are owed. When something bad happens and we harbor that anger and resentment, then gratitude gets choked off.

It is not easy to be thankful, unless one realizes everything is a gift. Nine men didn’t return to thank Jesus. Why? We know why. We are frequently part of the group of nine. Every day we take countless blessings for granted because, well, because we expect blessings. One man, however, did return in thanks. Jesus said he was “a foreigner.” (Don’t you love how Jesus is never politically correct!) The foreigner has no expectation of blessing from the God of Israel. Nor should he. As such his eyes are open to the wondrous gift he received. [American culture is so driven by expectations and rights that we cannot fathom such an attitude, and so we can not generate such gratitude…]
 The man who returned to give thanks, a Samaritan, is yet another role model of an outsider saved by his faith. It is our calling to open our eyes to see we deserve nothing. We are owed nothing. Everything we get is a blessing. It is time to give thanks (in Greek, eucharist) for our citizenship in God’s Kingdom. It is time to say thanks. A hundred, a thousand, ten thousand times each day.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Living in Someone Else's World

The first reading this weekend was from Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7. If you copy and paste above it will open up a link to read it. Jeremiah is addressing the exiles in a letter he wrote to them. These are people, real live human beings, whose nation had been over-run and conquered by a foreign power. These same people had seen many of their leaders massacred. Their sacred places ransacked. Their homes looted. The terrors and pain are echoed in the book of Lamentations. Every generation has its own stories of displaced people... Anyone paying attention knows that things can change quickly. We may be them some day.

What is stunning about the letter is Jeremiah's advice. To paraphrase, he says, live in that foreign land the same way you lived in your own. Do the normal things of life: get married, engage in commerce, raise your kids. There are multiple references to having kids, ending with multiply there, and do not increase. The Hebrew word, rabah, means to multiply. It occurs twenty three times in Genesis, beginning with 1:22 where God gives the first (chronologically) command to people: be fruitful and multiply. It is repeated to Noah in the "second creation" after the flood (Gen 9:7). It is also tied to God's promise to Abraham (16:10; 17:2; 22:17) then Isaac (26:4; 26:24) and, finally, Jacob (35:11). That God will multiply His people is at the core of the promise. The covenant continues even in a foreign land. Exile may be awful but it is not God-less.

The task of making families is not often understood as the most sacred trust. It is easy to be unimpressed by mere biological survival. It seems "unspiritual" (which it is, in the sense that it is anti-Gnostic). It is an insight into God that such things as making babies and living life are pleasing to Him. It is a sanctification of the ordinary.

I am reminded that the central Christian sacraments are basically bathing and eating. God is present to us, saving and renewing, through those mundane, yet wonderful activities. The letter of Jeremiah reminds us that wherever we are, and to some extent all human existence is exile (we were meant for the Garden after all, and living east of Eden is not a Garden existence...). And being at home in some ways may give way to being in exile in others. I do not easily fit into the Episcopal church. At times that is painful. I always feel a little bit 'foreign.' Yet, in that exile I am reminded to go about daily life, faithfully. And faith-filled-ly, too.

Jeremiah concludes that we are to pray for the leadership in exile. Sage advice in a time when political conflict is so vicious. I wonder  how many Christian conservatives truly pray with love in their heart for Obama and Democrats. I wonder if Progressive Christians are any more likely to pray for Republicans who run state houses. My guess is most of us are keenly aware of the "bite" of living in exile. My guess is we are less aware of our connections. It is something I ponder this night as I read someone else's mail which was written a long time ago.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


Increase our Faith (Meditation on Luke 17)

In Luke 17:5ff, the request for ‘more faith’ follows a particularly challenging demand of Jesus. (17:1-4) Jesus says that disciples must forgive offenders every time they say “I am sorry.”  (Seven is the symbolic number for fullness, i.e., The Apocalypse). In light of this crazy demand, the disciples make their request. How can we do such a thing? We need more faith.

What does Jesus say? Note that Jesus says “you could say to this sycamine tree.” He is making a parable, a comparison, between unforgiveness and the tree. Why? A sycamine was a large tree, it could grow to thirty feet, with an immense root system. Because of the immense underground network, it is a hearty tree, difficult to kill and it thrives in the harsh, dry climate of the Middle East. Its fruit is a fig, similar in appearance to the Mulberry tree with one big difference. While rich people ate the sweet figs of the mulberry, the Sycamine produces a bitter fruit. It is too bitter to eat more than a nibble at a time... As such, it was the food of the poorest classes, serving to fill the belly with little taste delight. In addition, caskets were made of sycamine wood.

The symbolism is obvious. Jesus is calling unforgiveness the tree of bitterness and death. He says that if we had faith (the small speck/mustard seed illustrates that any faith at all is enough) then we could be free of this bitterness which keeps us from forgiving others. We would be free from the deep rooted resentment and anger which is only good for making caskets. We would be free from something that seems impossible to kill off.

This makes sense of what follows: the servant role. Our job is to forgive, and when we do we get no parade. Jesus expects it. Let’s walk through it. The Christian (servant of Jesus) duty is to proclaim the Gospel. What is the Gospel? It is the Good News that God’s Kingdom is breaking in among us, as SALVATION, particularly in and through the ministry of Jesus. One key component of Kingdom and Salvation is RECONCILIATION.

The catechism (p855) says: “the mission of the church is to restore ALL people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” The “each other” thing is the hard part. That is why Jesus, again and again, tells us that if we want the Father’s mercy we must show mercy to one another.

The most powerful preaching of the Gospel always begins with the words, “I forgive you.” [Whether it be a personal forgiveness or the Jesus given power to forgive sins by churchfolks....] Forgiveness is NEVER earned and never deserved; and Jesus makes that clear with His reference to “seven times a day.” If someone is hurting me seven times a day, how seriously can I take their apology???? Well, do you sin seven times a day? Sadly, I usually top seven before breakfast. SO if I am constantly sinning and telling God “sorry” perhaps I need to recognize that my apologies sound pretty weak, too.

God made a physical world, in which and through which His love and grace are made available to us in this time and place. Jesus emphasizes our role in distributing the love, mercy, and, forgiveness to the undeserving. And let’s be clear, the undeserving are also very needy. I know, I am totally undeserving and I need it so bad….

Forgiveness saves. It frees us of the debt we owe. If we believe in forgiveness we get freed. We can others. Our mission is that faith in action and it is our duty as His servant.
Believe in Forgiveness. Believe in forgiving others.
Repeat seven times a day. 
(I will not be blogging the rest of this week. God bless!)

Friday, October 4, 2013


Today is October 4, the feast of St. Francis. He is probably the most popular Christian saint and ranks among the best known. In seminary I was especially interested in him and even did a history paper on him. Reading a half dozen biographies (including GK Chesterton's wonderful take which you can find here: and actually visiting Assisi a couple of times I think some of my core understanding of Jesus and the Gospel call was much shaped by this man who died over seven hundred years before I was born.

Francis' life is worthy of much more than a blog summary. Suffice to say he was a product of the middle ages and especially impacted by the troubador movement. Raised in the relative affluence of the emerging "middle class" of 13th Century Italy (his father was a cloth merchant) young John (he was nicknamed 'the little Frenchman, hence, Francis) had dreams of being a hero. Dressed up in his armor he road off to war, was captured and spent a miserable time locked up prior to being released after payment of a ransom. The events changed him and his return to the life of a party boy seems to have been halfhearted. As he and his compatriots ran the streets of Assisi one night it is said he did not keep up. One of the revelers turned back and found Francis wandering with a lost look on his face. "I am in love," the young Francis reportedly said, "with the fairest woman I have ever seen." Later, we learn, he had fallen in love with Lady Poverty. And so began his journey to embracing a life of radical renunciation.

His efforts to follow Jesus more seriously led to extensive prayer in a small chapel not far from the town. [I have been there in prayer myself on a couple of occasions] One day as Francis knelt before the iconic crucifix he heard the voice of Jesus. "Francis, rebuild my church which you can see is falling down." Taking the words literally, Francis began energetically gathering stones and doing repairs to several area churches. It would be some time before he figured out that the church meant the people. In 13th Century Italy Christians had lost their way. They needed a holy man to lead them back to Jesus.

Francis' love for the poor motivated him to give away much of his father's wealth, something which caused his father great irritation. The local bishop was called in to mediate the problem and Francis was told that his duties to his father precluded such behavior. In a profound act of renunciation, Francis accepted the bishop's decision and then proceeded to strip naked and return "everything" to his father and declare himself unattached to the family. He was solely committed to Jesus (and Lady Poverty). It is said that the embarrassed bishop placed his own cloak around the young prophet. It is painful indeed for the professional religious to encounter true holiness. Yet, we do well to also see the full humanity of the situation and remember the idealism of youth and the difficult passage of young people into adulthood. As I get older I understand the father's side.

There are many stories about Francis, among my favorites are these. He preached the Gospel to birds which patiently gathered and listened. He tamed a wolf which had been wreaking havoc at a nearby village, making it the "pet" of all that town. When he and St. Clare were at prayer in the woods one night a volunteer fire brigade ran with buckets to put out the blaze, only to find the two saints beaming with blinding brightness as their mystical union with God erupted in divine light. The list of miracles and unusual events culminated with him receiving the marks of the crucifixion in his own body. Called the stigmata (some others have also had this), doctors and psychologist give various explanation of  the phenomenon, Francis' desire to share in the life of Jesus included his suffering. It is hard to know what is history and what is pious legend in these and other stories, but what is clear is the man must have been remarkable and done remarkable things--remarkable enough that such stories were told about him.

Francis' commitment to not having and not owning, ironically, proved impossible. He quickly inspired by his example other young Christians to join him. Soon he was a movement and the holy man ended up creating the fastest growing order in Europe. Rules and governance became necessary. Figuring out how to house and care for such a large group (too many to rely simply on begging) got out of control. Francis was made to turn over leadership to another. Soon Francis' simple (and simplistic) approach to faith and preaching was replaced by scholarship and learning. One of his followers, Bonaventure, is among the brightest of Medieval thinkers. It is safe to say that the "success" of Francis movement broke his heart. The simple life of poverty, holiness and love of Jesus which he embraced was not easily translated into the society of Friars Minor. It is no wonder. Less extraordinary people than Francis found it difficult to completely understand and totally practice his virtues. It may well be that Francis is one of a small group who 'perfectly' embraced the Gospel call of Jesus. Such is what we may all aspire to; though without the grace and commitment of the little holy man of Assisi.

It is said the Francis apologized to his body (which he called brother ass) for the harsh treatment to which he subjected it through the many long fasts and harsh penances. He once fasted for forty days eating only one loaf of bread (because in humility he wanted to do less than Jesus did). He died in his early forties, blind and in great pain. He asked to die on the floor, his last act of embracing poverty and giving up everything for Jesus. In many ways he felt a failure. He had lost control of his order and thought himself a failure.But he truly loved Jesus and tried to live the life Jesus spells out in the Gospel. For that witness we are all eternally in his debt.

Any who read his life will find themselves both affected and repulsed. The purity of his faith and the integrity of his discipleship are such that his life is an act of preaching the glory of God. Yet, that same purity is so completely foreign to the compromised life which I live that it is too much to bear. Creature comforts and regular meals are too much a part of the Christian life style around here. Like that bishop, I am ashamed in the presence of the naked prophet who renounces everything to embrace Jesus alone.

It has been a long time ago that I read Francis. I was younger and more idealistic then. Perhaps I do not often revisit his life because I recognize my own shabby version of discipleship? Perhaps I am ashamed to be in his presence? I do not know. What I do know is digging into all these memories has stirred my heart and soul. It makes me want to read of him again. And it makes me wonder if, having lived now some fifteen years longer than Francis did, have I still only lived half as much?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Dire Straights

We are reading about King Hezekiah at Morning Prayer. He was highly thought of by the author of 2 Kings 18 "He trusted in the that there was no one like him among all  the kings of Judah after him, or among those who were before him."  (Though it is noteworthy that Josiah is praised similarly in 2 Kings 23:25 "Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all  his heart"). Typically the kings who ruled in Israel or Judah get less glowing assessments. If we sometimes feel bereft of good leadership it is fair to say that this is consistent with the biblical record!

In 2 Chronicles, which provides a parallel "history" (much like the Four Gospels), chapter 30 makes mention of a Passover celebration. We are told that couriers went from city to city inviting the people of Israel to come celebrate at the temple in Judah. Many were called but few responded positively (30:10 they laughed them to scorn) and the language recalls Jesus' parable of the wedding feast. What is interesting is a large number of those who showed up were not cleansed, yet they ate the passover otherwise than as prescribed. The king intervened and prayed, "the good Lord pardon all who set their hearts to seek God, the Lord the God of their ancestors, even though they are not in accordance with the sanctuary's rules of cleanness." There were other times in the past when God smote those who were not in accord with expectations. It is a pure mercy of God to allow those in His presence who are not cleansed and in a proper state. While we may think this shows that God does not care about the trifles of liturgical worship or Jewish ritual purity, such an interpretation would be an error. The prophetic record makes it clear that God's wrath is showered on those who are not in accord with His expectations. We do well to appreciate God's mercy but not to presume it or take liberties in light of it.

The story continues with the threat of King Sennacherib of Assyria. He had successfully overthrown Israel and dispersed its people across his kingdom. The "lost tribes of Israel" refers to those people who were placed in pagan lands and disappeared as an identified group. [The truth seems to be that a people can lose their identity before God, something the Christian peoples of western culture seem hellbent on doing right now.] The Assyrian emissaries tell those in Judah that there is no hope for them in their God. Instead, the king says, "trust in me for food and life." He employs language which in other places is used of God. Clearly, he is being set up as a false deity (and a model for Apocalyptic portrayals of the enemies of God). Over and over he warns not to trust YHWH to deliver and calls God a false hope and a deceiver. The Assyrian king's arrogance is grounded in reality. He asks, "Who among all the gods of the countries have delivered their countries out of my hand that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?"

As I prayed over this text I find myself wondering who was my Assyrian king? Who threatens me? What threat appears unstoppable and what does the data tell me of hopelessness. I found several. These are not the best of days for a traditional churchman or Christian. I know how the story will end, we will read it tomorrow I assume. But enough to face the threat today.

Sometimes our own uncleanness can get in the way of true and pleasing worship. Other times enemies emerge who make threats which appear viable. Sometimes, through our own fault or the agency of another, we find ourselves in dire straights. Sometimes it looks like hope is futile, that there is no way out. It is times such as these that our faith must sustain us. Perhaps we will be smitten. Perhaps we will be overrun. Perhaps all will turn out badly. But even then God is God. Even then God reigns. Even then, in death, there can be new beginnings and resurrection. But sometimes God makes an early entrance. He wipes us clean and allows us to celebrate in His presence. He wipes away the threat of the king of Assyria--in whatever from that takes in your life. Whatever God chooses to do, we can be confident it is for the best. So trust and be of stout heart!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Ancient Jedi and Other Anomalies

Reading the Bible is a timeless exercise. Like any book it is hard not to read it in our current context and fail to grasp the "ancient" source. It is God's Word, living and true, and confronting us today. It is also God's Word then. It is also God's Word in and through a human author. The divine-human co-authorship, of course, it what makes it tricky to grasp.

One of my principles in reading to understand the Bible is incongruity. In other words, what does the typical Bible story "look" like and is the story/section we are reading aligned with that. The stories of Elijah and Elisha stand out as different from much else in the Jewish Bible.While the miraculous can be found elsewhere (e.g Exodus story in Torah) the two prophets in the Samuel/Kings collections are unique in the number and types of things we read.

In most of the narratives one encounters normal behavior (though sometimes sinful) but Elijah and Elisha are surrounded by the super powers of a Jedi master. They call down fire from heaven and consume armies. They do remarkable feats of physical endurance. They heal the sick and raise the dead. One of my favorites, 2 Kings 6, Elisha makes an iron axe head float in water, then he does a mind trick on an attacking army and leads them blindly into a trap. When the king excitedly asks, "Should I kill them?" Elisha (contrary to the stereotyped beliefs about the Old Testament) says, "No. Feed them and send them on their way home." In a curious twist, we read that Arameans no longer raided the land of Israel, followed immediately by King Ben-hadad mustering the army of Aram against Samaria (Northern Israel). Elijah does not die like other folks, he is swept up in fiery chariots. Like I said, there is not much congruity with the majority of stories found elsewhere in the Jewish bible.

For many, the fundamental issue in the Bible is history. When asked, "Is it true?" what they mean is "Did it happen in time and space exactly as recorded?" It seems that if you can say, "Yes" that you have solved the problems faced by the text. "Yes, it is true. Problem solved." However, I think the problem solved (historical) gives way to other, more pressing problems.

If fire from heaven was available to Elijah and Elisha, why not for Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the rest? If they have these "X Men" powers why don't others? Understanding the mind of God is not advanced much by answering True or False questions on historicity. Scripture is about meaning. Perhaps the most obvious is the ending of Jesus. The eye witnesses of Jesus' crucifixion could get the facts correct (and clarify the inconsistencies in our four gospels.). In fact, the eye witnesses knew much, much more about those details than you and I ever could. However, most of them did not know what they were seeing. They saw a guy on a cross. We see salvation. Think of the difference in knowing. We know a truth that no facts can reveal by simple observation. You cannot see the sins of the world absorbed into Jesus. That is one detail observation cannot attain. Yet in the end it is THE detail which matters most. So we see so much more, even though we were not there to see anything at all.

My quest is to ask the right questions about the Bible. It is to free folks from a defensiveness about history which blinds them to Truth. I do not know about the history of Ellijah and Elisha. I note the radical differences in their stories and others. I wonder why. But I also see the connections, over and over and over, to the Jesus story. Throughout the Gospels the story of Jesus reflects the stories of Elijah and Elisha. They are types of Christ. That is what matters. In all our reading the main quest is not for history, it is to find Jesus, hidden in every word of both Testaments. It is about Jesus. Always,