Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Porch Stories: Serving

For today's Porch Stories, Kristin Hill Taylor's about Serving Where You Are Sent (Where You Find Yourself, etc.).

Serving

I hardly can count the times of consternation I've had when people have claimed out of context God's promise to the exiles in Babylon via Jeremiah 29:11, "I know the plans I have for you... to give you a future and a hope." The God whose Word enacts resurrection to new life from the most morbid of deaths does have a future in store for everyone, one far more abundant than our most extravagant hopes. We acknowledge scripture as God's word for us, but latching onto this passage because it feels good is blatant (or maybe pathetic) eisegesis.
5Build houses, and dwell in them; plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them... 7But seek the welfare [well-being; shalom] of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare [well-being; shalom] you will find your welfare [well-being; shalom].
Jeremiah 29
My citation's intentional—a scripture snippet from the same chapter and historical exilic context, words that relate to wherever we are and constitute a call for us to look around right here and now–not backward or foreword in time, not geographically across town or to another hemisphere, though a different city or cultural setting well may form part of God's future for us. In every case the word for "welfare, well-being" in the Hebrew text is a shalom derivative. Like some states of the USA, you also could use the common-wealth designation.

A couple weeks ago for Porch Stories I touched on some implications of shalom. I assume most readers won't backtrack to my earlier post, so I explained:
the Hebrew word and concept "shalom" extends far beyond absence of war or conflict; shalom intrinsically belongs to God's manner of living together in community, whether that "common unity" is nuclear-extended family, a particular group that gathers around Word and Sacrament as a local expression of God's called-out assembly—ecclesia; a school of any educational level dedicated to providing the best for students and teachers, a neighborhood within a city striving not to neglect anyone's needs, aiming to provide that shalom-filled "enough" food, shelter, hope, and friendship to all comers of all ages and stages. It's true when the apostle Paul and his successors open their letters with "Grace and Peace" their word for peace is the Greek eirene that gives us "irenic" in English, but with Saul/Paul's Hebrew background his offer of the peace of Jesus Christ had to be fullness of care-filled community where no one lacked, not one had more than they needed. Paul, etc. did not refer to no-apparent-conflict or to the not-Roman, not-peace-filled Pax Romana.
It's Wednesday after Lent 4; churches that follow the liturgical calendar have journeyed more than halfway through the season of Lent. When Lent ends, the Three Days of the Triduum begins with Maundy Thursday, whose texts and liturgy retell and show us Jesus' mandate (or command) to serve one another in the way he demonstrates by washing the feet of his disciples and by instituting the freedom feast of the Lord's Supper or Eucharist—the long-standing Jewish practice of remembering by re-enacting God's people's Passover from slavery and death into life and liberty, but with a new emphasis and completion into a greater, shalom-filled redemption. Right there in the midst of where any observant Jew would have been on that day, Jesus seizes the here and now and charges his friends to "do this." Repeat this blessing and breaking of bread, this pouring-out of wine? "Do this" blood of the covenant announcement? Yes, in a sense!

Similar to how a passover seder meal and a eucharistic feast re-member liberation and resurrection with all of our five senses, we serve our neighbors' whole lives by constructing houses and planting gardens. More than once I've heard how ministering to people doesn't necessarily mean giving them what they want; it means giving them – or helping them get – what they need. What could be more essential and life-engendering than shelter and food, more shalom-restoring than creating community filled with friendship and hope, where we look around right now and right here, when we notice and attend to everyone's needs and even to some of their wants? Creating shelter from trees, leaves, vines, and sod; out of a well-tended earth—growing food. Breaking open the flesh and substance of our own lives and hearts, pouring out our essence in time, labor, and talent in service to others. Our own "little deaths" that contribute to the liveliness and well-being of others.

The Three Days of the Triduum begins with Maundy Thursday, with texts and liturgy related to Jesus' mandate (or command) to serve one another in the way his entire life has. This long-standing Jewish practice remembers by re-enacting God's people's Passover from slavery and death into life and liberty, but with a new emphasis and completion into a greater, shalom-full redemption that reflects God's manner of living together in the common unity of covenantal community. "A greater redemption?" Today is Thursday, tomorrow's Friday—Sunday's coming!

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Friday, March 24, 2017

Five Minute Friday: Embrace

Kate Motaung hosts another Five Minute Friday at her online home that's a place of embrace for all! FMF is kind of a free write flash mob...

desert spirit's fire: embrace

Here's a hug!

But as someone who loves to be (physically) hugged by friends, acquaintance, and often *even* by almost random strangers, I realize all of us need to be sensitive to people's culture, their personal space, and their current preferences. Someone told me going back and forth between Germany and USA several times a year often confuses her; friends and acquaintances on American soil usually enjoy being hugged, whilst in Germany a handshake is the norm, so with the rapid culture shifts all those transatlantic flights invariably cause, she sometimes stands there and waits for the other person to make the first move. I love tight, almost constricting hugs—but ya need to be acquainted well enough with the other person to know if they'll welcome that type of embrace or find it suffocating and rudely inappropriate.

Other forms of embracing an individual or a group don't necessarily mean arms open wide, then enclosing the other, but can be just as physical and tangible. The church I attend is in an ethnically diverse area that includes recent arrivals to this country who amongst them speak only a few dozen languages; after I offered a hug to my blog visitors, the second thing this prompt brought to mind was our embrace of the Persian people who recently have been baptized. We've embraced them by giving them scriptures in their native Farsi language; in a burst of inspiration, our office administrator started arranging a circle of chairs outside with a wide canopy shelter for our Persian brothers and sisters to visit and converse with each other during our weekly post-liturgy brunch. We call it the "Persian Patio," and that's one of our ways of offering what has become a welcoming and a most welcome hug!

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Porch Stories: Prayer

Porch Stories Prayer

Last week Kristin Hill Taylor's weekly Wednesday linkup changed from Three Word Wednesday into Porch Stories; today Kristin writes about Putting my Prayers in a Box.

When Kristin told me today's topic was prayer, I immediately thought of it as a good topic for the slowed-down days of Lent. I also realized all of us need to evaluate and reorient our prayer lives on a regular basis. People insist we become closest to those we talk to most often. Talk to about what? Most of us reserve certain topics for certain people, but with God, we need to be sure nothing's off limits. In her Mudhouse Sabbath, Lauren Winner reminds us Jewish prayer is liturgical prayer, meaning actions, words, postures, and attitudes that belong to the entire community, not simply to a single individual. She suggests beginning our daily prayer time(s) with written prayers rather than with free prayer that's the longing of our own hearts.

What written prayers would I suggest? Why not start each prayer time with a psalm? Close with a psalm, as well? In our necessary quest to be sure nothing between us and God is off-limits, the full range of the psalter provides expressive depth to every aspect of "Our Human Condition," and afterwards we can bring our own situations, consternations, hopes, and troubles before the throne of grace. We can pray the liturgy of the hours with the church in every time and every place, but apart from a retreat or vacation setting, praying all the canonical hours every day likely won't happen. Why not greet the new day with an abbreviated version of Matins and/or pray Compline as a family, as a couple, or alone on your balcony or veranda after your evening meal or before bed? When Jesus' disciples asked him how to pray, he responded with "Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name..." You know the rest! Talk about praying with the rest of the church! Just as we bring our own voices to God in prayer, God's Holy Spirit has inspired people who developed the structure and words of the divine office (and the Eucharistic liturgy) to combine and integrate God's address to us humans with our responses to God's initiative.

I've never gotten into praying scripture through the practice of Lectio divina, but it's still easy to claim for ourselves a few verses from almost any portion of scripture. There are daily devotional booklets that offer very short reflections on short passages; you also could begin your serious devotional time with the standalone two-year daily lectionary on PC(USA)—"standalone" because it doesn't relate at all to the 3-year cycle of the Revised Common Lectionary. Just as we speak to God through our words and actions, with our whole lives, God speaks to each of us as individuals and in gathered community through the words of scripture, best interpreted by Jesus, the Living Word. You also can access the daily lectionary here—this links directly to readings for today, 22 March 2017.

Making scripture as God's word to us and for us a integral part of our prayer that's our word and words from earth to heaven can help us discern what God asks of us, where God wants us to be. As dwellers in the 21st century and as people God has called and claimed in baptism, we will receive personal, individual revelation—just as the scriptures witness to countless individuals to whom God has revealed Godself and God's intentions. What God asks of us always will be for the greater good, and will align with better or best options for the families and communities we belong to and interact with; God's intentions for any of us ultimately will lead to the well-being and betterment of all creation. We literally can invoke God's words and Jesus Christ's presence in scripture to measure and test what we hear!

There are sitting (standing, walking) in silence types of prayer that provide opportunities to open bear our hearts and our lives to God in ways speech can't; and ways to listen for God's response in ways only sheer silence can transmit, but for this Porch Stories edition I've concentrated on Praying with Spoken – and sometimes our own Written – Words.

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world water day 2017

world water day 2017

Friday, March 17, 2017

Five Minute Friday: Friend

Kate Motaung continues to host Five Minute Friday, and who wouldn't love today's single-word prompt—friend!

"take 5"—minutes.

five minute friday friendI've been adding my own illustrations to most week's FMFs; sometimes a brand new idea, sometimes an old one as-is, occasionally an updated and edited older design concept. This slightly re-done retrospect and prospect describes activities that any "level" or type of friends might enjoy together during those magical summer months when life slows down to a bask in the sun, we try to finish our work faster and better to allow time for fun. I invented the "What says summer better than best friends, bright gardens, great food, cool conversation, sparkling drinks, warm sand, and sunshine?" quote... but I'll amend it to say those friends around the backyard or rooftop garden, sharing yummy eats, talking seriously, lightly, or idly, appreciating the tang and refreshment of a sparkling drink don't always need to be "best friends forever" or even simple "best friends." Around our gatherings there's plenty of room for a new acquaintance, just-hired coworker, neighbor from two streets over, anyone who wants to be there. The Hebrew Bible book of Proverbs (17:17a) tells us a friend loveth at all times; via the gospel of John 15:15, Jesus calls us friends and goes on to explain how friends share their lives with (even lay down their lives for!) their friends. So for this spring – or summer, autumn, or winter – gathering, I include every one of you in my friends lists.


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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Porch Stories: Initiate Peace

Initiate Peace

Kristin Hill Taylor's weekly Wednesday linkup has changed from Three Word Wednesday into Porch Stories! Today she wisely writes about God's call to Initiate Peace. Kristin's inspiration?
Lisa-Jo Baker wrote about "shalom" in her coming-soon book Never Unfriended: The Secret to Finding and Keeping Lasting Friendships. This book is even better than I expected and I'm excited to share more of it with you.

But today I want to tell you about what she said about shalom, which is more than the absence of conflict. It's interactive – and it's in the Bible more than 200 times. So let's grab initiative and let's bring peace to whoever is near.

As Kristin explained, the Hebrew word and concept "shalom" extends far beyond absence of war or conflict; shalom intrinsically belongs to God's manner of living together in community, whether that "common unity" is nuclear-extended family, a particular group that gathers around Word and Sacrament as a local expression of God's called-out assembly—ecclesia; a school of any educational level dedicated to providing the best for students and teachers, a neighborhood within a city striving not to neglect anyone's needs, aiming to provide that shalom-filled "enough" food, shelter, hope, and friendship to all comers of all ages and stages. It's true when the apostle Paul and his successors open their letters with "Grace and Peace" their word for peace is the Greek eirene that gives us "irenic" in English, but with Saul/Paul's Hebrew background his offer of the peace of Jesus Christ had to be fullness of care-filled community where no one lacked, not one had more than they needed. Paul, etc. did not refer to no-apparent-conflict or to the not-Roman, not-peace-filled Pax Romana.

Shalom's about our sensing and responding to promptings of the Spirit of Peace and doing what we can to initiate peace wherever we are, and as usual, rather than imagining God sending us to venues far away, we need to ask, "what would Jesus do?" Because in this here and this now, in the Spirit of LIfe Jesus calls us to be his voice, his hands and feet, his presence amidst whatever's surging and storming around us. Or quietly nudging. Remember, Kristin reminds us shalom is interactive. It happens when we listen to each other. When we do whatever we can do attend to the needs of a friend, a neighbor, a stranger who soon may become our neighbor or even our close friend. So simple, really. Don't quench the Spirit. Don't try to block out or explain away God's moment to moment promptings.

For this year 2017 that marks the 500th anniversary of the formal beginning of the continental European Protestant Reformation, we've seen a renewed appreciation of Martin Luther's emphasis on God's various callings to each of us; for the Reformers, every task and occupation was a calling - vocation – from God and worthy of our very best. Most of us have some sense of God's calling, preparing, and enabling us to do a particular occupation; if we're active at church, at any one time most of us have at least one calling to serve our church community in a particular way, whether our ecclesiastical leader discerned it for us at this time, the congregation elected us, or less formally, we simply offered and they accepted our offer. Long-term interim pastor at church in Previous City exclaimed, "We're not volunteers! We're called!"

Initiating peace indeed can be part of our larger callings as parent, teacher, attorney, church treasurer, or choir director. But God also makes initiating peace an ongoing mini-calling for every one. "It's interactive and...about whoever is near," Kristin insists. So that means not suppressing the voice or the needs of the other to create an appearance of no overt conflict. It means being Jesus' listening, healing, discerning presence. Last fall in the adult Sunday School class I facilitate we talked a lot about neighborology, "the word about the neighbor and our neighbor's claims on us." That would include initiating shalom whenever possible. Can you do it? Can I do it? In the power and presence of the Spirit of Shalom, we can initiate peace together!

Amen? Amen!

shalom

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Thursday, March 09, 2017

Five Minute Friday: Abandon

For Five MInute Friday, Kate's given us abandon. Part of FMF fun is the wildly different directions people take with a single word. When I've mastered the notes and the technique of a Beethoven Sonata, I love being able to perform it with measured abandon; describing the joyful ease of playing the piano when I know the music well would be a natural. I usually keep my FMFs singingly light, but this time?

five minute friday abandon

Five minutes, here I come!
One of those as if only yesterday memories. City sounds outside. Lights dimmed.

I stayed still in bed, watching the clock, waiting for my Dad to return home. 11:45 and "something delayed him tonight; he'll be home tomorrow." Ten years worth! That may not sound long from the perspective of more or less chronologically mature Five Minute Friday peeps, but for anyone between the ages of 4 and 14 it accounted to several centuries. Finally one day I realized Dad wasn't coming home yet. I needed to get on with my life. Fourteen years old! Working papers! A real paying job! So I declared him dead.

Fast forward a few decades. Staying with my late mother. I told her I'd met my Dad's family in Former City then asked, "but why didn't you tell me he wasn't coming back! Why didn't you tell me he was gone?" She calmly replied, "I didn't need to say anything. It was obvious." What child ever would imagine a parent had abandoned her?

Telephone call one evening. "This is your older sister..." I'd found out in former city I had a younger sister—older sister was quite some surprise. So we talked. And talked. Sister: "Our Dad wanted me to tell you this isn't the way he'd wanted it to be He tried many times to see you, but always got turned down."

What person of any age believes a parent would abandon them?

City sounds outside. Lights dim. it's evening. Soon night will fall.
Five minutes flat.

five minute friday button five minute friday abandon