Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Lent 15: Annunciation

Here it is, right in the middle of a season often associated with wilderness wanderings: life. Promise of birth. Fecundity. The breathless "yes" when sense should say a firm "no."

That's our God for you.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wednesday Lent 13: Not What I Thought It Would Be

I entered this Lent thinking I would be doing one particular spiritual practice.

Turns out I am engaged in another one entirely.

Asking your prayers for my dad.  He has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson's. Actually, he was diagnosed over a year ago; but he didn't understand the diagnosis at that time. His hearing is extremely poor. Also, there is a dementia/ confusion component to Parkinson's that is kicking in. So... it's not clear what he knew and when he knew it. I only know that when I spoke to him about it this weekend, he seemed utterly stunned, not knowing at all what I was talking about.

I will be traveling to be with him every two to three weeks. My church is wonderfully supportive of this-- I mean, really exceptionally compassionate and helpful. It makes me teary to think of it. Dad needs help with his mail, paying his bills, and with things like having repair people come into the house. He shouldn't be driving, and the more I'm there, the more he can schedule things like doctor's appointments when I can be there.

The next time I go he will be having an echo-cardiogram, because he has an extremely slow heart rate (49) which so far has no medical explanation. They're wondering about congestive heart failure.

Dad is 89. He is feeling at sea, depressed, especially because I am urging him to make some changes, none of which he wants to make. He feels that I have turned on him. This is pretty heartbreaking. I want him to be safe, that's all. If he has a medical emergency I want him to have a system in place that will get him help fast.

My nightmare is that he has a fall or some other episode, and no one knows for days.

So. Asking for prayers, on this blog I said wouldn't have private issues on it. But there is is. Sometimes it's not so easy to separate out the public from the private. Thanks friends.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday Lent 6: Mulligan!

Do-overs are awesome.

People gave Bill Clinton a hard time for taking all those mulligans. But I say, mulligans for everybody, whether they're the president or not!

That's what Lent is about. Hell, that's what Christianity is about. Mulligans.

The Greek word for sin, used in the Christian Testament, essentially means, a missed shot. You aimed, but your aim was off. It's an especially merciful word because it presumes the best in us was trying to do the right thing, but we missed. In contrast, I suppose, to the Calvinist theology which formed the basis of the tradition of which I am a part, which assumed no such thing. According to Calvin, original sin has utterly defaced the image of God in each of us, so that we are incapable of good action in and of ourselves.

The Christian testament, the very linguistics which make it up, beg to differ. Sin is not always about our total depravity. Sometimes, sin is about our valiant efforts falling short, straying to one side or the other of the mark we intended to hit.

Today's lectionary reading from Hebrews quotes from Psalm 95:

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, 
     “Today, if you hear his voice, 

 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, 
          as on the day of testing in the wilderness...    ~Hebrews 3:7-8

Hardening our hearts can have something to do with missing the mark. We think we're on the right track, the best track, but we have predisposed ourselves to taking the bend in the road when we ought to (sorry dear readers) have gone straight. Or, as my friend L. says, "gaily forward."

But/ And the good news is: mulligans all around! Today is a new day. This morning is a fresh start, whether you need it with the food you meant to eat or the kindness you intended to convey or the honesty you intended to share or the spiritual discipline you intended to practice.

Thanks. Be. To. God.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday Lent 3: 40

I said to a friend recently that one of the things I most value about F@ceb00k is the fact that it has become a kind of news aggregator for me. My friend share things they find interesting, and because they are my friends, often I find those very same things interesting too.

Not Farmville or Mafia Wars.

Other things.

Like this splendid and modest little video, which is startlingly powerful.

Lenten blessings.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

On Jonah and "Goodbye Rob Bell"

Image courtesy of Convictions.

In case you missed it, today is Ash Wednesday!

Just kidding. Of course you haven't missed it. Unless... you're reading this from the other side of the world where the day is mostly gone by now.

But I'm going to assume you haven't "missed it." I'm assuming the readers of this blog are all too aware of the dawning season of Lent, and our invitations to its disciplines, which, as the daily lectionary reading from Hebrews (12:1-14) reminds us, "always seem painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by [them]."

Can I get an Amen?

In case you missed it, there has also been a fascinating controversy in the blogosphere in reaction (not response) to the advance publicity for Rob Bell's new book, "Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived." (Modest title, don't you think?) In fact, the controversy even made the New York Times.

Just to be clear, I haven't read the book. (It comes out next week.) But from what I understand, in it Bell suggests something that other theologians before him have suggested. He suggests-- and provides scripture evidence to back up his suggestion-- that a loving God whose intention is for everyone's salvation, will, in fact, make that happen. He believes that there is a hell, but most likely, it is empty.

I have no problem with this view.

But, boy, some people sure do, including one seminary friend with whom I went toe to toe on this for about 25 comments on F@ceb00k. Some people have a HUGE problem with the idea that hell is empty. In fact, some people seem downright threatened by it.

Reminds me of Jonah. Today's Hebrew Scriptures lectionary passage is Jonah 3:1- 4:11. Which means, the reluctant prophet preaches repentance to Nineveh, Nineveh gets it and God decides not to punish Nineveh-- in other words, successful prophetic mission accomplished-- and Jonah gets pissed. As in, "I'm going into the desert to sulk," pissed. As in, "I didn't want these people to be saved" pissed.

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Is it right for people to be angry over God's desire to save? My seminary friend appealed to the Christian tradition, orthodox teaching, which tells us there's a hell. I appealed to the "reformed, always reforming" notion of what it means to be faithful day by day. I also appealed to scripture-- though not this passage, which may be more on point than most.

It is always good, in the face of these kinds of controversies, to ask, "Who stands to gain?"

Who stands to gain if there is no hell? Who stands to gain if there is a hell?

To answer the first, we all do, of course. Everyone who is a sinner-- which, it is my understanding, is everyone, period. We all gain, because love wins and salvation is graciously extended to all. (That's the definition of grace, by the way. Unmerited good stuff/ God stuff.)

To answer the second, well, a select few. Who get to be gatekeepers (in their own minds), and to essentially say, "Nanny, nanny, boo boo" to everyone who doesn't do religion their way

In the end, it's all about people trying to figure out how God thinks. 

Frankly, Bell had me at "Hello," which is to say, the title: "Love wins."

That's who I believe God is. 

What do you think?