Daily Devotional: If Everyday Miracles Won’t Transform You, What Will?

rabbit hat magicianevery day miracles actually bon joviMark 8:1-11

This story is a reminder of how easily we miss the point. The crowd comes out to see Jesus not hoping for spiritual transformation, but for a wonder to be worked, a sign.   For some this may be them, living in despair, legitimately looking for evidence Jesus is one whom God is working though. “Show us proof”. It is ironic, of course, as God has already through Jesus healed the sick, cured the neurological and mental ailments the people of the day called “having a spirit”, and multiplied bread & fish to feed a multitude.

Others come not seeking anything spiritual at all, but rather seeking a thrill. As if Jesus’ preaching is a show and he a magician. “Pull a rabbit out of your hat”, they might as well be saying.

Jesus promises no signs, no miracles, although those who follow him throughout his life see a plenty. But no miracle, sign, or wonder can effect transformation of the soul, can it? Ultimately this takes a person choosing to partner with God where you find God – whether in Jesus, in Scripture, in nature, in your own religious tradition. Wherever God appears, the same message of love, of justice, of compassion, of tearing down barriers of division occurs.   Now God is appearing to them in Jesus, but if they already are unwilling to cooperate with that of God already revealed in their midst through Jesus – let alone revealed every day in nature, in the torah, in other people – well, what difference will one more sign make?

Everyday-Miracles-of-the-PlanetUltimately our days are filled with miracles, from the human eye to the sunrise, to a child’s cry, to the many occasions we and others around us arrive alive out of illness or travel against all odds.   One more miracle will not transform our lives if these other miracles already do not open our hearts to the true and abiding Life which flows through every moment.   Ultimately, it is not miracles being witnessed that transforms us, but making  the choice to participate and partner with the Living One who causes life to break forth in the midst of death, comfort in the face of despair, healing in the face of disease, liberty in the face of oppression, and tearing down of walls of division in the face of all that sets people at enmity.

You do not need the certainties we often wrongly think miracles can bring to choose to participate with that little bit of Life you already know which God has placed in your life, you only need openness.   As you participate with that which brings forth life, healing, justice in your neck of the woods, you will find yourself seeing it everywhere. When people speak of God leading them or speaking to them to do this or that thing, usually this process is what they are describing. They see that of God, that which makes life or justice or healing break forth, in their own lives and choose to partner with it, come more fully to flower. As they do so they suddenly are able to see that same force at work in many different places they had not seen it before.   Touched by the choice to helping cultivate life, healing, and liberation where they already have, now they choose to do so afresh in new ways.   Each choice to do so, even when full of uncertainty, opens up their lives more. The more you cooperate with grace in your life, the more you see places it is found and can be partnered with again and again.

inner-peace (1)As a Christian, I see these places of grace in our lives as in-breakings of God, places the Holy Spirit is at work which God opens our eyes to. I view seeing these spaces and seeing how we can respond as hearing the voice of God. People in other faiths experience the same movements in ways they express with other words – it is living out the dharma in Buddhism, for instance; it is finding the tao in some Eastern faiths; it is living in islam or submission to God as God is found in Islam. I have friends who do not believe in any religion who also engage in such partnership with the good and they call it being a mindful and aware person.

Jesus does not perform more signs because it is not more miraculous things which we need in our life but a greater awareness to that of God or Life already present in our lives. When we do this, the way becomes clear to us.

The disciples demonstrate the way in which our lack of awareness trips us up. Jesus breakbreadprovides a parable about bread. His parables and sayings are much like Buddhist koans. In Buddhism, a koan is a short saying which literally understood makes no sense. At times they are riddles, while at other times they are enigmatic statements.   The popular koans we all have heard are “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” and “if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there, does it make a sound?” The only way to grasp a koan is to let go of your need to look at the koan in a black or white conventional literal way, but to open yourself to seeing life and the connections in life in a new way.

Jesus’ parables and metaphors are like these koans.   The disciples are constantly stumped because they try to hear Jesus’ words from their own black and white, literalistic, limited perspectives. So they argue about bread when Jesus talks about yeast.   They miss the boat.

We laugh at them because Mark gives us the interpretation of Jesus’ words, but we still do just like the disciples did. We still expect God to lead us based on our expectations. Instead everday miracles bon joviJesus invites us to a deeper awareness of God’s working around us, one which forces us to see the world with new eyes. When we do that, we are able to see God in each other, in creation, in groups and peoples we’d often overlooked. We are able to feel a tug to a different pattern of life, one which is based on a deeper acknowledgement of what makes for life, freedom, healing, and reconciliation.

Such an awareness is what has led world-changing people like Gandhi, like Sojourner Truth, like Desmond Tutu, like Troy Perry, to see the pattern of our world, acknowledge those our normal way of life crushes underfoot, and say “this is not the only way”, calling us to something different.

In our own lives, as we learn to have this change in awareness, we are able to be people of grace, people of life, people of healing in ways we never could have been before.

Let’s learn to open ourselves to the transforming awareness of that of God in, with, under, and through us, others, and all creation so we can begin to see our lives & world with new eyes.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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Daily Devotional: Beyond Toddler Economics

jesus holds the worldPsalm 24 is a reminder of whose our lives and our things are.  “The earth is the Lord’s” we are told, and all the “fullness therein”.  What a stark contrast this claim is to how we live our days.  Our time is our own, our money and resources our possession.  The hills and the mountains, the fields with their fruit (both of plants harvested from farms and also of resources like oil, iron, & uranium) are presented not as the Lord’s but this or that company’s.

We take the gifts God gives us and like toddlers at the play ground divvy them up, grasping after our tiny pieces saying “mine!”, and then wonder why so many struggle without enough to get by.

gremlin toddlerI recently was reading a science fiction series by Kim Stanley Robinson charting an imagined future where people of Earth settle Mars and are able to terraform it so that it can sustain life.  In the series, one of the interesting ideas that Robinson imagines is what would happen if land was not something any person said they could own but only use and be held responsible for the ways in which they are stewards of it for others.  In the series of books, Robinson imagines a society in which the land on which we live stops being considered the property of any one person, but a shared resource that is a gift for all.   A starkly different society is envisioned which, though not perfect, does not privilege select few over the struggling masses.   It ends up also leading toward a call for rights beyond speech, freedom of worship, to include the right to housing, right to meaningful work, right to meaningful healthcare since there is more than enough in the world we have to provide this for all if a few with power to not cling it tight to their breast saying “mine”.

That fascinating glimpse of a world in which the resources before us are not prizes in some game of Monopoly to be gobbled up but resources no one person or group can own is quite refreshing.   It helps me imagine what it would look like to truly live as if this earth on which we stand is not ours, but the Lord’s.  No wonder the Psalmist follows up this call to see all we have and all we are as not ours but God’s with a description of the type of person whose life choices make them ready to fully see God.

helping hands 1What type of person is this?  A person with clean heart and hands, whose actions build up the common good not tear down others around them.  It is a person who makes good pledges, and keeps them.  At heart it is a person who lives recognizing in their actions our interconnectedness and the gift we are given to share in this life and this world.

I have to admit I’m not there.  I may sit excited by imagining a world in which we learn to see what we have as all a part of a common good, where we learn to share who we are and what we have with our neighbors who struggle and are in need, but I have to admit too often I go through my days with blinders on, only thinking of me and mine.   Yet the Scripture calls me to lift my head, look up, and truly begin to see others around me, truly see our connection, and truly begin to share of who I am with those about me.

When we do this, we truly can begin more and more to see the Lord of glory manifest for after all is not the place in which Jesus teaches that we can best encounter the Lord high and lifted up not our deep meditations, our acts of religious devotion, but the other.   Whatever we do to the least of these our brothers and sisters we do to Christ.  In their eyes and lives we see the life and eyes of God.

I’m not there yet, my friend.  Where are you?  Until I do arrive in that mindset, I will lift up my eye and open my heart.  Let’s do that together.

Certainly not whistling Dixie here,

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Daily Devotional: Not Called to Warfare But to Witness

The truth is like a lion you don't have to defend it let it loose it will defend itselfPsalm 35 is a call for God to fight and defend his hurting children.

So often we get this backwards in our society, believing God calls us to fight and defend God’s honor. So we raise Cain about the Bible and Christianity being in dishonor, waging little culture wars with others around us.   Mostly those are non-violent, but at times they sure do break out in violence – not just the violence of terrorists from the Middle East (which is an expression of this same desire to defend God) but also in home-grown acts of violence and discrimination.

joan of arcGod does not call us to defend God here, as if God is a helpless child in need of a grownup like us to take her or him by the hand, lead them to safety, and run off her or his bullies. No, God is depicted as able to take care of Her or Himself here. God’s more the Joan of Arc with the sword against the invading armies or the King David with his sling against Goliath than the helpless child in need of our help. God can handle this, and God’s commitment is to defend us.   We are the ones like children oft lost on the way.

There are so many areas in our life we can feel assaulted and threatened. Some Christians feel threatened now because they say society moving away from their picture of Christianity and wonder, is there a future for them? Others feel threatened because of conflict in their own families, maybe children whose future looks uncertain or marriages and partnerships that seem to be about to implode.   I know in my own state people of color, women, the poor, and people with disabilities all feel threatened by regressive policies. Attempts at voter suppression, slashing of programs for the poor, racially charged gerrymandering, and many other seeming threats have powerful people pushing them forward.

black history colllageI am reminded as I read this verse that though I must do all I can do to continue to work for justice, work for a compassionate society, my job really isn’t to fight a battle. It is to be a witness, to tell the story of my own experience and also the experience of those hurting in the face of injustice.   I must do my part, but ultimately I must trust that the battle belongs to the Lord.

If I am faithful, I can trust that God will defend the cause of the poor, the downtrodden, the outcast, the forgotten.   Me raising my voice, casting my vote, contacting my representatives, are all part of my part. But that can be witness not warfare. God, however, can through the Spirit work victory in the midst of seeming defeat.

May it be so, Lord. May it be so.

And I ain’t whistling Dixie,

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Daily Devotion: Embracing Worship that Breathes Life into ourselves, others, and God’s world

whalesPsalm 148 invites all creatures that live and breathe on earth, in the skies, the seas, and heavens to join in a song of praise.

Placing our praise and worship of God in the context of the community of creation is really a recurring theme in Scripture.   Genesis 1 places the central act of Hebrew worship – Shabbat, or Sabbath, the resting from work one day in seven previously a celebration of God freeing Israel from slavery – into the context of creation. God rested on the seventh day, so when the people of Israel worship by joining in Shabbat they are finding their place in creation, in nature, alongside the many hued and sized creatures of earth, sky, and sea and alongside the creating God. Likewise in Colossians, Romans, and black sacred heart of jesusEphesians the work of Christ which opens up the Sabbath rest of those of us who identify as followers of Christ is identified as redeeming not just we erring humans but all of struggling hurting creation from the smallest ants to the largest whale, from the smallest atom to the swirling galaxies. When worship is described in Revelation in terms of “singing a new song” it is seen as the people of God joining in the songs of angel, archangel, and heavenly creatures.

This sets a context for our acts of worship. There was a time I remember hearing friends who were not people of faith questioning “Why would God command you to worship Him?   If He’s so great, how is His ego so small that he needs the constant patting on the bag of a bunch of fanboys and fangirls?”

I have to admit a part of me winced when I heard that. I’d grown up being taught on my grandma’s knee cosmic christto thank and praise God for God’s gifts.   It made as much sense to me as breathing, but that question brought up something I’d never thought of. Why should I praise and thank God?   It didn’t make sense for God to need my thanks. That would make God an insecure, needy guy not an all-loving, all-powerful Creator. Such a god would not be worthy of the all-caps title “God” let alone my worship.

To me texts like Psalm 148 and the others I list remind me that God does not need our worship.   We, however, need to worship. We need to find ways to connect ourselves with the great dance of life which is all about us. Other creatures, so far all most of us have encountered are creatures that by nature join the dance. They by instinct and genetics (and apparently through epigenetics) find the role in life they were created for.   When they do, their life and the life of others around them flourish.

But unless the visions of angels mystics have had and of aliens some contemporaries report are literally true (and who knows if they are or are not?) we are alone in the world of the nature we’ve experienced galaxiesas being able to opt out of the cycle of nature, the patterns of life.   God created us as co-creators with God, with the potential to participate in the shaping of our world, in the building of beauty, in the healing of nature. Our artwork, our music, our parks and farms, our beautiful buildings and some of our technology, are part of this co-creating. Scientists tell us even our beloved dogs are a part of this co-creation, having co-evolved with us when we began to domesticate them into breeds that barely resemble God’s original design. I’m thankful for puppies, and think they are a picture of the great potential when we use our freedom to co-create with God in ways that birth beauty.

Yet this same potential allows us to opt out of the dance of life, to push against it, using our freedom in ways that tear apart the fabric of life in small and big ways. We see this in our creating the atom bomb, chemical warfare, mass genocide. We see it in how we have put to waste the earth and as mentioned in the book The Sixth Extinction have warped nature so that we have polluted the earth, causing a mass species die-off.   The consequences for losing our place in the dance of life which God invites us into are drastic.

sixth extinctionWorship is not just about saying gratitude to God but learning to sit in wonder before God, the gifts of life and freedom God gives us and all creation. It is learning to see ourselves as a part of a web of life that was woven by the One pictured in Scriptures like Psalm 139 as the great Weaver-Woman God. It is learning to find our place in the pattern of life which God has woven into the core of creation.

At times singing hymns, prayers, and having ceremonies actually deaden us to this. Let’s not forget that often it is people of faith, including Christians, who are careless to the earth, to other creatures, and to our neighbors. In fact we Christians and people of Abrahamic faiths have some blame in twisting the texts that speak of our place in creation to argue not for our need to be care-takers who preserve the diversity of creation but instead to be ones who use it heartlessly for ourselves.

True worship can include hymn-singing, prayers, and ceremonies.   At its heart thought is beginning to see that golden thread that flows through and is woven into every life, uniting all of creation.   Scripture Jesus Redeemer of All Creationtells us that this life that unites us all is an expression of the Holy Spirit in whom we live and move and have our being. Seeing ourselves as interconnected with all creation through worship whether that is ancient prayers, contemporary songs, or simply sitting at the sea side or on the mountain peaks in awe of God’s creation draws us into becoming one’s committed to helping embrace life in the midst of death, healing of creation and people in the midst of decay, and working to curb death-dealing practices that increase pollution for ones that help heal our earth and ourselves.

Let us learn to embrace such worship, worship that sets us free, that sets other’s free, that helps free our earth and all creation.

Your progressive preacher,

Micah

Daily Devotional: Seeing Yourself and Others Through God’s Eyes of Love

mirror dimlyPsalm 27

“Your love is ever before my eyes,” prays the psalmist.   His or her vision of life has been transformed by having experienced and known the love of God for him or her, for others, for all creation.   I am reminded of the words of rabbi Harold Kushner who said that faith is the eyes with which we see the world. Faith may not transform the world all on its own, but it transforms how we see this earth, how we see ourselves, how we see those we encounter.   The psalmist’s vision has been transformed by seeing God’s love.

What does having God’s “love … ever before” our “eyes”?

mother holding baby 1It is to see ourselves and the world around us more and more as God sees it when God, like a mother does toward her child, sees this world and all of us through the eyes of love. It is to see others as valuable, just as a spouse sees their beloved in a different way when they view them through their eyes of love.   Julian of Norwich beautifully pictured the eyes with which God sees each of us and our world in her Revelation of Divine Love.   She wrote:

“… [Christ] showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.

“In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it. But what is this to me? Truly, the Creator, the Keeper, the Lover. For until I am substantially “oned” to him, I may never have full rest nor true bliss. That is to say, until I be so fastened to him that there is nothing that is made between my God and me.

“This little thing which is created seemed to me as if it could have fallen into nothing because of its littleness. We need to have knowledge of this, so that we may delight in despising as nothing everything created, so as to love and have uncreated God. For this is the reason why our hearts and souls are not in perfect ease, because here we seek rest in this thing which is so little, in which there is no rest, and we do not know our God who is almighty, all wise and all good, for he is true rest. God wishes to be known, and it pleases him that we should rest in him; for everything which is beneath him is not sufficient for us. And this is the reason why no soul is at rest until it has despised as nothing all things which are created. When it by its will has become nothing for love, to have him who is everything, then is it able to receive spiritual rest.”

held in strong handsWhen we see those around us, ourselves, and all the creatures of God’s world as loved and loveable, as worthy of life and respect, and as valuable, we begin to see ourselves & others with God’s eyes: the eyes of one who births all of us into the world with love, who keeps all of us with love, and who will ensure that even if we die none of us will ever eternally perish by keeping all of us forever in God’s love.

This vision does seem to catch on with the psalmist, not through simply having warm thoughts but also through action. They write in the Psalm of how God could search them and see them living lives where they strive to treat others fairly and with justice, where they honor those around them, and where their hands are not red with the blood that stains the hands of those who oppress or trample under foot their neighbor to go ahead.

Seeing others through the eyes of God’s love leads the Psalmist to see those she or he encounters as lovable, valuable, and worth honoring and protecting.   It leads them to strive to treat all around them, including the often overlooked or mistreated, with respect, with justice & fairness, and with compassion and service. It caused the Psalmist, too, to be able to come boldly to God expecting to be accepted and heard, because they know that God views them personally as loveable, valuable, and one whom God birthed, loves, and keeps out of love.

God, help us to see ourselves as you do – as your children, whom you love, in whom you are well pleased. Help us to know we can come boldly and honestly to you and will be heard and accepted. Help us put aside fears of rejection, knowing that those you birth into this world, you love. Those you love, you keep and sustain. Those you keep and sustain, you can never reject but always make a way to continue on in your love.

God, helps us to see others in this way, to treat all we encounter with the love you show us. Help us even to learn to love this earth and all your creations with the same love you shed abroad in each creature.

Amen.

Daily Devotional: Remembering and Sharing Your Journey

barnsDeuteronomy 4:9-14 encourages us to take time to remember the work of the Lord in our lives, the ways in which God has guided us, led us, delivered us, and protected us, lest we forget.

The story of the Hebrew Scriptures is a tale of forgetting. God sends Moses, who with many signs confronts the emperor of one of the greatest empires of the day without a weapon, and sets free a nation of slaves.   Through him, they part the Reed Sea, walking through on dry land, and defeat the most powerful army of the day without raising a weapon.   God guides them through a winding journey to a rich and plentiful new home. Yet after the journey, the people forget God, turning on each other, oppressing the poor and stranger. When disaster comes back, they remember and cry out.

Moses-parting-red-seaWithout taking time to remember God’s hand in our lives, we can do the same thing. We can forget the lessons our lives teach, lessons God has provided us to show us the next step in our lives.   We can forget how God has brought us, becoming frustrated and impatient to not be as far ahead on life’s journey as we wish, forgetting how far we have come. We can forget that certain choices led to painful situations where we, like Israel, cried out for deliverance. Forgetting the deliverance, we can fall back into self-destructive patterns.

I know I find it easy to forget. So when I faced recently someone dear to me with life-threatening illness, I did not remember in the crisis how God had brought them and me through a time of fearful illness before and my heart sank.   When I turned to prayer and meditation, I remembered and though only a glimmer of light in gathering darkness, I did have a spark of hope to light my way.

In going through a career transition, I forget. I forget how far God has brought me, what doors I never expected God has opened, and both how long it took to get where I am and how hard it was to make that journey. I forget so when I see I am not yet where I want to be, I find I beat myself up. Yet when I pause to meditate and pray, if I let myself I remember and instead of frustration I am overwhelmed by gratitude. And I know God will get me where I need to go, if I continue to walk with Christ.

I could go on..

anabaptist baptizinThis verse speaks powerfully to me, because it reminds me to take time to remember, meditating on the journey I have been on and the many ways God has walked alongside me.

It also challenges me to instill this lesson in others.

I remember how my grandmother walked alongside me as a boy, up and down the street of Fayetteville, NC, my little hand in her wrinkled hand, telling me of her faith as a devout Baptist and life as a school teacher. She instilled in me a love for learning, and a recognition that God made me with a purpose.

I remember sitting by the fishing hole with daddy while he told me, pointing at the plants, the birds, the trees, how God made all of that and God made me. I remember, too, daddy telling me how his faith was borne in his soul, shaped in the forge of fiery preaching under a big tent in Jekyll Island, GA, while lighting and thunder shook the ground.

I remember my momma telling me to find my own path, and seek God for myself, knowing my faith need not look like hers and dad’s, and how that opened the door for the winding journey that leads met to where I am today.

I remember too an older gentleman named Eddie from daddy’s church whose find of faith challenged him to learn to read, so he could know the Bible’s words for himself and how those words helped him to discover “Eddie” and “the other Eddie”, learning to navigate how to be his best self, not giving in to that part of him that veered from the path of Christ.

I remember so many voices, faces, and examples that layed the soil, planted the seed, and watered the promise of an emerging faith in my soul.

I am reminded as I reflect on my journey the value of the admonition in this Psalm to also pass on our memories of faith’s shaping us to the next generation. My own faith was born in part out of the witness of these many who surrounded me.

Let us take time to remember, and to share the lessons our life teaches us, both that we may be true to the path before us and help others embrace the path God is setting for them.

Daily Devotional: Discovering the Patience of Abram

rest in god 2Hebrews 6:13-20

I am often a far too impatient man.   I begin a diet and exercise regimen. A week into it, I am frustrated. “I don’t feel I’m losing any weight, getting any healthier”.   I can get frustrated and impatient before the new practice has a chance to change me.

I remember feeling that way when I first began meditation.   I remember saying to myself “I still feel stressed out.   My thoughts still seem all over the place.   Inner peace, come on and show up.   Why all this waiting?”

I have been going through something similar in another transition in my life. I’ve done everything I can to open the door to this next big step in my life. And I wait.   Sometimes it feel likes the breakthrough will never come and I want to throw up my hands and say “well, what was all that hard work though?”

abram and saraiAnd I turn to this reading in Scripture about the example of Abraham. Abraham was promised if he followed God, through him all the world would be blessed. Well, not actually through him. Through his descendants. Whom he waited, waited, waited, and did not see despite not seeing an impact. Finally he did see the birth of two sons, but he never saw them bless the world. It came later.

We can see it looking back. We can see how his descendants become the heirs of hope and promise, becoming the ones whose continuation of the covenant with Abraham give birth to the great monotheistic religions of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity who help spread an awareness of God as personable, knowable, and focused intently on faith being about treating others with compassion, fairness, and love.

Their legacy has sown the seeds of so much good in the world, blessing it in ways unfathomable.

I can look back, too, at some points I struggled to do what I felt God called me to do, never seeing the fruit in that moment. I can see ways that stumbling, bumbling, work ended up touching lives and transforming people who did the same. I can see the ripples of the pebble drop of my efforts across the waters of time and am amazed to see how the effects of some of the most trying moments brought forth blessings. And I’m filled with gratitude.

This gratitude helps me embrace the disconcertion of more moments when I am impatient to “get there”. They remind me to be open, knowing the journey is as important as the destination. Because each footfall to God’s destination is like the flutter of butterfly wings which send ripples of change that ultimately can create a hurricane wind of transformation.

Oh God, help me to be faithful, trusting if I do my part you will get me to your destination.