Count Me a Heretic

Recent headlines in the news show a group of pastors praying and laying hands over President Donald Trump. I was not present and do not know their prayers; they were not praying to me. In a more recent headline, the Reverend William Barber calls their prayers “heresy,” explicitly saying that it is heresy to pray for one who “preys” on the most marginalized among us. Truthfully his statement strikes me as a little pot and kettle proclamation.

It is one thing to speak justice into injustice and righteousness into wrongdoing in another person’s actions and policies and perhaps even politics. It is quite another to name call, smear, call others evil and take a self-righteous stance that pits people against one another, increasing bunkers of suspicion and hate.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus, gathering crowds around Galilee is teaching the ways of the kingdom to eager listeners. They follow him to the mountain coming from different places – locations around the region and locations of the heart. From Jesus’ mouth they hear a call to prayer. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be called children of God.” Jesus reminds the people that God makes the sun rise on the evil and the good; God sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

My prayers for the leaders of the world, including President Trump, are for God’s inclined ear only. I understand that God does not play politics, but speaks into a political world in acts of kindness, mercy, love, and grace. Name-calling does not influence for good; it divides and does not lead to reconciliation or righteousness.

I doubt my prayers would sound like those of pastors who want God to act according to their will whichever side of the aisle they pray from. I pray God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. I pray my prayers voice the hope God has that we can be one people in Christ and that we can learn to listen to one another with grace.

Gracious God, fill my mouth with praise that even in the thick of acrimony and judgment, You are with us. Give me great wisdom and humility and charity for those whose opinions differ from mine. Lead me in ways of justice, kindness and mercy that divisions may end and I – and all of us – will be the beloved of your creation. If this is heresy, count me a heretic. Amen.

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Woman in the Yellow Shirt

I saw you today in the Orlando Airport. You were holding back tears as you talked to someone to the phone. You had a yellow shirt and a yellow legal pad and you wept as you wrote. I thought about walking over to you and saying to you, “I am a Methodist Pastor, can I sit with you for a moment and hear what is going on in your life?” Then my inner voice spoke to me, or maybe it was God. Lib, you don’t need to know what is going on in her life. I know what is going on that makes her so sad. All you need to do is hold her in your prayer and mind. I have this, God said.

What is it in my own ego that needs to take the work that is God’s to do into my own hands as if I am the Savior? Had I gone over, she would have been singled out, perhaps felt like she was a spectacle. And I would have intruded and inserted myself into some kind of pain that God already knew about, something that only God could heal. My prayer, my holding this stranger in my heart was what I needed to do. I was amazingly restrained not showing my piety and healing powers to the whole people gathered at Gate 127.

Scripture teaches, “Beware of practicing your piety before others…” Forgive me, God, for needing to practice piety, and garner praise for whatever compassion I display. Create in me a heart that trusts you to do the work of healing and holding this woman in the yellow shirt in whatever loss that envelopes her this night. All I have to do is pay attention to the hurt and lift the pain to your care, which is far beyond anything I can do or say. Only You heal; only you bring true comfort and peace.

Grant me discernment to enter a situation when I know I am called to it, and to stay on the second row in quiet prayer when a disturbance or embarrassment would call more attention to me than to You or to the hurt at hand.

When we exited the plane in Raleigh this afternoon, the stewardess said to the woman in the yellow shirt, “Have a good day.” The woman replied, “I am going to try to do just that.” Encounters that change us, that give us a glimpse of the sacredness of life, and the ways we travel together in this muddle of goodness and loss, these encounters are not always kum ba yah, person to person conversations. Sometimes these encounters are on a plane of unknowing, a place of recognizing the Divine between two total strangers who shared space and the human condition created and called good even when no credit is ascribed, except to God.

Whatever loss you have met today, Dear Lady in the Yellow Shirt, I pray peace for you this night and rest knowing you are not alone, but held by a communion you don’t even know. Amen.

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I Did. I Do. I Will.

Today is December 29, 2016. It’s a Thursday, our 51st Wedding Anniversary. Tom and I got married after Christmas, because I wanted to be at home for Christmas in Ayden with Mother and Daddy just one more time. Mother decorated the house that year with white poinsettias, gold reindeer and a white velvet Santa. It seems like such a long time ago, much water over the dam or under the bridge. We were remembering our rehearsal party, held at the home of a family friend. It was the first time either of us had tasted coffee punch. Loaded with vanilla ice cream, it was such a treat.

Our wedding day breakfast was for family and out of town guests at a place called the Candlewick Inn in Greenville. The restaurant was straight out of Williamsburg and decorated with antiques from the colonial period. It was perfect considering we were honeymooning in Williamsburg beginning that very night. The three o’clock wedding was at the Ayden Christian Church. Ralph Messick officiated; Joe Ray sang. Daddy cried and Tom beamed. It was a lovely time of friends and family gathered. People still had Christmas lights and trees up; the world sparkled.

We have seen a lot of sparkle through the years, and we have seen a lot of tarnish. Young love is shiny, new with adventure and discovery. Reality sets in early, like when the first big insurance payment comes due. And that doesn’t compare at all to a first child. The years add up with lessons learned, blessings abound alongside hard knocks, financial crises, health issues. With it all comes growth and maturity that teaches us what real love is. Real love is as much about commitment as it is love; it is about honor and respect and “plowing to the end of the row,” as Jesus tells his disciples in Luke 9. Tom and I were very young when we married, 20 and 19. What we did, I likely would not recommend to everybody. What I would recommend is finding a mate who shares the same values as you, a mate who is interesting to talk to and interested in learning and growing with you. Saying “I Do”ups the relationship ante.

The fruit of our “I Do” is seen in a family we love, good work we are given to do, and a continuing love of life and of God, plus a lot of fun, laughter, and good conversation. That there is never a shortage of opinion in our household is not a surprise to anyone who knows us. On this, my 51st wedding anniversary, I say to you, dear husband: I did love you in 1965 when this all began. I do love you and honor you more today than I did even then. I will love you as long as I have breath. Happy Anniversary, dear One.

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Delight and Detachment

The necklace was an exquisite Mother-of Pearl cross, adorned with silver filigree decoration. It was a gift to me from Jeanne, a dear and cherished friend. I love her and I loved the necklace. I saved it and wore it on special occasions. I delighted in having it as my own.

I wore the much-loved necklace to a retreat that was being led by Roberta, another much loved person in my life. As we were conversing at the end of one of the sessions, she noticed the necklace. She lifted the cross, touching it in an admiring caress. I don’t really know where the urge to give it to her came from. After she walked away, I held the cross in a great possessiveness that truthfully is not a holy act.

At lunch, I told Jeanne about what had happened. She said, “Lib, this is about detachment. Are you able to detach?” There was no, “If you give it away my feelings would be hurt.” Or, “You will miss this necklace when it is gone.” Just, “What about your ability to detach?” Obviously, my ability to detach is lacking and needs some real and quick soul searching.

In our retreat, the centering word for the weekend was: Wisdom. Is it wise to love the things of the world more than we love the people with whom we share the planet? Is it wise to collect and consume and hold onto possessions so tightly we forget the delight of sharing and giving? Are my hands so tightly fisted around my stuff, that I have forgotten that it is not mine to begin with; it is first God’s.

Oh, to have eyes opened in a simple question is the way God works to keep me at the task. At lunchtime on the day of the retreat, I gave the necklace to Roberta. This is what I wrote in my journal that afternoon: Lord, God, thank you for a new delight in seeing something precious to me worn around the neck of someone who is even more precious to me. Seeing the necklace on her gives me a new perspective on its beauty, and a special joy from the observer’s seat. Thank you for giving me strength to detach and pass along a gift of love.

Wisdom asks:  What else am I possessive about? What other things have such hold on me I find detachment difficult? How much can I carry and tend? How much is enough? What is my perspective when I am up to the gills in things?

“Give me everything; give me nothing” is John Wesley’s covenant prayer. Joy in life is never “give me everything that I may stockpile treasure all unto myself.”

Detachment leads to a freeing delight and a shared joy. A beautiful possession taught me that lesson. Now there are three of us who are connected in the delight of it all. Thanks be to God. Amen.

The above blog was written after a February Retreat. The following paragraph is being written on April 16, a few days before Easter 2014.

Lectio divina at Saint Mark’s was powerful yesterday. Reflection in Psalm 31 led me to the phrase, “my times are in your hands.” I spent the hour reflecting on how much I work to manipulate time and control it. My reflection led me to words of wisdom to consider: abide, Sabbath, presence, listen. Another word comes to me this morning: Thanksgiving. Here’s why.

After lectio, Jeanne asked to meet me in the Labyrinth. She had a small bag with a yellow ribbon to give me. She told me it was a little something from the “Easter Bunny.” I did not open it until last night about eleven o’clock. It was too late to call her, and besides, I was crying too much. In the brown paper, under the white tissue, wrapped tenderly and with love was a second Mother-of Pearl Cross, exactly like the one she had given me before… exactly like the one I had given to Roberta. I was humbled and blown away in the thoughtfulness and generosity of Jeanne’s act of love.

What a magnificent lesson of God’s love lived out before my eyes. Delight and detachment are joined together where love is lived. The greater gift here is the friendship and love shared. Lord, thank you for my friend, thank you for the gifts, thank you for the lessons that call me beyond myself into trusting all that I am, and all my times into your hands.

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And Richard

The way I signed the family mail at Christmas… Christmas Blessings to you and yours from Tom, Lib, Lisa, and Richard… It was the same with Easter cards, Birthday and Mother’s and Father’s Day cards from 1972 forward until all were educated, married, and setting up households of their own. Tom, Lib, Lisa, and Richard is who we were. The nuclear family… the Fab Four of the original household of Tom and Lib.

I remember part of the poem I wrote when Richard was about ten years old and it struck me that he was always “and Richard” as if he were some addendum to what was already. I could not find the poem tonight; it is carefully stored somewhere in the volumes of writing I have scattered in journals through the years. But I remember the sentiment.

This boy who was and is in my heart for all his life was never an addendum. He was more like a ventricle pumping life and goodness into our family from his beginning. “And Richard” was the completion our family found in his birth 42 years ago come 2 o’clock a.m. on April 9. His sister was one of his great welcomers into the world. She held him in the car on the way home from the hospital. (Don’t tell OSHA.) She was not only his sister, but a true part of his early motherhood shared with me.

His growing up was filled with joy and challenge. Our neighbors said he was an adult living in a child’s body. His wit and wisdom were born into him. His fourth grade teacher said having him in the room with her was like having another adult there, one who understood nuanced humor and could banter like a grown up. He took on care and concern and worry early in his life; it still keeps him awake in the night.

He answers his own call to ministry serving as an active lay person in the church, a music leader, teacher, and worship leader. He bears deep concern for the church and the future of the faith. Wonder where he got that? His entrepreneurial spirit was born into him, a gift from his father. We saw it when we were on a trip to Thomas Edison’s summer home and laboratory. On the way home he designed inventions for 12 hours. He’s still doing that kind of work. Apples do not fall far from trees after all.

We knew his gifts for the world, what we did not know was how he would direct them through his adult life. He has blessed us in the witness of his life with his marriage and family – all spectacular in my book. He blesses us in the way he conducts his professional life, creative, kind, fair and compassionate. He works hard and I pray he is finding reward in all he is about.

Years ago he joined a band called “Mid Life Crisis.” It seemed a premature name for such young men in the group. “And Richard” is now living into the name. He wrote a song for his Granddad in 1990 about how he was glad he was born to be a grandson. I am glad Richard was born to be my son. What blessing is mine tonight as I think about him and give thanks for him.

Words from Psalm 118 ring in my heart tonight…”O give thanks to the Lord for he is good. His steadfast love endures forever.” Life and love continue forever in God’s plan. We are blessed when we abide in the knowledge of God’s goodness and love. “And Richard” reminds me of God’s goodness all around.

April 9, 2014 is Richard’s 42nd birthday. Thank you, God, for Tom, Lisa, and – especially tonight – Richard. Amen.

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On Hunger Games and the Road to Dystopia

This blog was begun well over a year ago after reading the book The Hunger Games and viewing the movie on the big screen. Only now am I brave enough to finish it:

Being disturbed by a movie or book is not new to me. It took years for me not to remember scenes from the black and white 1958 movie, A Night to Remember. It was the dramatic, visual telling of the sinking of the Titanic. It so haunted me, I never wanted to see Kate and Leo in the more recent Titanic. Especially not in 3D!

I remember being disturbed by Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies. Now I add to the list The Hunger Games. All through the night after seeing the film, I thought about how the story was so plausible it was scary. The book is published by Scholastic, long known to be a publisher of good children’s and young adult literature. I suppose for young people who have cut their teeth on Harry Potter and violent video graphics, the sci-fi bent of the story is just more of the same. But to me, this story makes a social statement that calls for some prayerful reflection.

That an elitist upper class would control food, shelter, security for a broad underclass is frightening. The cartoonish ruling class, wrapped in ego and narcissism, dressed to nines, plush with choices have left few choices available to the many who inhabit the rest of the regions of creation. Power and self-serving aligned with privilege, opportunity and cunning have created a world out of balance, bereft of brotherhood and good will for all.

While Utopia may be fantasy, a global community where every creature and place is valued and protected,  every heart is loved, and inclusion and acceptance are daily fare is not. Pollyanna me. My vision of such a place is a vision of the Kingdom of God where all God’s creation lives a unity beyond ego and self-interest and where the interdependence of creatures is known and appreciated, where utter dependence on God’s grace and mercy is praised and thanked with gracious lives that share the goodness rather than working to keep it all for ourselves.

Call me crazy, but I hear Jesus’ words with such a bent. The skeptical disciple asks, “Lord, when did I see you?” You saw me at the food bank, you saw me in the prison, you saw me at the intersection of Glenwood and 440, you saw me trying to get an ID at the DMV, You saw me under the bridge by the tracks in the woods under the tarp, you saw me in the face of the child with a bloated belly, an empty bowl and flies on her face, you saw me on television, bloody and screaming after the latest bomb went off.

The man in the back of the room said out loud: “You just have to feed yourself,” as the discussion of food and eating habits turned away – in my hearing –  from any notion of responsibility to the nation and the world for feeding the hungry. I don’t think he had a pink wig on; I didn’t turn around to see. If this kind of feeling is growing among us, we are paving a road to Dystopia which is in the opposite direction of the Kingdom of God. Food is not a bargaining chip, even though there are warlords and profiteers who might use it as such.

The plenty of God’s creation is a fragile blessing. Working to corner the market on it is a slippery slope. Not until we discuss, dialogue, and proceed in humility and faith, can we build sustainability, care for creation, and grow the Kingdom God intends. End of sermon.

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Psalm and Solace

It’s likely that no one on the planet has not seen the pictures and heard the reports of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Exploitive and heart-breaking scenes of anguish and anger have flooded the media, taking us into the pain of tragedy, mystery, and sudden loss. The rawness of such grief in itself grieves me, especially when I hear the cry of the brokenhearted. The reporter captured the grieving woman’s words, “My gods have failed me…” While I have great sadness for the loss and unanswered questions of this unfolding tragedy, it is her words that locate my deepest grief: “My gods have failed me.”

I have been with the suffering and dying. I have been at the bedside in death and seen response that is very different than the responses I have seen on television in the past three weeks. Of course, anger is part of grief. Of course, questioning is part of the process. Especially in sudden and unexpected death, there is shock. I myself have buckled in the face of such loss. The difference is that I worship a God who does not fail me. I worship a God who comes to me and to the world in quiet comfort, solace for the grief stricken soul.

The psalms of the Lenten Season remind us that God is steadfast in mercy and grace. Psalm 121 – “I lift my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come. My help comes from the Lord…” our keeper in the grief and loss. Psalm 23 – “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you are with me.” Psalm 130 – “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord hear my cry… Hope in the Lord, for with the Lord there is steadfast love.” I speak the words of these psalms to my television screen and pray for those whose pictures I see and even though I do not know their names, God does. I trust God to come to them, even if they cannot name God as God, and lift them from their distress and heal them in this great hurt and un-knowing.

Healing is God’s work in the world and has been since the dawning of time. Redemption, reconciliation, healing is what Christ brings. In Christ’s healing grace, we are strengthened to keep on keeping on. To find life beyond loss and to remember that the circumstances of this world, this material world, do not always work for us and our ease of existence. It is God who works for us and for good in the world. Strength for the journey is God with us.

How do we respond to the current events of the broken world around us? Landslide and loss – lost plane and mystery – land-grabbing and treaty breaking – sudden death and anguish – war and more war…. Unending suffering: the common-denominator of the human condition.

Enter the Christ event, suffering, dying, rising with a promise to come again. May Christ rise again, in me and in you that we may give witness to solace that soothes the broken places and righteousness that leads the way out of wilderness. Find a psalm for your day; Sing a song of hope and praise. Amen.

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The Drumbeat of Peace

China is “boosting its defense budget by 12.2 percent” in the coming year. So says the budget report released at the annual meeting of the People’s Congress last week. Scott Pelley of CBS News talked about how it has been ten years since a western reporter has been allowed to ask a question to the Party Leader at the Congress. Seth Doane asked about the increase in defense funding. What is the reason?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Fu Ling, Party Chair, responds to Doane’s question: “It takes power to maintain and preserve peace.” And so it is with the world’s superpowers. And so it has been throughout history. As long as we have the guns and the manpower and the nuclear weapons and the nuclear submarines and so on and so forth, peace is possible.

So what happens when the power wanes?  The Ancient Greeks and Romans know what happens. Power rises and falls in the world. As long as there is power to maintain borders, a country stands; when that is gone, the game ends. The world turns round and round; the players may change but the story does not. Truthfully, neither do the outcomes.

Over 20 years ago, I was leading a brief worship service at Methodist College to open the Annual Meeting of United Methodist Women in North Carolina. It was October just after the war in Iraq had begun. I designed the worship as a Vigil for Peace. A dear friend came to me after the worship. Her husband served a church in Fayetteville where there were many members who were part of the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg. She said something to me that I have never forgotten, “You know, members of the 82nd Airborne think they ARE the peacemakers.”  I understand, and since that time have worked to carefully walk the tightrope between what I know and what I believe.

What I know is that there are noble and brave men and women who throughout history have given themselves to the work of freedom and security. Many have made ultimate sacrifices of their lives, limbs, mental health and more on my behalf. I am a beneficiary of their sacrifice and I give thanks for them.

What I believe is that we humans have never tried the ways of peace spoken by the prophet Isaiah long ago:

Come, let us go up to the house of the Lord… that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths… He shall judge between the nations and decide for many peoples and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”  (From Isaiah 2)

When Jesus is telling his disciples farewell, he tells them that the Advocate will come among them, teaching them. Jesus gives them peace as a parting gift. “Peace I leave with you, my peace, not as the world gives, but as I give to you.” Then he calls them to be unafraid.

What does evil do in the face of fearlessness, the way of peace? Does it sulk away into shadow? Can it even look at itself in the face of righteousness? Or like Javert in Les Miserables, in the face of a good and righteous Jean Valjean, give itself to death?  The blood of the martyrs tell part of the story of peace. Is the peace of God even possible as long as human pride exists?

Throughout these 40 Days of Lent, find a place of peace in your own spirit and reflect on your notions of peace. Hear the drumbeat of peace through out all of history. To what is it calling you?

 

 

 

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Rethinking Church: A Lesson from Disney

Our recent week away ended with three days cruising on the Disney Dream with our children and grandchildren. During those three days, I gave a lot of thought to the ways of the Disney operation. Smiling people, gracious welcomes, service and cleanliness, attentiveness to detail were obvious everywhere. Of course, there is a lot of money involved in creating what some call an “artificial world,” a contrived community not representative of the way life really is. I guess that is why they call it a Magic Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God is not magic. Rather it is a reality of living God’s grace among a people who are gentle, kind, patient, just, peace-full, generous, grateful, caring, attentive to the needs of others and to all creation. God’s Kingdom is a people of Christ-bearers who seek the least and the lost, who lose ego and yield control, who abide in contented peace, who know when enough is enough, and who leave all the judgment of others to God alone.

The escape to Disney and to a few days of contented kingdom living is really a call to up our game in the rest of the world. Where are all the smiling faces and the generous and grateful people this week? Where is the hospitality of welcome and the attention to the needs of others among us? Of course, there are pockets and glimpses we see around us. But pockets do not a garment make and glimpses are not a full picture of God’s intended Kingdom.

Is it part of the plan that we should always be on the way? Always reaching for the wholeness beyond? Should we not be stronger rather than weaker in our witness now that the world has seen Christ’s glory for over 2,000 years? What awakening does God call us to in the Lenten season that begins this week? What ways need to be turned from? What new ways need to be turned to?

In the sermon we heard last week in a church in Florida, the pastor was preaching a series on Rethinking Church. The call to Rethink Church is a vision statement of United Methodism that, among others, risks being lost in deafened ears and lukewarm hearts. Rev. Williamson was using the book, UnChristian, as a basis for some of his thought. He focused on the judgmentalism of a church that excludes people and narrows the scope of grace to include only me, mine, and those like me.

In a song that concluded the worship, there was a line on the screen that sticks with me. It is a song about building a kingdom and the line that says, “until we win the nation back.”  While I question whether Christians ever really had the nation “won”, there has certainly among us been a comfortable hegemony that lulled us into not only a great blind comfort, but also an audacity of faith that claims a priority that sounds a lot like judgment and self-righteousness. Ouch! No wonder the world turns to Disney.

The only way to win a nation and win a world to Christ is through love, authentic, not glamorized, genuine, agape love that does not judge or limit itself, but rather welcomes, holds, and cares for all people until the world is healed. This is a world that extends beyond three days on the Disney Dream.

Perhaps the Lenten discipline calling us is a discipline of consideration of how we think about and treat other people, how we regard the resources of creation, how we are attentive to God’s call upon our lives. Rethink Church. How are we doing? How are we being? The small, small world is watching; so is God. Amen.

 

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Next, The Fiddles

On the table beside my bed is a book by Elizabeth Kolbert titled: “The Sixth Extinction.” It is not a religious book, not theological, not Spiritual Formation. Rather it more education bordering on scientific expose’ written by a journalist who has both curiosity and heart.

There were only two copies of this book at my favorite corner bookstore, Quail Ridge. This book is not likely to be a runaway hit. There are some who would call it “liberal rant.” There are others of us who would call it prophetic… a wake-up call for the world.

Kolbert’s thesis is first that the world since its creation has experienced five great extinctions, the last being the extinction of the dinosaurs. Secondly, that we are in the midst of the sixth great extinction, in which the long-term survival of humanity is in question. There is a quote from Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford ecologist, in the last chapter that pretty well sums up Kolbert’s theory: “In the pushing the other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches.”

 It might be easy to dismiss the whole conversation about extinctions except for the fact that extinction is staring us in the face. Northern birds are seeking habitat in southern states. Whitey owls in the south are a new reality. The moose population in the Northwest is dwindling and disappearing into nothingness. There are species in zoos around the world who can only exist in captivity.

The world around us is changing quickly. God’s creation will adapt to habitat disruptions and extreme conditions, it always has. Over the centuries have come and gone many wonders of the long ago. We are part of that wonder. Yet we behave as if we have stepped outside our place in the story as if we are static, a forever people, above and in control of the world. Me thinks we have forgotten our place.

The inertia of change may be unstoppable at this point, I don’t know. Here is what I do know: When Genesis was written and a people wrote about the responsibility to care for creation as stewards, they did not mistake “dominion” for domination. They did not see themselves as self-made and in control of all things that moved upon the earth.  Rather they saw themselves as a people utterly dependent on God, and inter-dependent with other people and all creation. They saw themselves as part of a whole, co-creators and tenders of God’s work.

The story records human triumph and human failure, rises and falls through the pages and ages. Still, darkness covers us as we persist in pushing one another around, ignoring blatant signs, choosing war and verbal bombasity, holding up flags and mantras of me-and-my-way.  Next will come the fiddles and the cake of blindness.

Our faith calls us to a new vision, a new way that is God’s way. Can we be part of a solution? Do we have the faith? The guts? Amen.

 

 

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