Until the Sea Shall Free Them

Reminds me of “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen. Excerpt:

And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said “All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them”
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
And you want to travel with him
And you want to travel blind
And you think maybe you’ll trust him
For he’s touched your perfect body with his mind.

Paul Pierce and Gospel Poetry

I spent most of the day working on a message inspired by 1 Corinthians 1:18- 25.  In that passage, the apostle Paul says that the cross and the message it sends are foolishness to the self-styled wisdom of convention, but to those who “are being saved, it is the power of God.”

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the ways the life of Jesus bucked convention. His birth and upbringing, his passion, death, and resurrection. let alone his passion, death, and resurrection.  Te irony, subversion, and poetry of Christ’s story is precisely what I find so compelling.

Last night, while I watched Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith throw down about the trade rumors swilring around Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, I did a little reading up on lifelong Celtic forward Paul Pierce.  It’s not often that professional athletes quote Mark Twain and Blaise Pascal on the front page of their website, but as Shaquille O’Neal will tell you, “Paul Pierce is the Truth.”  As Pierce’s website reminds any nonbeliever:  After a Lakers’ victory over the Celtics in 2001, O’Neal pulled a Boston reporter over and gestured toward his notepad:

“Take this down,” said O’Neal. “My name is Shaquille O’Neal and Paul Pierce is the [%*$&ing] truth. Quote me on that and don’t take nothing out. I knew he could play, but I didn’t know he could play like this. Paul Pierce is the truth.”

Compare that wit the first three verses of the apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:

“Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, to the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

My name is Paul and this is how it is with Jesus. 

My name is Shaquille O’Neal and Paul Pierce is the truth. 

Sometimes that’s how I feel about the poetry of Jesus’ story.  Whatever else, that poetry’s the truth.

“Fiction is bound by possibility,” Pierce quotes Twain as saying, “the truth is not.”  Pascal adds, “we know the truth not only by reason, but also with the heart.”

Freeganism, Food Deserts, Free Markets: Where the Invisible Hand Fears to Tread

I help convene a monthly discussion series at the Allentown Brew Works called Beerituality.  Last week, we welcomed guests Cathy Frankenberg and Jon Geeting and wrestled with the topic of food deserts in the urban cores of the Lehigh Valley.  Cathy is a founding organizer of an initiative to establish a food co-op in neighboring Bethlehem, and Jon is a political blogger/journalist with a special interest in the urban transformation happening in Allentown.

As you might imagine, we had a very good time of discussion and participation.  I’ve been vexed by some of the realities we’re encountering on this issue, not the least of which being the problem of food waste in America, even in this awful economy.

Enter Jane Velez-Mitchell from CNN Headline News and a piece exploring “freeganism.”  Freeganism is dumpster diving for still-edible food behind restaurants and grocery stores and cooking those salvaged items for dinner.  For some reason, I’m reminded of Jesus picking wheat on the Sabbath as he walked through a field he didn’t own.  I’m also reminded of the practice we see in the book of Ruth, when grain that fell to the ground during harvest was left for the scavenging needy.  But at least that grain wasn’t thrown in the garbage for no good reason.  At least people who needed it didn’t have to scrounge in dumpsters.

We’d like to think we’re so much more progressive on so many fronts than our ancestors, but on issues of food and shelter, our older traditions have sometimes echo the kind of sustainable ethos that comes with living close to the land and the means of production.

This has everything to do with the problem of food deserts here and now. It has everything to do with how we will respond to the needs of our community.  For more commentary on the free market’s failure to bring healthful food to food deserts, read my recap of last week’s Beerituality gathering.

Sacred Fire, Holy Saturdays, Sunday Morning Calls

Tomorrow’s scripture readings/lessons in many churches will be these, brought together by the liturgical themes of Transfiguration Sunday.  I was blessed to be part of conversation this week about the need even we postmoderns have to leave spaces where we experience the holy different from how we found them.  In the story of the transfiguration, Jesus’ disciples long to build booths to mark what they’d experienced, or, perhaps, to provide shelter so they might stay in the presence of the transfigured Christ forever.  During Sukkot in New York, some contemporary Jewish groups build temporary booths in Union Square, and if you’re like me, you can’t come up from the steps of the subway without wanting to linger and explore them.  Throughout the Hebrew Bible, the Children of Israel build altars or monuments to mark the places where they encountered God, even in the middle of rivers.

Today was Whitney Houston’s funeral.  I wasn’t able to watch it, but it prompted W.W. Norton to promote this book, which looks amazing. I want to judge Norton harshly for using an oblique reference to the service to promote their wares and their brand on Twitter, but I also know that sacred fire is confounding.  Was Norton taking part in the kerygma today?  I can’t say, but I can say that the Holy Ghost has done stranger things, even to me.

Some parting music as this night bends towards Sunday morning:

 

 

Epiphany’s Radical Welcome

Christians around the world celebrated this past Friday as Epiphany, the traditional end of  Christmastide on the 12th Day of Christmas.  Emphases vary according to culture, theological tradition and custom, but the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God is a central theme of Epiphany.

Most Christians believe or center their spiritual lives around some variation of the basic Christian narrative:  the “Good News” of the Gospel is that God seeks to reconcile humankind to Godself and to reclaim all of creation for creation’s good and for God’s eternal glory.  To my theological ear, Christmas touches Easter in undeniable ways:  the story of Christ’s birth (Incarnation) and the story of his passion are fundamentally about God going to the far places (becoming enfleshed and time-bound; dying) to reconcile everything and everyoneto Godself.  Christ’s coming into history is the story of the unorthodox emigration of God from cosmos to poverty to death. The crux of Christianity, in any liturgical season, is the idea that a place at God’s table is being prepared not only for all who would seek it, but for all whom God seeks. Rahab’s service to the Hebrews in Jericho, Ruth’s faithful dedication to her mother-in-law, and their inclusion in Christ’s lineage by the Gospel writer Matthew shows that Christ’s birth, while wholly unique, is not unlike the progressive extension of covenant found throughout the Hebrew Bible. Neither is it something for Jewish or Christian people only. The birth of Christ is, the traditions assert, the coming of God into history, God’s putting on of flesh, vulnerability, rejection. The beginning of God’s own march toward death and undoing it.

It’s not by accident that the church follows the celebration of God’s coming to dwell among us with a season proclaiming the inclusion of all peoples in the good news of Christmas. Epiphany reminds us that this is, indeed, a good news that shall be to all people. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus greeted the visiting wise men who came following stars. Holy Hosts conjured before shepherds. The Archangel Gabriel came to a peasant girl in the backwater parts of a backwater province of the most powerful empire on Earth, uninvited. The Gospel of John begins by describing the coming of the light that never goes out, “the true light that gives light to everyone.” Matthew describes the alignment of genes that birthed God from the unlikely margins.

In the person of Jesus and in the spiritual lives of those who seek to follow after him, the Christian story is a story of movement. From heaven to earth, eternity to time, from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth to Jerusalem. From the east, bearing gifts, and from a manger bearing good tidings of great joy for all people. From self-satisfied, complacent Christianity toward a suprachristian spirit of radical welcome, inclusion, and grace. From fear to love. From judgement to journey. From “am I my brother’s keeper?” to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” From a narrow politics of self-preservation and jingo to a public ethic of justice, from crushing those on the margin to crushing everything in us that keeps us from loving as God does. From the awe of Christmas to what it must mean, Epiphany’s radical welcome.