With or Against?

  Thursday of the Third Week of Lent


I’m having some trouble with the readings today. They seem to reflect a pretty grim and abstracted judgment.

 Both the first and second readings were written to communities scattered or in exile. Luke was writing to a wide-flung audience about 85 ACE. Jeremiah, who lived in a time of great crisis, was writing during the early 600 BCE era when leading citizens of Israel were sent into exile and Jerusalem was in ruin.

In Jeremiah, God complains about the people who have “stiffened their necks.” In Luke, Jesus says, The one who is not with me is against me. The one who does not gather with me scatters.

It’s sort of like saying to children, “the bogyman’s going to get you if you aren’t good.” Is it any wonder people turn away from organized religion when judgment is leveled against us while at the same time we are exhorted not to judge?

My experience of the holy has a peace and a comfort and a clarity. The judgment I’ve experienced in my life also come from within when I make judgments against others.

How do we reconcile the contradictions? Do we become cafeteria-Christians, taking only that which appeals to our tastes; or do we become connoisseurs, learning, testing, using ingredients with care?

Every Lent, it seems, if we’re paying attention, we get to review and recommit to this journey. Over and over. Are we with? Are we against? Sometimes we’re both at the same time.

Are tension and anger, judgment and righteousness replacing compassion and peace? Today might be a good day for us to recommit to the journey, recommit to peace, and remember, once again, to use our life-ingredients with care.


Whose Rules?

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent

Moses spoke, “Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Deuteronomy 4

The statutes Moses refers to are the ones we commonly call the Ten Commandments. The first one is not to take the Lord’s name in vain. That one I live with pretty well. The second is not to work on the Sabbath. Now. When was the last time you took a full day off? Honor fathers and mothers: most of us do that, I suppose, to some extent, although therapy sessions are filled with recovery from parental experiences. Not to kill; not to commit adultery; not to steal or bear false witness or covet your neighbor’s wife. Okay. I can live with those.

But then look at the end of the above line: “that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land…” In other words, the laws against killing and coveting don’t seem to include the people whose land is being usurped.

Is that’s the origin of the “God’s on our side” thinking? If God’s on our side, we can justify unjust and unkind behavior to our enemies. That’s the thinking that happens in war and why a soldier can go off the deep end and kill indiscriminately. That’s also the thinking that’s coming up in this election cycle: “man has dominion over the earth,” says Santorum. I guess that leaves women to watch and sort of mop up the messes.

We could all take some time to examine our actions, to question which statues we live by: do we live by kindness? do we live by blame or justification? By the rules we make up?

What statutes do you live by? An “I can do what I want” rule?  An “it’s my fault” rule? Are those rules effective?

Maybe all our statutes need to be replaced with “The Golden Rule.” What if you really did treat others as you would like to be treated. Would your life be different?

Seventy Times Seven

Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent

Peter came up and asked Jesus, “Lord, when my brother wrongs me, how often must I forgive him? Seven times? Matthew 18

Another lesson in forgiveness. Okay. I can imagine Peter wanting a simple answer.

But Jesus replies, no, not seven times, rather seventy times seven. Now while my math isn’t all that great, that adds up to almost five hundred. Four hundred and ninety, to be precise: 490!

If the numbers are taken symbolically, 4+9+0 adds up to 13. Thirteen is the number of death and rebirth. And adding 1+3 equals 4, the number of power.

So you could say that if one were to forgive anyone seventy times seven, the repeated act of forgiveness would lead to a transformative and powerful experience.

Forgiveness equals power – not power over, but the power to forgive ourselves.

The first time I was told that forgiving myself could lead to forgiving others for hurts I had experienced, it felt as if I’d been flung against a wall of impossibility. Forgive myself? Myself? I hadn’t caused the hurt to me! Others had!

And yet, when I could finally forgive myself for carrying anger and blame towards others, I was able to put it down. I didn’t have to carry it any longer.

Like seventy times seven, forgiveness is a continuing practice. Almost every day, we can see some affront that could rile us up.

What could our world be like if we were to practice taking responsibility for the hurts we do to ourselves by our frustrations and our angers? What would our personal world be like if we were to practice forgiving ourselves and, in that process, forgiving others?

Seventy times seven.



Grace Offered

Monday of the Third Week of Lent

My head seems to be fixed onto my shoulders again today and my mind working.

For that I am grateful.

I’m also thankful for all your good wishes and prayers over this past week as I’ve stumbled into health again; and I’m very thankful for a friend who brought me yogurt yesterday, Cliff being busy with all the things that we usually do together and that he was doing alone.

Yogurt. A small thing and yet exactly what I needed to help with my healing after a week plus of medications of all sorts and varying toxicity. And not just any yogurt, mind you, rather she made a special trip to Trader Joe’s for Greek yogurt.

Today’s reading is about small things and special trips. Naaman, an army commander and greatly respected, was a leper. A slave girl suggests he present himself for healing to the prophet Elisha for healing. After some detours in the process (an interesting story in 2 Kings 5) Naaman finally reaches Elisha, arriving with horses and chariots and a complete contingent of servants The prophet doesn’t come outside but rather sends out a message for him to go bathe in the river seven times.

Of course, Naaman gets angry at the way he’s treated: I thought he would surely come out and stand there to invoke the Lord his God, and would move his hand over the spot, and thus cure the leprosy. Are not the rivers of  Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better….Could I not wash in them and be cleansed? But his servants prevail and say that if the prophet has asked him to do something extraordinary, he would have done it. So do the simple, they say. “Wash and be clean.” So he does and he is.

Most of us want to do great things. It’s the little things that are the hardest. The simple things. Like buying a friend yogurt; like saying hello and smiling; like holding a door open for another. We all forget those small things in the quest for the large.

Today, look for the small ways you can offer grace and healing to others. At the end of the day, list the small moments so you remember them. Maybe you can even practice them again tomorrow. And maybe your practice will help you notice when others offer grace to you.


Identity Crisis

Third Sunday of Lent

I’ve been sick this past week.

A week ago, on Sunday morning at church, I began feeling the onslaught

of what has turned out to be

The Lost Week

It’s an odd thing, losing a week. I remember sleeping a lot and coughing a lot and fevers and watching a lot of television that did not necessarily make a lot of sense. And today, I feel empty. Not sure what to write; not sure how to begin thinking again.

I’m used to a mind that thinks. This one? Not so much. Mostly it seems to stare out from behind my eyes, wondering what all this is about anyway. And why it is, exactly, I strive so much. I expect that will fade and I’ll be back to thinking soon, but in the meantime, I’m home on a Sunday morning, another unlikely occurrence, the hacking cough has for the most part stopped, and I’m left feeling a little dish-raggey.

I didn’t expect to give up my mind for Lent.

Funny the things we cling to as our identity. I write and I think. What am I if I don’t?