An eye for an eye?…

February 8, 2017

“I appeal for cessation of hostilities, not because you are too exhausted to fight, but because war is bad in essence. You want to kill Nazism. You will never kill it by its indifferent adoption.” Mahathma Ghandi

Donald Trump’s favorite Bible verse involves an “eye for an eye.” Trump appears to be referring to a passage from Exodus 21-24, which lays out the Old Testament rules governing personal behavior. It is his favorite verse or story from the Bible that has impacted his thinking or character. He was asked about it, saying: “Well, I think many. I mean, you know, when we get into the Bible, I think many. So many,” he responded. “And some people—look, an eye for an eye, you can almost say that. That’s not a particularly nice thing. But you know, if you look at what’s happening to our country, I mean, when you see what’s going on with our country, how people are taking advantage of us, and how they scoff at us and laugh at us.” “And they laugh at our face, and they’re taking our jobs, they’re taking our money, they’re taking the health of our country,” he continued. “And we have to be firm and have to be very strong. And we can learn a lot from the Bible, that I can tell you.”

In Matthew (5:38-42) in the New Testament, Jesus repudiates that notion. ““You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

Prayer: God, the Old Testament teaching is based on the notion that you are a warrior God who wants an eye for an eye. But Jesus embodied a different truth. Ghandi, Martin Luther King and others lived the New Testament truth that war ends when “an eye for an eye” is overcome by love. God, help our nation. Have new spiritual leaders rise up to proclaim the truth that Jesus stood for. Amen

Blaming after losing…

February 7, 2017

Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future. John F. Kennedy

Meditation: One of my neighbors wrote on face book this morning: “Now we have not only lost the November election, we also lost the Superbowl!” Our Atlanta football team last won the Superbowl in 1999. That was in the last century! And yesterday it had the chance to win a century game. People travelled far to see the game. Others bought new TVs, cancelled everything during those hours, bought red T-shirts for the whole family and many took an extra day off. It was like preparing for a ceremony, for a religious event, for the celebration of the century. And it looked hopeful for most of the game. The windows in many houses were fogged up. Cars were piling up in driveways. People came together. Nobody wanted to celebrate alone. And then, in the end our team lost, or shall I say: “They came in second”. Oh no, in our culture, there is no such thing. There is only losing or winning. There is no such thing as playing well, coming in second and still being mentioned. You are only worth mentioning and making history if you are first. If you lose, you are history, which means you will be forgotten. You don’t count.

In our Western culture there is only “either-or”, no matter how well you played, no matter how long you were leading in the game. Only the end result counts. The word “loser” is one of the most painful words for some, as it eradicates their value, no matter how hard they worked, no matter how well they did. If there is one person better than them, if there are a few points more, the anticipated celebrated and worshipped potential winner becomes the “loser”.

Stepping out into the dark after the game was over, my neighborhood was quiet, all lights had been cut off immediately. Atlanta fell into grief, some even felt despair… It had been a religious event. Redemption had been hoped for and it did not happen.

When I walked my dog in the morning (thanks to the game I had a day off), I expressed my condolences to a male neighbor standing in his driveway. He said that it was clear, the coach was to blame. Continuing on my walk having my dog pull me along, I wondered how human this is. We need somebody to blame. The thought of “losing” is too painful. The beloved football team losers? No, we need to defend this thought somehow. We need to make ourselves feel better by blaming somebody. Anybody.

Really? Does blaming really comfort us in any way? I wonder how a culture that gets stuck in those two categories can become unstuck, other than despairing or blaming?

Our Christian faith offers us at times amazing counter-cultural ways. Jesus tells several stories about the theme of “being first”. He tries to offers his disciples an alternative way of looking at things and at responding. Instead of knowing for sure who is a winner and who is a loser, and instead of judging and blaming, Jesus questions our certainty of knowing what makes a loser and what makes a winner. He said that our categories, our judgment might be very different from God’s. And so we read in Matthew 20: 16“So those who are last now will be first, and those who are first will be last.” Jesus tries to liberate his disciples. He shakes them up, saying “there will be many surprises in God’s realm”. Heaven’s value system is far different from earth’s value system. Those who are esteemed and respected in this world may be frowned upon by God. The opposite is also true: those who are despised and rejected in this world may, in fact, be esteemed highly by God. Don’t get caught up in the world’s way of ranking things; it’s too prone to error.

So, what does this mean for us today? We can still grieve the loss of not being first. But let’s also remember our Christian counter-cultural values. Let’s celebrate our team and hold them in esteem. Let’s not fall in the trap of blaming. They gave their best. Let’s not forget that we value them and that we are proud of them, even though they came in second. And let’s keep the future open.

The power of forgiveness…

February 6, 2017

“Without forgiveness, there is no future”. Desmond Tutu

Prayer: Patient God, we bring to you our anxieties that are especially strong in these times of change.We confess to you that we are often fixed on what scares us, and that we forget that you will be with us, whatever the future holds.

We bring to you our feelings of weakness and our loss of strength. Be it at our workplace or in other difficulties, including our family. We confess to you that we often try to live out of our own strength and that we fight on our own to solve our problems. We forget that it is You who wants to gift us with your Spirit and with your strength.

We bring to you our fear of the future and our sorrows about the world.We confess that we often expect more from people than we expect from You. We forget that you can and want to work in everything and through everything.

Forgive us our forgetfulness, forgive us our shaking faith, forgive us that we often believe our feelings as if we were alone and that we forget that you have promised to be with us and remain with us, no matter what. Forgive us our sins and free us from whatever enslaves us. Amen

Proclamation of Forgiveness: God has compassion with us. God knows how human and how anxious we are. God forgives us all our sins. He wants to give us his Spirit. God calls us out of our fear and out of bondage. God will fill us with his Spirit of Love, Strength and a Sound Mind. (2. Timothy 1:7) Amen


Arbitrary power…

February 5, 2017

Arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of liberty abused to licentiousness. George Washington

Meditation: Licentiousness means “lacking legal or moral restraints” especially disregarding sexual restraints. The Proverb below seems a wisdom “joke” more so than a wisdom “word” in today’s reality. Sins these days are not even hidden or constraint but they are declared as “the norm” and are open for all to see. And those who are unrestraint surely prosper and benefit from and take advantage of others who either do not know how to hold them accountable or who chose to not set restraints for various reasons ( for example fear, greed, opportunism, denial, ignorance)…

The concept that there is a God who holds accountable seems so far from what is going on. “Confession of hidden sins” seems laughable at a time where sins are not hidden at all. “Needing mercy” at a time where those in power act as if there is no accountability, as if there is no God who requires justice, seems an antique concept that no longer applies. Where are our former and future leaders who uphold values of respect, civility, justice and protection of the vulnerable by laws that aim at basic human rights for all people? We have seen the masses rise up and protest, demand limits, restraint and changes. And yet their voices are not the ones whose twitter messages are all over the news. How is our capitalistic society at large colluding and has no restraints? How are we either retreating into our private lives and groups to escape or how we are joining a culture that sees “unrestraint as normal”?

Prayer: God, you are a God who holds us accountable. You uphold justice. You suffer with those who are victims of our unrestraint culture. You see the open and hidden agendas of politicians who have become business people without limits and without real concern for the fallouts of their actions. We pray for your Spirit of restraint and of healthy boundaries to fill us with love and concern for our neighbors,for the strangers among us and for all of your creation. Send your Spirit to help us overcome the illness of narcissism that our country has succumb to. Amen

Proverbs 28:13 Those who conceal their sins do not prosper, but those who confess and forsake them obtain mercy.

Where justice is denied…

Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe. Frederick Douglass

Meditation: These days many people wake up in the middle of the night feeling anxious. Others wonder if they should travel out of the country and if they will be allowed back in. Our hearts beat faster. Life seems overwhelming and more stressful than usual. America has become unsafe. Not just for immigrants and certain minorities. A threat to some of us is a threat to all of us. The rhetoric of violence and threats creeps into our unconscious through repetitive use by those in power, who want us to be afraid. Creating chaos is a great way to distract people and keep them preoccupied with their emotional reactions to what is happening instead of allowing them to think and respond. The ones in power share this conspiracy to keep the masses distracted, reactive and ignorant so they can do what they want. The goal is absolute power and status while becoming the richest persons in the world.

Prayer: God, when our legal system becomes perverted, when rhetoric is meant to scare, when democratic values are being overturned with force, we feel helpless, anxious and overwhelmed. You are the One that stands for justice, for equal rights for all and for peace. We pray for your church  and all faith communities around the world. Let us find ways to unite. Let the politicians around the world find ways to unite to provide resistance to what is happening. Help our souls to ground ourselves in you. Amen

Psalm 4:9 In peace I will lie down and fall asleep, for you alone, Lord, make me secure.

Sin as going astray…

Quote: “To reach something good it is very useful to have gone astray, and thus acquire experience.” Saint Teresa of Avila

Meditation: This ritual where a sheep carries away the sins of the Israel people is an ancient way of allowing the people to start anew and to have a visible and tangible experience of their transgressions being wiped or carried away. In the Old Testament a sheep had to be slaughtered, blood had to be shed so that God how Israel understood God would be satisfied and would forgive their sins. This ancient ritual was helpful for the early Christians to understand the bloodshed at the end of the life of Jesus when they were struggling with questions like: “What happened at the Cross?” “Why did it happen?” “How could God allow for Jesus to be killed like this?” Also the words of the prophet Isaiah were helpful for meaning making: Our sins are being transferred onto God’s servant who dies for us, so that we don’t have to die.At the same time, the experience of sin, the experience of “going astray” cannot be avoided. It is part of our human existence. We learn about ourselves, we learn about the human condition, we learn about the world by getting lost sometimes. We do not seek sin, but we cannot avoid sin either.

Prayer: Thank you God for knowing us so well. Thank you for your patience when we go astray. Thank you that Jesus was an embodiment of your Grace and Forgiveness. Thank you that we can trust his message of your forgiveness even 2000 years later. Thank you for bread and wine as a symbol of your ongoing love and forgiveness. Amen

Isaiah 53:6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.


How to respond?..

February 2, 2017

“It is not what they say, but the reaction that tells you everything you need to know.” ― Shannon L. Alder

Meditation: People say a lot. People promise things. But who they are, you can find out when they react. The true values and nature of a person reveals when the heat is on and when the person reacts. That is when violence often erupts. That is when people’s egos are taking over. That is when disrespect and violations happen. And then you know everything you need to know. When I see people who are destructive in their reactions, even though their words promise all kinds of things, I need to decide where I am and what I want to do. Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. (Charles R. Swindoll)

I can take in the toxins of the other person. I can allow to get abused. I can react back and become just as destructive as the other person. Or I can find ways to respond. I can turn and reach deeper. I can change direction and find the ground that holds me. Taking time out helps me to not react in the same way I am reacted to. When I take time to return to “the ground of being”, when I return to the One who created me, I will find rest and I will be protected from those reacting and trying to overpower me. As I keep myself from reacting and find stillness within, I will develop confidence that I do not have to react or retaliate. I will find strength to resist.

Prayer: God in times of reactivity, be our refuge and strength. Let us turn away from the toxins of reactivity and ground ourselves in You. And then help us choose how we want to respond. Amen

Isaiah 30:15 For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength. Yet you were not willing.

Us, poor?…

The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty—it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God. Mother Teresa

Meditation:  Our society promises the satisfaction of all our needs. Highest speed internet for even more information… Unlimited food at the “all you can eat” restaurant… Speed dating so we don’t miss “Mr. Right”… And yet many of us feel often lonely in the midst of a crowd. We feel empty, though we just ate a big meal. We feel objectified by being judged based on our outer appearance. The promises of what money can do for us don’t hold, don’t last, don’t “do the trick” of convincing us that we are loved.

The thirst and hunger for unconditional acceptance is real and deep. Our emotional and spiritual poverty is not as apparent as others’ external poverty. And yet we suffer from lack of acceptance, lack of belonging and lack of love. And many of us forget that God is not equal with religion. That God does not “live in a church”. But that God is Spirit. God is living water and living bread. God is the healing balm that wants to end loneliness, wants to liberate us from all the distractions that keep us hostage and that blind us in the illusion that they are giving us what we need.

Prayer: Life giving God, reveal to us our poverty. Respond and fill our need for belonging, for unconditional acceptance, for true love, and for a community that holds deeper values than our society’s norms of us needing “more stuff and consuming”. God, help us see and admit that we are starving for You. Amen

Amos 8:11 The time is coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.

Emotions too deep…

Prayer is the best response to hatred. Charles Spurgeon

Meditation: When injustice happens, we feel outraged. When discrimination happens, we get angry. When abuse of power happens, we want to scream and rise up and stop the abuse. All those reactions are understandable. And we need to protest, we need to make our voices heard, we cannot be silent.

And yet, the outrage, the anger, the inner and outer screaming cost us a lot. We feel toxic. We can’t focus. We feel overwhelmed, tense and somehow beside ourselves. How do we care for ourselves and for others in times when the emotional waves rise high?

Hearing the words: “Prayer is the best response to hatred” helps me focus. It helps me ground myself. It reminds me whose I am.

But what if there are no words? What if I can only sigh? Or cry? Or moan and groan? The Christian tradition knows of prayer that holds feelings that are too deep for words. Sometimes emotions are too deep to find any shape other than sounds.

And so our spiritual invitation in times of outrage and anger is to groan freely and see those sounds as prayer that God understands. We can scream or cry, and know that whatever is behind those sounds, God knows.

 Prayer: God, you know us even before we utter one word. You know our inner emotional world, more so than we even know ourselves. And so we pray without words, just with sounds in this time of need, outrage, strength and weakness. And we find comfort that those sounds, even if some of them are silent, are being carried, held and understood by your supportive Spirit. Amen

 Romans 8:26 In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings

“If the blind are leading…”

Quote: “If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall in the ditch.” Jesus Christ

Meditation: Sometimes we take the ability to see for granted. If somebody loses his or her vision, everything changes. Things that were easy before suddenly become difficult. Anxieties arise out of nowhere. Fear of darkness sets in. Feelings of insecurity become daily companions. As a nation and as a world we experience the blindness of leaders that throw individuals and communities into chaos. Pleasure seems to come from making others feel on the outside the chaotic darkness that they experience on the inside. Making rushed decisions that throw the interconnectedness of the world into chaos, just because they can is blind and reckless. The choices of a blind leader look like a person blindfolding people and making them cross a busy intersection, assuring that the casualties that would happen were inevitable, while announcing to the world the intent to keep the bystanders as “the other” people “safe”. Unfortunately the one blindfolding and sending people into the danger zone while assuring those on the sidelines of safety is blind himself.

Prayer: God, wake us up as a nation. Wake up the international community. Open our eyes. Don’t allow the abuse of human rights and laws to become the blindfolds of the masses. We feel overwhelmed and don’t know how not be blinded by the complex changes that are happening. We are afraid of the darkness setting in. God, we know these are crooked ways. Blind leaders using laws to bend the truth and to oppress certain groups of people. We have seen this before. As the blind leaders try to “blind us”, we call to you to guide us and to lead us. God of the ages, turn darkness into light and empower us as individuals and especially our legal branch to make the crooked straight. Thank you for not forsaking us!

Isaiah 42:16 I will lead the blind on a way they do not know; by paths they do not know I will guide them. I will turn darkness into light before them, and make crooked ways straight. These are my promises: I made them, I will not forsake them.


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