Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Imagine living in poverty-stricken Niger and hearing today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus provides food for the five thousand in such abundance that the disciples filled twelve baskets with leftovers after everyone had had their fill. The fact is that I cannot imagine what it would be like to read this story in light of actual poverty. Poverty is so far beyond my personal frame of reference that I cannot interpret the Gospel as if through the eyes of one who suffers such physical anguish every day. That is the thing about interpretation. Our context is a large determinant in our ability to understand a text. Our life situation shapes what we believe, the choices that we make, even the meaning that we give to the words and actions of Jesus.
You and I read this miracle story with our satisfied eyes. We read it as people who will not go hungry this evening, whose children will not cry from the pain of malnutrition, whose lives are filled with the comforts of relative prosperity. However, we can allow the experiences of others, even if all we do is read about them, to serve as correctives lenses to our own interpretive eyes.
One such corrective lens comes from Archbishop Desmond Tutu. We all know Tutu as the Nobel winning spiritual leader who fought apartheid in South Africa. Several years ago, Tutu spoke at an Episcopal Charities luncheon in Chicago. He reminded his listeners that the omnipotent God that we worship became impotent by becoming one of us.
“Why,” the Archbishop asked, “doesn’t God come down and intervene when the most appalling atrocities are happening? When brutality is all around? Why didn’t God send lightning from heaven against the apartheid government in South Africa?
“Because,” said the Archbishop, answering his own question, “God was waiting for a human partner! God was waiting for a human partner to transform South Africa. And God found human partners in many people, especially in Nelson Mandela.
Summing up his message, the Archbishop said, “God is even willing to put at risk the God Project while God waits for a human partner, while God waits for you and you and you and you and you,” pointing to members of his audience.
You and I read about today’s miracle feeding, the God Project in Tutu’s language, not as the hungry but as those with bread. As the haves of our world, God calls us to participate as partners in the God project. Notice in today’s story that Jesus did not act alone. Sure, he did the hard stuff – blessing, breaking, and giving the bread to the disciples to distribute. However, he did not act alone. He said to his disciples, “You give them something to eat.” When they responded that they had very little to give, Jesus asked only for what they had. Ronald Wallace (sorry, I've lost the citation) describes this when he says of the disciples, “They had little to offer. Yet, he took what they brought and used it and used them … The glorious adequacy of our inadequate resources only appears if we surrender them into his hands.”
Could it be that those who participate in the fulfillment of the MDG's, regardless of their religious tradition, participate in the God Project? Much has been written of late about the fact that the world is falling behind in its effort to accomplish the goals set for 2015. However, when we participate in the God Project, in whatever form it might take, we commit not so much to success as to faithfulness, believing that we offer to God that which we have and trusting that God will turn it into enough - in fact, into more than enough, into an abundance!
Monday, July 28, 2008
Friday, July 25, 2008
Friday, July 18, 2008
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Thursday, July 3, 2008
One of my goals is to look beyond the question of what we can do to raise the standard of living of the poor (although, of course, that is essential) to ask the more difficult and challenging questions regarding our responsibility and our future well being. Are we willing to change our lifestyles so that others can move beyond poverty and so that the tyranny and seduction of consumerism will not numb us to the simpler joys of life?
McKibben focuses attention on the value of the local. “It’s enough to say that, for reasons of ecological sustainability and human satisfaction, our systems and economies have gotten too large, and that we need to start building them back down. What we need is a new trajectory, toward the smaller and more local.”
I agree with McKibben. Buying local, participating in Community Supported Agriculture programs, and other efforts can be very helpful and satisfying. However, I would hate to think that we would become so local in our thinking that we forget about the rest of the world. After all, globalization is not all bad. It creates the opportunity to learn from people of other cultures, it makes us aware of the richness of diversity, it challenges us to be responsible with what we have and to care what others have (or don't have). It has generated the resources to lift millions of people out of poverty.
The debate about globalization is difficult. However, it is here to stay. So, how do we move find this new trajectory about which McKibben speaks and at the same time embrace the globalization that brings with it such incredible possibility?
 Bill McKibben, Deep Economy, 35.
 Ibid, 141.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
In his famous poem, The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost says,
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Some four thousand years ago, Abraham confronted two diverging roads. He could continue to live with all of the familiarity that life offered in Haran, which was in present day Turkey on the border with Syria, or he could set out on a journey into the unknown. God called Abraham to leave his country, his kindred, and his father’s house and to go “to a land that I will show you.” That’s not much information. All he had was a call to take a journey to the unknown and a promise that God would make of him a great nation. Not really much to go on, is it? Yet, in Frost’s words, Abraham took the road “less traveled by” and his choice became the pivot upon which history turned.
This morning, I want to explore Abraham’s call because I believe that it is paradigmatic of the call that God offers to all of us who seek to travel the spiritual path. I would suggest that the spiritual path is more often than not the “one less traveled by.” Certainly, this was the case for Abraham and Sarah. They did not know where they were going, or even why they were going – only that God had called them. This goes against so much of what both human nature and the pressures of our culture call us to do. We are taught to journey from the unknown to the known, from what we do not have to what we want or think we need, from the unpredictable to the safe and secure, and from promises to guarantees. We demand security and act cautiously.
Lets look at each of these. First, choosing the road less traveled by requires that we embrace ignorance – that we move from the certain to the uncertain. Abraham’s move was not simply a change of geography. It was a giving up of the familiar, of all that gave life meaning, of the rhythms of life that brought comfort and security. Ignorance sounds negative. However, ignorance simply is a lack of knowledge or information. When we contemplate stepping out in faith, when we say yes to God, when we choose the road less traveled by, we can’t wait until we have all of the answers. We can’t wait for certainty. That is why the spiritual journey is a journey of faith, of movement into the unknown, of trust that God will lead us where God wants us to go.
Second, choosing the road less traveled by requires that we over come our fear of those who are different, that we embrace inclusion. Abraham’s ancestors had moved from Ur, in what is now southeastern Iraq, to Haran, in Turkey. They moved into a different culture. Now Abraham was doing the same. The move from Haran to Canaan placed Abraham in a foreign land with people of a different culture and language. To say yes to the call required that Abraham leave behind not only his homeland but also his narrow-minded parochialism that limited his vision of the larger world around him. It can be challenging for any of us to see beyond the world that we inhabit day by day.
The promise that Abraham received was that God would bless the entire world – not just his family, not just the people he knew, not just people who believed in the same God or who dressed the same way. Inclusion is a difficult challenge. We tend to surround ourselves with people who are like us, people with whom we are comfortable, and people who do not threaten our way of life. Yet, in order to embrace God’s call, Abraham, and we as well, must expand our horizon to embrace the other.
Third, choosing the road less traveled by requires that we overcome our fear of being powerless in the face of the impossible. Impotence is not a kind word. However, we don’t have to spend a lot of time in this world to recognize that so much is out of our control. When we try to manipulate our world or when we try to live with preconceived notions of how life must unfold, we usually are disappointed because it just doesn’t work that way.
Life is uncertain enough. Then, in the midst of that uncertainty, God calls us to do something or to be somebody that seems completely impossible. How could Abraham and Sarah be the parents of a new and great nation? What did they have to offer? Were they crazy to step out in faith as they did? They could have been paralyzed by fear instead. They could have seen the impossible in God’s call rather than the possibility that unfolded as they trusted that God was with them.
What about us? God calls each of us to do great things – to proclaim God’s love, to live in ways that lift others up, to strive for justice and peace throughout the world. Are we afraid of the impossible? Can we look beyond what we cannot do on our own and catch a glimpse of what God can do through us? That is the road les traveled by, the road with God, the road that leads beyond our ignorance and our powerlessness in the face of the impossible.
I invite you to journey with me to the place that can only be reached by the road less traveled by. On that journey, we will discover that, indeed, God can work the impossible in our lives! Amen.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
If you want your voice to be heard so that your government does not backtrack, go to ONE and sign the petition.
The world is half way through the allotted time to accomplish the goals. Great progress has been made. But, we can't stop now. Our governments, and us, must keep working to make a poverty free world a reality.
I love these types of parables. I can almost hear Jesus starting a story with, "The Kingdom of God is like the sweetgrass that . . . " As much as we want life to be easy, as much as we plan to avoid the hardships, it is just those times that bring strength to our weary souls and minds. This parable applies to life in general. It also applies to the struggle for economic and social justice that inform the MDGs. The struggle makes us stronger. It nurtures us, teaches us, strengthens our resolve to press forward. The struggle helps us to weed out the wheat from the chaff of our lives, helping us to see what we truly value and where we really want to go.
Thanks for the sweetgrass that thrives in less than ideal conditions, for the Kingdom of God is like that too!
This world needs MSPs who take the plight of the poor seriously and who share a willingness to move beyond the "ease of the middle class" so that they can ask the difficult questions:
What does it mean to live with such abundance when so many live on the equivalent of less than $1 per day?
What does it mean to us to live with such massive gaps between the rich and the poor when most of us live as we do simply by accident of birth?
Can we make changes to our lifestyles that will make a meaningful difference in the lives of others? I am reminded of Bishop Geralyn Wolf's words: "After living for many years below my means so that others can live above theirs, I wouldn't have it any other way" - words to contemplate in our culture that is obsessed with material abundance.
 Ian Markham, Do Morals Matter? A Guide to Contemporary Religious Ethics, 182.