Sunday, December 28, 2014

First Sunday After Christmas Day (2014 Year B)

This week's readings

Heaven Holds a Sense of Wonder - detail
I liked Psalm 148:7-12 because it references every living being on earth, human and animal with a sense of equality.
Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
    stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
    creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples,
    princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike,
    old and young together!
 It reminds me of an excellent blog post I saw this week An Inconvenient Truth: Everyone Is Created and Loved by God

Image: Wijk, Famke van. Heaven Holds a Sense of Wonder, detail, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved December 28, 2014]. Original source:

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Nativity of the Lord - Proper III Year B (December 25, 2015)

This is the third of three readings for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

Luca Robbia - Christ comforting a poor man

Of these readings I want to remember Hebrews 1:9
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.
Image: Christ comforting a poor man, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved December 27, 2014]. Original source:  -- photographed by Jastrow. 

20141227 - added links, image, fixed formatting, ie everything I can't do in the mobile app

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Nativity of the Lord - Proper II Year B (December 24, 2014)

This is the second of three readings for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day


I included this image because it is likely typical of where Jesus was born, in the lower half of an overfilled family dwelling in the section where the animals were also brought in for the night (safety for them, warmth sharing for the family.)

As a child, my dad would often read us the story of Jesus's birth from the bible on Christmas Eve. Often I read it myself because I treasure that memory. But this year, I'm not really in the mood for that. Possibly that is why of these readings, I liked Titus 3:4-7 the most.
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Although I think we should walk our talk, I also believe that we follow a merciful god and that it is nice to remember that the birth we are commemorating/waiting for is also what brought us mercy and renewal. I know so many people right now personally who need mercy and renewal - not to mention our whole nation.

Image: Altdorfer, Albrecht, ca. 1480-1538. Holy Night (Birth of Christ), from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved December 24, 2014]. Original source:

Nativity of the Lord - Proper 1 Year B (December 24, 2014)

This is the first of three readings for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

Grotto of the Nativity
Not to ignore the readings in this proper, but I was so inspired by this photo of the Grotto of the Nativity, where Jesus is traditionally believed to have been born and the commentary on the photo in Vanderbilt’s Art in the Christian Tradition site that they paled in comparison.

The commentary:

This picture provides us with a stark contrast to the traditional artwork of Christ’s birth. Normally we will find Mary – who of course is a wealthy European woman – with a halo glowing above her head. In her lap is a healthy blond-haired, blue-eyed boy. And all around them are wise men, shepherds, and angels them in deep veneration.

But this picture brings us back to reality. The truth is that she was a young poor girl; pregnant, but not by her husband, terrified, and forced to give birth in a cave. This picture humbles Christmas. It is a reminder of the nature of Jesus’ birth and life. These candles show respect to those humble origins. In fact, it may only take a stiff wind to suddenly transform this space from the sacred to the ordinary. Leaving it much like it was two thousand years ago – a cold, dark, damp hole.

Sometimes we forget, under the layers of so many traditions, just how miraculous things were in the very way they happened. Jesus, the Word made flesh and Savior of all humankind, was born on a cold night, in a dark cave, in the company of livestock. So this picture, unlike ones of Mary as the throne of God, gives us a story that seems somehow so much more miraculous. -- Patrick Darnell
The Grotto of the Nativity, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved December 24, 2014]. Original source:

This realistic Mary and realistic Jesus, realistic apostles, realistic early followers, etc are all so much more inspiring to me than the whitewashed (usually literally) versions that I see and hear so much of in my life.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Fourth Tuesday of Advent (2014 Year B)

Today's Readings

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is gifts - both giving and getting gifts. As I have gotten older, I am more interested in the thoughtfulness involved and mostly don't give gifts if I can't find something that feels truly thoughtful and like it honors my relationship with that person. I'd much rather give someone nothing but my good wishes than something that feels like I just bought it to have something to give them.

And sometimes gifts aren't things and aren't intended to be gifts, but are. My friend Casie wrote on Facebook today about how she received a gift when they opened a new line at the grocery store just when she needed it because waiting in line is physically very difficult for her.

James 17:1 talks about gifts, referring to gifts from God, but I think it applies to our being generous as well.
Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
Generosity is hard. I think being greedy, at least to the point of wanting to keep what you have, is human nature. If nothing else, we want to save for the bad times, in part because we don't trust that others will be generous to us when we are in need. (And you only need to look at the difficulties people have getting social security and VA benefits that they have paid into and deserve to see that this is a valid concern.) There is also the concern that the people you are giving to don't actually need what you gave them. Or need it less than you do. I had a job in the early 90's where part of my job was to chase off the people begging in the company owned property next door. At barely over minimum wage, I wasn't paid enough to do that, but when company officials were likely to come by, I'd go over and ask them to leave so I wouldn't get fired. I got to know some of the beggars and they were making more than I was. That's not to say they weren't deserving, I'm a believer in guaranteed minimum income and if begging is what you need to do to get what you need, go for it.

On a completely different note, I got into an interesting conversation on Twitter today about justice. Since it is related to things I've spoken about here, I'm going to share it. (I have no clue why Twitter thinks today is the 24th.)

Fourth Monday of Advent (2014 Year B)

I am quite sick today (horribly painful sinus swelling, but with luck, not an infection.) So I really need positivity. I found that in Psalm 96:10-13
Say among the nations, “The Lord is king!
    The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved.
    He will judge the peoples with equity.”
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
    let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
    before the Lord; for he is coming,
    for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
    and the peoples with his truth
There is more hope in Zephaniah 3:15 (partial):
The Lord has taken away the judgements against you,
And also Zephaniah 3:19 (although there should be no outcast and no shame in being disabled, there are and while I don't think we should wait on God to fix it, hearing that if we don't get there there is a plan B is hopeful.)
And I will save the lame
    and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
    and renown in all the earth.
 Edited 20141223 to fix formatting and links

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Mary and Elizabeth
There was a lot for me in these readings. I suspect that I should either stick to the regular (not daily) lectionary and follow a different reading plan if I wish to do daily readings. That doesn't change my plan to read and blog for all of Advent (which is quickly coming to an end!) 

In 2 Samuel 7:1-11 I was struck by how the king wanted to make God a house as nice as his, but God wanted to keep his tent - ie like the average person. (Of course, the Tabernacle was super, super fancy.)

I also found a lot of hope in the Luke readings.  (Luke 1:51-53) As always I am affirmed by justice for the poor.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
The Romans reading (Romans 16:25-27) is what I have been craving, inclusion of people outside of the 12 tribes.

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith -- to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.
 Now, I must say, I knew this passage (and several that are similar) but reading passage after passage after passage where they talk about how God is here for the 12 tribes (or even just blessing one of them in particular) is depressing for someone who is not a member of one of those tribe.

Edited 20141223 to fix formatting, include quote of Romans 16:25-27 and post-quote commentary. Added image.

Image attribution:

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Fourth Saturday of Advent (2014 Year B)

Today's Readings

The John readings (John 7:40-50) talk about doubts. Doubts on the behalf of several different groups of people. I think doubting is important. If we don't doubt, can we be sure that we have really thought things over?

There is also something important about thinking that people need to be from somewhere important in order to be important.

Finally, the Judges reading (Judges 13:2-24) is yet another example from the Bible of prophesies of a son being born. (Isaac, John the Baptist, Jesus quickly come to mind) Were there no predictions of daughters being born? Were they not recollected? Or are we supposed to believe that as women we are unimportant? There are many important women in the Old and New Testaments and the angel comes to Samson's mother, yet her name isn't even mentioned.

Fourth Friday of Advent (2014 Year B)

In today's reading from 2 Samuel (verses 18-19), I was struck by the fact that a community event happens (in this case moving the Ark of the Covenant) and everyone in the community leaves with plenty of food:
When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins.
Also, I found it typical of politicians that King David waited until he knew that the Ark was safe and beneficial to the community before bringing it into his territory. And did so with great hoopla.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fourth Thursday in Advent (2014 Year B)

Today's Readings

Psalm 89:1-2 starts out very universalistically. (Is that a word?)
I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
    with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
I declare that your steadfast love is established forever;
    your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.
But again, I'm aware I'm picking and choosing.

I found the 2 Samuel reading (verses 6-11) to be quite interesting (shortened version below.) It talks about a very wrathful God who kills the person who tries to protect His stuff. I'm not sure how this story is supposed to teach us anything positive about God. Maybe that if we watch his stuff but don't touch it, he'll be nice to us. WTF?

David and all the people with him set out ... They carried the ark of God on a new cart ... Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving ... David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. ... When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen shook it. The anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God struck him there because he reached out his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God.  David was angry because the Lord had burst forth with an outburst upon Uzzah David was afraid of the Lord that day; he said, “How can the ark of the Lord come into my care?” So David was unwilling to take the ark of the Lord into his care in the city of David; instead David took it to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months; and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Third Wednesday of Advent (2014 Year B)

Today's Readings

As an improvement over yesterday, I feel like I am at least comprehending what I am reading. I still like the Psalm. I still find it heavy going to reconcile so much of what I am reading with my universalist belief in a loving god.

Malachi 4:1-3 works for me only in the context of revering the name of the Lord being equivalent to trying not to be wicked, arrogant and evil, going back to Jesus' "Love one another"; not in literally revering. We need to read within both the context in which the Bible was written and our own context. (The former for minimal understanding, the later because honestly, we can't help it and because we must if we are going to apply it to our lives.) Perhaps applying this generally to those who try to love one another is a valid interpretation.

See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.
I know I've used the weasel word "try" a couple of times here, but as I keep saying, none of us are perfect. (Or only perfect in a Hebrews 10:14 sense.) Only an honest attempt at doing so is possible.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Third Tuesday of Advent (2014 Year B)

I'm exhausted for no reason other than medication changes. I'm not sure if that is why I have nothing to say (and no thoughts) about these readings, or because they have nothing to say to me.
A Facebook friend passed on a great article from Cracked Magazine called Six Things People Get Wrong About The Bible's Christmas Story
Also, tonight is the first night of Chanukah, a miracle I celebrate. But sadly, I don't have enough energy to celebrate with more than lighting candles on an Android app.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Third Monday of Advent (2014 Year B)

Today's Readings

 This passage from Ephesians is often used as a reason for staunch Christianity (and I realize I am cherry picking a single phrase), but I think it is more important to remember as what we need to fight for Ephesians 6:12 (partial):
 our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world
The psalm makes a good prayer for anyone reading the news this week (or really paying attention ever):
Lord, do good to those who are good,
    to those who are upright in heart.
But those who turn to crooked ways
    the Lord will banish with the evildoers.
- Psalm 125:4-5

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Third Sunday of Advent (2014 Year B)

 I wish I could justify reading these readings selectively and removing everything that refers to justice coming (or blessing being on) those of the twelve tribes (or Jerusalem) and instead being on all of us. Or at least those of us who follow the directions in John 13:34-35:
 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
 We do not have to be Christian to love one another. We don't even have to be perfect (that is covered elsewhere.) We simply have to do our best, to have the desire, the hope, the will to try.

As I said yesterday, I keep reading the readings, my head nodding internally like my grandma's sometimes did externally, and then I hit the words 'Zion' or 'the sons of Jacob' and I feel like not only am I left out, but so many people. I wish to believe that the prophets were speaking to their audience, like the performing artists who change the names of the cities mentioned based on the city they are in. But I don't know if I can justify that.

Beyond all that, I found Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 to be sadly ironic in it's mention of Zion, for if it were to happen today, it is likely that it would be Israel the modern nation who would be the target of the vengeance. (Specifically separate from Israel as religious Jews or the descendants of Jacob as usually used in the scriptures.)

61:1 The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;

61:2 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

61:3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.

61:4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

61:8 For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.

61:9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed.

61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

61:11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations. 
This is what I wish for all people!

I saw the following comment on Twitter today and though it was a good point and well worth thinking about.

Third Saturday of Advent (2014 Year B)

As I was reading the psalm today, I realized why I have had such a struggle with so many of the readings this Advent, particularly the Old Testament readings. So many of them are worded as us or them. I am too much of a universalist to believe that 'our god' did horrible things to them because they aren't us.
For some reason, this year, I am also keenly aware that I am not part of the 'us' meant in most of these readings (descendants of the twelve tribes of Israel.)
I found some hope for the evil I see so much of:
You pierced with their own arrows the head of his warriors,
    who came like a whirlwind to scatter us,
    gloating as if ready to devour the poor who were in hiding.
- Habakkuk 3:14
These 'warriors' seem like a good description of police departments responding with violence to peaceful or calm protests. I can only hope for such an outcome, though I hope the outcome will be through the courts (or a new system), not literal arrows, teargas, bullets, etc.

The parable is a good reminder that it is better to do something positive than say you will and not. Our actions speak louder than our words. That said, I think using our words to support others IS an action.

Note: I have not figured out how posts sent using the Android Blogger app end up as published versus draft, but having to go back in hit publish on this one has given me the opportunity to add this photo, which is of part of someone's shrine to Mary on the alley behind the coffee shop where I write this.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Third Friday of Advent (2014 Year B)

I got nothing. I got nothing out of these readings, whether that is because I am exhausted or because the primary purpose of today's reading is to 'fill in' bits of the bible we wouldn't read otherwise. Or perhaps as a preparatory reading for Sunday's readings, it will all make sense at a later date.
I have been wondering for the last several days if I am making myself worse by making myself write every day or if I just feel crappy because of my current meds switch. I figure I'll be done with this experiment before my meds are stabilized enough for it to make a difference long term anyway, so I'm going to keep blabbering.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Third Thursday of Advent (2014 Year B)

Today's Readings

Food Not Bombs
Today I found meaning in the first part of  Habakkuk 2:5
Moreover, wealth is treacherous;
    the arrogant do not endure
Maybe this is wishful thinking, because there are certainly plenty of wealthy, powerful arrogant individuals, companies, and communities out there and it would be nice to see them lose power for a more egalitarian system where everyone's basic needs can be met.

On the other hand, I know I can get caught in the treachery of wealth or wanting wealth as well as be arrogant and thoughtless. (Or just arrogant.) So it is a good reminder as well.

(Some manuscripts say "wine is treacherous" BTW.)

Image - Food not Bombs!, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved December 11, 2014]. Original source:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Keep in mind ..

Some good stuff today about who and what we should trust related to religion and faith.
How Did This Happen, and How Did I Not See It Coming? by Justin Rohrlich
Jonestown made me realize that the people up there in the pulpit are just human beings, and we should not have so much adoration for them, and worship and follow pastors. They’re not god, they’re just people.
- Lela Howard 
And from the same article:
It showed me that you can be really, really smart, really, really dedicated, have [the] best motives in world, but it doesn’t really matter. If you let down your guard for one second, and stop being a critical thinker, you can be sucked into any horrific thing. - Laura Kohl

Second Wednesday in Advent (2014 Year B)

Today I am reminded of our essential mutual humanity by this excerpt from Malachi 2:10
Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Second Tuesday of Advent (2014 Year B)

Today's Readings

I decided on this project of blogging the daily (and Sunday) advent readings for a number of reasons. One of them is that on my recent medication regimes, I quit being functional enough most days to feel like I could even write coherently on the topics I'd been working on (Understanding Dog Body Language for a Well Behaved Dog and another project. I'd already had to give up doing anything analytical (ie coding) because it is a seizure trigger for me. As an inherently unreliable narrator with regards to religious ideas. (HT to @BathysphereHat for reminding me of this term today. ) This is particularly true right now when I know my seizures are poorly controlled. On the one hand, I have found this to be particularly freeing, since I know there is a very high likelihood that whatever I am saying is just babblings as my brain tries to make sense of nonsense. On the other, it is very frustrating because there are often times when I feel like I actually see a useful pattern or structure and just can't pull it out. Of course, any given thing could be either.

Today is one of the later days. In the readings, I see a pattern of exhortations to keep up hope, to know things will be better, to not give up. But I can't pull them together into anything.

Part of the intercessory prayer suggested for this week feels like it might come from the result of understanding this though and I think that is the closest I'm going to get.
we pray to you for the needs of the ...the world.
Hear our humble prayer
that we may serve you in holiness and faith
and give voice to your presence among us

Monday, December 8, 2014

Second Monday of Advent (2014 Year B)

Today's readings

This morning I received a link to a sermon from yesterday that spoke of everything I have been struggling with as far as both the scriptures (especially this week's readings) and the current news. Not surprisingly, it was about both.
The sermon is "Prepare Him Room" by Reverend Robin Bartlett. It is more important than anything I have to say today.

Having been to sick or injured to do most of my usual activities this past year, I have been spending a lot of time doing what I can. One of the more useful things I can do has been making hats for people who need them. I have lost count of how many hats I have made for the Egan Warming Center (but you can see a bunch of them here.) Now that my hand is working better, I'm also making some fleece ones, both for Egan and for an upcoming children's winter clothing drive. I figure that if you have to go to the warming shelter and need a hat, you REALLY need a hat, so right now I'm mostly making them for Egan. I spent a lot of time today cutting out fleece hats (they sew up fastest in bunches.) I am grateful that I can do something for others, even when I am dependant in so many other ways. For me, spending my time this way is what I can do as fellowship.

This may sound like a meander but is brought to you by today's New Testament reading, which also mentions fellowship:

41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. - Acts 2:41-42
 I find it important to remember that as followers of God, we should all sit down in equality and eat. Maybe not always literally eat, but our basic human needs are the same and we should share and treat one another the same. That's hard. Christianity is hard. I am bad at it. But I can choose to strive to do better.

I don't invite the homeless guy who lives in my neighborhood into my house. But I talk to him like a fellow human. And I make hats. Mostly I make hats. Today, it's what I can do.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Second Sunday of Advent (2014 Year B)

This Week's Readings 

I found 2 Peter 3:10-15 particularly important. The first few verses are more context but notice that we are told to wait for God to act and in the meantime strive (try) to be "at peace, without spot or blemish." We are told neither to try and make it happen (that mention is clearly a retorical device) nor to BE (or expect perfection of others. We are to try to be perfect, not expect that from ourselves or others.

3:10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.

3:11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness,

3:12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire?

3:13 But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

3:14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish;
Another thing I found worthy of note is how John the Baptist downplays water baptism:

I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.  - Mark 1:8
I noticed this because I've heard many Christians who would consider themselves evangelical or fundamentalist say that a baptism is not valid unless water was involved. Yet John himself is specific that the Holy Spirit is what is important. (This doesn't even take the whole issue of immersion or not, with a specific church or groups of churches or not into consideration.)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Second Saturday of Advent (2014 Year B)

The Mark passage shows an interesting example of how politics (as effects of popular opinion on the actions of the powerful) and religion can interact. The temple authorities are unwilling to make any interpretation of John's baptisms for fear of the repercussions of their statement , either way.
Is this why we are silent in the face of injustice so often? And allow ourselves to be distracted from pursuing it so often?

John the Baptist preaching in the desert
John The Baptist preaching in the desert
Mark 11 27-33a:
27 They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. 28 “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”
29 Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 30 John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!”
31 They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 32 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)
33 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Updated to add image:
JESUS MAFA. John the Baptist preaching in the desert, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved December 6, 2014].

I had forgotten about the paintings on the Vie De Jesus Mafa site, which are the result of a community's responses to the lectionary readings.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Second Friday of Advent (2014 Year B)

Today's Readings

Today I feel like both the Jeremiah and the Acts readings are speaking to me. Jeremiah tells us that we don't have to be old and wise or experienced to know and speak the truth, nor that it is important that we wait until a particular place and time. It also should remind us that we should listen to people who are young but speaking truth, whether that is religious truth or political truth or justice truth.

The Acts reading speaks of two very topical things, also similar to that in the Jeremiah reading - going out to talk to new audiences in the face of persecution and speaking to whole new groups. In Acts, Cyprus and Cyrene began speaking to Greeks, not just Jews.

Right now, I feel like we should be listening to the people (many young) teaching and demonstrating on the streets of our cities and the internet about racism and policing and the American "justice" system. In many cases, it is their first time leading or their first time speaking, in others they have been studying for years. But as Christians, it is our time to listen and act for justice. Big table justice.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Second Thursday of Advent (2014 Year B)

Today's Readings are the start of preparation for Sunday's readings - the Second Sunday of Advent.

To be honest, like pretty much everyone else, I read the bible looking for validation or at most a small building block past where I am. On the other hand, small change is how we often get to new places.

I know I've read these reading before (both as reading the bible in book order and at least the Sunday lectionary readings), but more and more the eye for an eye violence and unforgiveness of the Old Testament bother me. I think there IS a time and place for violence, but I want to find something better than revenge. I don't want one group to win at the expense of others.

These readings are better than last week's on that scale, but still I want more reminder of the need to love one another. We can still seek revolution, fight for right, argue, riot, etc but vengeance doesn't help.

Hosea 6:6
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
    the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

On Having Faith and Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (Part 1)

I have labelled this as Part 1 not because I am planning a series at the moment, but because this is a rabbit hole that shouldn't be left alone.

A Google search for Temporal Lobe Epilepsy Religion makes it clear that people with TLE have weird or exceptional religious experiences more often than people who don't. Much more often. (Go do the research yourself and come back if you need details.) In many cases, their inner experience and what outside observers see (or video shows) that there is a completely rational and neither religious or magical explanation for what happened and/or that they were having a seizure at the time of the experience.

I have had a few experiences that converted me from Agnostic to seeker/believer. They weren't of the level of Saul on the road to Damascus, but little things like having a wave of peace and safety come over me in a touchy situation where calm was hard to come by but much needed. As someone with TLE, all of those moments are suspect. Yet they inform my beliefs and how I react, share and exemplify them. On a macro level, those experiences have nothing to do with my faith - I became a Christian through reading and studying and finding something worthy of following. I would also say true, but again, my moments and leaps of religious faith are suspect. I am a better human for following Jesus, though I would be a better human if I followed Jesus more closely. But the triggers for the reading and studying that led to my conversion (and the triggers that kept me reading and studying) are most likely brain misfires, hallucinations even, that I took as religious experiences in an attempt to make sense of what was going through my brain.
It would be easy to say "But God gave you those experiences and ..." However, even if MY faith experiences that were actually TLE had beneficial or benign outcomes (reading and studying to find something that makes me a better person), there are plenty of examples of non-benign outcomes from TLE induced faith experiences. All those hateful and divisive things Paul said? Very likely TLE. (I could give more examples, but that would require work.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

First Wednesday of Advent (2014 Year B)

Today's Readings

I found the first two readings to be way too violent for my taste. On the other hand, when I look at the news and the blatant racism and classism going on in our legal system right now, I think violence IS a reasonable response. I think part of my problem with the Old Testament readings is that the speaker is unwilling to take responsibility for the violence. They want God to be the violent one, not themselves. On the one hand, as a person of faith, there is no excuse for violence in God's name without God actually there leading. On the other, if you are going to be violent for the sake of your freedom or better treatment, own it as the right or best or available choice, don't blame it on God.

The New Testament reading particularly Luke 21 verses 34-36 is something I found much more personally valuable.

34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
 Whether it is "stand[ing] before the Son of Man" or anything else important we have a tendency to get involved in the necessities of living and lose sight of it. I think this tends to be particularly likely with regards to things like family, faith, love, nature - all things people of faith count as works and blessings from God or the Holy.

20141214 Fixed Typo while updating labels

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

First Thursday, Friday, Saturday of Advent (2014 Year B)

I missed the daily preparatory readings for this Sunday, so I am reading them now.

Thursday's Readings
Friday's Readings
Saturday's Readings

So, honestly, as someone raised UU, I can't see most of these readings as anything but anger and looking for revenge. In fact, they make Saturday's readings about false prophets ring particularly loudly. If the end of our faith is hatred or death for those who are not of it or do us wrong, we will have a never ending cycle of violence. This is not in line with the received teachings of Jesus.

I guess in summary, we should be very cautious when someone tells us they are speaking for God. Also, anger is okay, though I don't think we should always act on it. Maybe praying for God to dispense the revenge we want is one way of stepping back so we act in a more useful way.

First Tuesday of Advent (2014 Year B)

Today's Readings

Somewhere this morning (before I'd had enough caffeine to realize I should mark it) I saw a comment that Advent is a time for Christians to focus on justice and waiting for Divine Justice. I am a great believer in the "God helps those who help themselves" school of thought. I am also not a believer at all in the definition of justice described in today's readings where "justice" means killing, punishing or otherwise damaging those who have hurt you. It is certainly tempting (and my first gut reaction in many cases), but it just tends to lead to escalation.

Monday, December 1, 2014

First Monday of Advent (2014 Year B)

Today's Readings  (Ooooh! I finally found an example and place where you can just take the books and verses you want and make a url!)

The heading for the Micah reading I have is listed as "Peace and Security through Obedience" which I find ironic, because I don't really see where the obedience comes in as much as a prediction that God will come in and make optimal decisions for the people of the book. I don't think "obedience" or respectability politics have worked for anyone anywhere long term. (Although short term they can be useful by putting people off guard.) This is the discussion we are having right now on a national level, particularly with regard to all the young black children (mostly) being shot for nothing or almost nothing. And about the behaviour of the protesters. The excuses that I've heard over and over when the scriptures tell us to love our neighbor and turn the other cheek and not to judge.

Also, this section of Micah has the overused "Swords into plowshares" line. Everyone seems to forget Joel 3:10
Beat your plowshares into swords,
    and your pruning hooks into spears;
    let the weakling say, “I am a warrior.”
 Sure we'd all love to see an end to war, but we have to remember that there is a time to fight too.

Advent 2014

Obviously, I post on this blog very irregularly and when I do it tends to be during advent. I think this is probably more out of an idea of beginning at the beginning (Advent being the beginning of the church year), rather than Advent itself - although Advent is a good story, nice and safe and happy with the donkey and the barn and the sheep and the angels.

Swaledale ewe and twins

As Christians we talk about Advent as being a season of waiting - waiting for the birth of christ, waiting for the second coming, waiting for the fun of Christmas (Ok, I don't think the later is actually approved theology.) I'm not entirely sure I buy into Advent as a season of waiting - preparing maybe is better in line with my beliefs. And I'm way more interested in Jesus as an adult than celebrating his birth or waiting for him to return (if he will or hasn't already.) That said, I am in a period of waiting right now. I'm waiting to see if the current medication dosage makes me better (actually, I think we figured out it doesn't), waiting to see what my doctor's next plan is, waiting because I'm really not well enough to do much else, waiting for the one or two activities a week I can really engage in and enjoy.  Yesterday I wondered, what would it mean to me if I engaged with the daily lectionary every day for Advent. (Engage = force myself to do more than skim over it in a haze, although some days a mental haze is as good as it gets.) Technically, I've already missed a few days, as the lectionary week starts on Thursday, but shrug. So I'm going to try, even if that means no more than posting a verse that seems important or meaningful to me every day.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

First Sunday of Advent 2014 (Year B)

More important than anything I have to say about this Sunday is Austin Channing's No. Read that if you read anything.

The verse that stuck out to me from this week's readings was
Isaiah 64:6:
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
I always like reminders that we are all imperfect (because of course, we are all imperfect), but this seems particularly important on a day when I heard of pulpits preaching that Mike Brown's death was due to his sin. Who hasn't? (Presumably these sermons are an attempt to accept or justify the lack of a grand jury indictment for Darren Wilson.)

Isaiah goes on to ask the lord to remember and forgive us. Remember that we are weak and forgive us for our weaknesses. He doesn't say, oh, forget what we did and forgive us. I think there is an implication for restorative justice there that I can't pinpoint. But noting and paying attention is important too, which perhaps is why this week's readings end with Mark's exonerations to keep paying attention.