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Those Who Dream… Will Not Keep Silent

Luke 2:22-40, NRSV

Reflections

Then perhaps there is a third kind of loss—the loss that comes when you notice the limits of your knowledge of God, when you feel bereft of guidance, when you feel the loss of God’s saving power or of God’s grace. This feeling of loss is really a way of noting, and mourning, God’s hiddenness. This is the loss you name when you ask why God does not answer your prayers. It is the loss entailed when you realize that Jesus is more mysterious and more inscrutable than you had at first understood.

— Lauren F. Winner, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis

  • Simeon and Anna — spent their whole lives hoping and waiting
  • Simeon learned to listen to God, and Holy Spirit rested on him, before even there was Pentecost
  • Anna lived as a widow for a long time, living through decades of social upheaval with different rulers, but still hoping and waiting

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Those Who Dream… Sow Joy and Justice

Isaiah 61:1-4, NRSV
Luke 1:46-55, NRSV

Reflections

If this great reversal (of Mary’s Magnificat) is not my longing, if I hesitate or downright refuse to construe Christ’s coming in terms of systemic change and resistance to oppressive forces, Mary’s Magnificat presses me to ask if I am among the satiated and satisfied, “the rich” who are “sent away empty” from this Advent season because I am unable to hope for, and thus unable to receive, divine promise.

— Jennifer McBride, Radical Discipleship: A Liturgical Politics of the Gospel

  • And when we listen to Mary’s son, we get a sense that her rebel anthem moonlighted as Jesus’ lullaby. Mary’s Rebel Anthem
  • With the Magnificat, Mary not only announces a birth, she announces the inauguration of a new kingdom, one that stands in stark contrast to every other kingdom—past, present, and future—that relies on violence and exploitation to achieve “greatness.” With the Magnificat, Mary declares that God has indeed chosen sides. And it’s not with the powerful, but the humble. It’s not with the rich, but with the poor. It’s not with the occupying force, but with people on the margins. It’s not with narcissistic kings, but with an un-wed, un-believed teenage girl entrusted with the holy task of birthing, nursing, and nurturing God. Mary, the Magnificat, and an Unsentimental Advent
  • “About 90 percent of the Old Testament is missing [and] 50 percent of the New Testament is missing” Slave Bible From The 1800s Omitted Key Passages That Could Incite Rebellion

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Those Who Dream… Prepare the Way

Isaiah 40:1-11, NRSV
Mark 1:1-8, MSG

Reflections

Preparing the Lord’s path means challenging systems and structures that we have institutionalized as normal but that God condemns as oppressive and crooked. It means clearing the path of self-aggrandizement, self-absorption, and greed to make way for a community where all of creation is valued

— Traci Blackmon, “Preparing the Way for Justice”, Alliance for Fair Food

  • 2020 has been a year of bad dreams
  • John the Baptist was sent as the messenger, preparing the way ahead for Christ, and also for us to come to Christ
  • to be faithful dreamer, waiting for the coming of Christ
  • Wilderness is where John the Baptist started preparing the way, with all sorts of struggles, physically/spiritually, but it is also where God reveals Himself

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Those Who Dream… Keep Awake

Isaiah 64:1-4, NRSV
Mark 13:24-37, NRSV

Reflections

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

— Langston Hughes, Dreams

  • dominant power is not the ultimate power
  • keep awake is to do truth telling, often with sadness
  • learning to wait for God
  • what God is doing in you while you wait, is more important than the thing you are waiting for
  • Advent Credo by Allan Boesak, From Walking on Thorns

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When Things Fall Apart: Deconstruction

Acts 9:1-19, NRSV

Reflections

Fanaticism is always a compensation for hidden doubt. Religious persecutions occur only where heresy is a menace

— Carl Jung

  • The dark night is God’s attack on religion. — Rowan Williams
  • It was Apostle Paul’s dark night
  • Jesus is one with the bodies of those who have called on his name and followed in his way by the Spirit. Their pain and suffering is his very own. … The mystery of God is found in human flesh, moving in and with the disciples who are a communion of suffering and a witness to life. — Willie James Jennings

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When Things Fall Apart: Unraveling Internalized Shame

John 4:1-16, NRSV

Reflections

Our internalized shame can become a barrier to intimacy with God. When we are seen for who we are, we can begin to heal and reconcile with our true selves, reconcile with our community and also reconcile with our Creator.

— Mira Sawlani-Joyner

  • Usual focus of this story is why the Samaritan woman at the well has been married 5 times
  • she is venerated as a saint with the name Photine
  • opened up to Jesus, although just a little bit, in admitting her shame
  • she experienced acceptance from Jesus
  • showing vulnerability and being authentic
  • shifting the internalized shame to becoming authentic
  • being authentic allows us to connect to others, to the community

 

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When Things Fall Apart: Turn

Matthew 25:1-13, NRSV

Reflections

“The fragile human world will one day be caught up into the endless glory of God and will be held securely in God’s hands forever. But this is not a moment that has arrived in all its fullness in our history. We know about the promise because of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection.

The new life that God as brought into being after the worst of human injustice and pain. But what this means is not an instant triumphant conclusion to history, but a fresh commitment to work in light of the promise we have glimpsed, confident that what we do has meaning because it is at one with the purposes of God.

— Rowan Williams

  • Wise girls and Foolish girls
  • Pattern of life: being prepared, being attentive, being mindful
  • Christian faith is constant turning to God
  • Individually we cannot rely on casual spirituality
  • we need to prepare the oil for ourselves, especially in these times of darkness
  • Doors do close, do not wait until tomorrow
  • Keep your lamps trimmed and burning / keep your lamps trimmed and burning / keep your lamps trimmed and burning / For the Time is drawing nigh. — African American Spiritual

 

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When Things Fall Apart: Uncertainty

Matthew 14:22-33, NRSV

Reflections

We might see the moral of the story as “you should have so much faith that you can walk on water toward Jesus” but the truth of this story is that Jesus walks toward us. The truth of the story is that my abundance of faith or lack of faith does not deter God from drawing close. That even if you are scared to death you can say Lord Save Me and the hand of God will find you in even the darkest waters. Because this is a story not of morals but of movement. Not of heroes of the faith making their way to Christ but of Christ drawing near to you in the midst of fear.

— Nadia Bolz-Weber

  • Behavior has meaning, not just “right or wrong”
  • Is Peter testing his own faith by trying to walk on water, or is he questioning the appearance of Jesus on water in the storm?
    • Once Peter is safe in the boat, Jesus asks him the question he can’t answer: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  I wonder if Jesus asks this question, not because Peter gives way to panic and nearly drowns, but because his doubt compels him to make a foolish request in the first place.  I wonder if Jesus’s question means something like this: “Peter, as soon as you saw me, I told you exactly who I was.  You heard my voice.  I spoke words of assurance and comfort to you.  Why didn’t you believe me?” — Out on Water (Journey with Jesus) – Debi Thomas
  • Perhaps Peter would be wise to discuss with others Christ followers in the boat first, rather than going alone

 

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evil’s lie

  • You can prove anything you want from a single verse or passage in the Bible. It is a dangerous document, as history has shown
  • Once you start feeling sorry for yourself, you will soon Find someone else to blame, accuse or attack–and with impunity! It settles the dust quickly, and it takes away any immediate shame, guilt or anxiety. In other words, it works–at least for a while. So for untransformed people, there is no reason to stop creating victims or playing the victim.
  • It’s hard for us religious people to hear, but the most persistent violence in human history has been sacred violence, or more accurately, “sacralized violence.”
  • If I would try to describe the evil people and evil events that I’ve encountered, they’re invariably characterized by a sense of certainty and clarity
  • Remember, the very word satan means “the accuser.” Be careful when you see yourself accusing or as Jesus says “throwing stones” (John 8:8)
  • you are never absolutely sure you’re right when you’re living in faith? That’s exactly why it’s called “faith”!
  • Goodness, however, is accompanied by peace and patience, and even “consolation” as Saint Ignatius taught his Jesuits
  • the nature of criticism
  • The unconverted ego wants one thing and one thing only: control–and it wants it now. It never wants to change, in fact, it hates change.
  • you end up with toxic religion. You have a group that cannot tolerate evaluation or criticism and always thinks criticism is coming from enemies
  • ironic thing is that many of the supposedly outside critics of Christianity apparently believe the very values and criteria that the Judeo-Christian tradition taught them! Things like justice, love, truth and fairness are preached back to us by our supposed critics
  • the mystery hidden since the foundation of the world
  • This accusing and blaming pattern begins to be revealed in the very first chapters of the Bible
  • After any real religious encounter, people are normally dangerous for a few weeks or months, because religious experience necessarily makes you think you’re the center of the world
  • So why do people do such unloving and even hateful things, and worse, why does the Bible appear to teach it, and why does God appear to condone it?
  • The text reveals both the problem and the solution
  • the scapegoat ritual
  • Jesus does not define holiness as separation from evil as much as absorption and transformation of it, wherein I pay the price instead of always asking others to pay the price
  • After all, our task is to separate from evil, isn’t it? That is the lie! Any exclusionary process of thinking, any exclusively dualistic thinking, will always create violent people on some level
  • Jesus and Stephen state the truth, then forgive, let go and are released into a transformed state, that we call “risen”
  • hebrew preparation for the lamb’s war
  • the story of Jonah is the much needed journey from ministry as mere careerism to ministry as actual vocation, from doing my work for God, to letting God do God’s work in and through me
  • paul, the first catholic
  • Paul was set up to recognize the dark side of religion, the scapegoating mechanism, the self-serving laws of small religion. He went global and that changed everything
  • jesus, forgiver
  • The only thing more dangerous than the individual ego is the group ego
  • This is Jesus’ simple message: Holiness is no longer to be found through separation from or exclusion of, but in fact, the radical inclusion (read “forgiveness”) of the supposedly contaminating element
  • “All humans are blind,” Alison says, “but where the blindness is compounded by active participation in the mechanisms of exclusion pretending to sight, this blindness is culpable”
  • “the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better”
  • The powers that be know that nonviolent prophets are a much deeper problem, but you cannot gather public hatred toward them

the razor’s edge: knowing and not knowing

  • When religion is not doing its job well, almost every other aspect of society also will be sick. When your God image is true, your self-image also will be true. If your operative God image is toxic, you probably will be toxic too, and it is that toxicity that Jesus is warning about.
  • Those who know God are always humble; those who don’t are invariably quite sure of themselves
  • dualistically clean language, reward and punishment, becomes a substitute and smokescreen for the real goal of religion, which is always divine union
  • because it is so hard to talk about union, about God or about eternity with any clear credibility or any eyewitness accounts.
  • Now the second-best things, according to Zimmer, which “are almost always misunderstood,” are those things that merely point to the first-best things. Those are things like philosophy, theology, psychology, art and poetry, all of which – like sacred Scripture – are so easily misunderstood
  • In fact, what we have largely done is talk about “the third-best things” where we can feel that sense of certitude, order and control–things like finances, clothing, edifices, roles, offices and who has the authority
  • the two streams
  • the knowing tradition and the not-knowing tradition
  • Perhaps the most universal way to name the two traditions is with the words darkness and light
  • the lunar light was much more subtle, filtered and indirect, and sometimes, in that sense, more clarifying and less threatening. The solar light can sometimes be too bright, and so clear that it actually obscures, or blinds you
  • Jesus is much more of a “lunar” teacher, patient with darkness and growth. He clearly says himself, “The seed is sprouting and growing, but we do not know how”. (Mark 4:27). Jesus seems to be willing to live with such not-knowing, surely representing the cosmic patience and sure control of God
  • desert & mountaintop
  • The best-selling Left Behind series would be an example of such an appeal to fear in general, fear of death, God as vengeance and religion as superiority and exclusivity. There’s not much love in sight. It’s an overwhelming judgment on the immaturity of Western Christianity that it is drawn to such books, which ask almost nothing of the read except ideas.)
  • We have knowing and not-knowing beautifully integrated in two companion pieces in the Scriptures: Moses on Mount Sinai and Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration
  • today’s confusion
  • The fundamentalist mind is a mind that likes answers and explanations so much, that it remains willfully ignorant about how history arrived at those explanations, or how self-serving they usually are
  • we do not settle today’s confusion by pretending to have absolute and certain answers, when the Bible never promised us many anyway
  • We settle human confusion not by falsely pretending to settle all the dust, but by teaching people an honest and humble process for learning and listening for themselves
  • The Judeo-Christian tradition was not supposed to be a top-down affair, but an organic meeting between an Inner Knower, accessed by prayer, and the Outer Knower, which we could call Scripture and Tradition
  • prayer as the process
  • The two paths of knowing and not-knowing are primarily taught through prayer itself
  • “do not talk about it”
  • Until you’ve gone through the mystery of transformation from the false self to the True Self, don’t talk about these things, because you will almost always misuse and misinterpret the experience
  • Our very reading of the Bible is our interpreting it through our culture, through our temperament, through our personality, through living at this time in history, or wherever. That is always an interpretation
  • prayer and suffering are the two primary paths of transformation. Only then do we begin to read Scripture with what Deuteronomy (10:16) and Jeremiah (4:4) call “a circumcised heart” and hear it with “circumcised ears”(6:10)
  • an idolatry of words
  • you end up in the fundamentalist dead-end that we are in today — inisting on conclusions that are note there and that are often contradicted in other texts (which are then ignored), condemning things Jesus never once talked about (homosexuality and birth control), and legitimating things that Jesus strongly criticized (wealth and violence)
  • we only hear what we already agree with or what we have decided to look for
  • There are certain truths that can be known only if we are sufficiently emptied, sufficiently ready, sufficiently confused or sufficiently destabilized. That’s the genius of the Bible! It doesn’t let you resolve all these questions in theology classrooms
  • we cannot just fall in love with abstractions but only with concrete people and concrete moments and a personal God
  • the roundabout way of “wilderness”
  • There is no path to peace, but peace is itself the path
  • Only people who have first lived and loved, suffered and failed, and lived and loved again, are in a position to read the Scriptures in a humble, needy, inclusive and finally fruitful way. If you put the Scriptures in the hands of a person uninitiated by life, they will always make it into a head trip. It becomes a set of prescriptions instead of an actual description of what is real and what is unreal
  • the best was at the beginning
  • the real meaning of speaking the name of God “in vain” is to speak God’s name casually or trivially, with emptiness, with incomprehension, and therefore with a false presumption of understanding–as if we knew what we were talking about!
  • they are very likely a brilliant attempt to replicate human breathing: YH on the captured in breath, and WH on the offered out-breath!
  • Let your breathing in and out, for the rest of your life, be your prayer to–and from–such a living and utterly shared God

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