Friday, September 29, 2006

Running Out of Time

In our last worship class, we talked about the connection between the offering and Holy Communion. As we bring the gifts to the front of the sanctuary, we are offering so much more than merely money. Our gifts extend to include, as we profess audibly just seconds later, “our selves, our time, and our possessions: signs of your gracious love.” These things are not ours in the first place – they are not objects that we must fiercely protect lest we lose them. They are “what God has first given us”, and thus are freely given back to God. Not because we “should”, but because we are able and willing to do so.

What a concept. We give our possessions – including the ever-elusive notion of time – back to God. As the offering plate goes around on Sunday, I’ve often felt a sting of guilt for not putting in money – guilt that is no doubt a remnant of the fear-soaked religion in which I was raised. Yet to think of my offering as the time I have taken to be there, in that service, communing with God, is something else entirely. My time is something that has become a precious resource lately, and to give up any of it feels like a monumental sacrifice some days.

Because, make no mistake, some change is not what we profess to offer up to God during worship. We freely admit that our time, our possessions, and our entire beings only exist because of God. Everything that we are, everything that we have, is merely a small window into the beauty that is the One whom we love.

And how good it feels to give that back! What relief!


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Divine Silence

 A renowned professor called it “the most powerful silence in literary history.” Abraham had just responded to his son Isaac’s question as to what exactly they would be sacrificing once they made it up the mountain. The answer:

“The Lord will provide.”

Nothing more is said until Abraham’s son, his “only son, the one whom [he] loved”, is tied and bound on the altar.

As in a lot of the narratives in the Hebrew Scriptures, there is so much in between the lines – so much we are not told. It is, as my Old Testament professor said, “a story that DEMANDS interpretation.” We cannot be satisfied with the gaps. What did Abraham and Isaac talk about during the three-day trip? The small exchange above can’t be the only topic of discussion that came up. What did Abraham tell Sarah they were doing as they left? Perhaps more importantly, what did he tell her when they got back? What did Isaac say to his father after the angel intervened to save his life? What did Isaac say when his father began tying him up? When Abraham pulled the knife?

We are not given any of these answers. We do know that Isaac and Abraham do not speak again after this incident, and the next chapter sees Sarah die.

What kind of God do we have in this story? “Mysterious” would be putting it nicely. “Sadistic” sounds a bit more accurate at times. Sure, God stops Abraham, but Abraham was willing to kill (the Hebrew word is closer to “slaughter”) his own flesh and blood. What is celebrated here? Abraham’s “obedience”? If anything, I would celebrate the fact that Isaac has any faith whatsoever after being untied. What a phenomenally disturbing scene.

This story brings up so many questions, as do many things today: Why do some people starve, while others throw away food daily? Why is the Holy Land the place where violence makes its home on a regular basis? Where is God in the sickness of domestic violence, rape, and homelessness that infects the world’s richest country?

I don’t know why, as I’m sure Isaac didn’t know why his father’s God would act in the way that God did.

Maybe we’ll never know. Maybe God messed up, and Isaac showed God the way, by continuing to hold on to faith, even when things made no sense, when things seemed God-forsaken.

Maybe we need to forgive God sometimes.

I don’t know.  Maybe Phyllis Trible said it best:

"To tell and hear tales of terror is to wrestle demons in the night, without a compassionate God to save us. In combat we wonder about the names of the demons. Our own names, however, we all too frightfully recognize. The fight itself is solitary and intense. We struggle mightily, only to be wounded. But yet we hold on, seeking a blessing: the healing of wounds and the restoration of health. If the blessing comes – and we dare not claim assurance – it does not come on our terms. Indeed, as we leave the land of terror, we limp.”

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Little Realizations

What in the world am I doing again? Oh, that’s right. I’m attending seminary.

During worship on Thursday (what a great combination of words), we sang a hymn from the LBW celebrating the lives of great women in the faith. I was a bit surprised, pleasantly so, until my eyes were directed to the upper-right hand corner of the page, where the hymn is put into its specific category in the hymnal (i.e. “Holy Communion” or “Easter”). This particular song was under the heading of “Lesser Hymns”. I laughed, finding humor and sadness on many levels.

During our Worship class, we digressed into a full-blown, down-and-dirty discussion on the nature and merit of praying to God, particularly as it pertains to God’s answering (or lack thereof) of our petitions. Voices were raised, emotions were stirred, and a few tears were shed. Our professor politely reminded us that the conversation was better suited for a Pastoral Care class, but the bigger point did not escape me – what a beautiful privilege to be able to discuss and debate such faith-based notions in an academic setting. I know - I’m kind of a dork.

I love that I’m being challenged to respond responsibly and theologically to the things I have encountered so far in this unique city. I’m so happy with my decision to attend, here and now. I am blessed.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

I'm Back

And I finally have internet again, in the comfort of my Chicago apartment.  Yay.

You may celebrate for an appropriate amount of time, and then return to your lives.

I will write something of substance soon.  

(I guarantee the "soon" promise; the "substance" part is a bit more tricky.)