The Breaking of Bread

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I’m not Catholic.  And yet in church when all heads are bowed I make the sign of the cross on my chest because somehow it feels holy and special like I am a part of a secret club.  My Catholic friend Dawna invited me to attend her church once, and I gleefully knelt up and down and was practically giddy as I listened to the archaic priest-who-never-married repeat things in Latin. I proudly stand like a soldier when we repeat en masse the Doxology and the Lord’s prayer and I once sang in a baroque acapella group. So if you think this girl lives in a modern world you are SADLY MISTAKEN.  My soul is trapped somewhere in the 1800s and really only get out to drink lattes and watch Netflix and buy fun little apps on my iphone.  I love tradition, and things that are deeply rooted, and for this reason change is my adversary and I struggle breaking things apart that are long-lasting.

So when I see churches with names involving rocks and stones and new life and cafes in which people-drink-coffee-with-Jesus I get confused. Not because these are bad things.  There is no bad as far as I’m concerned when it comes to worship and love and being in community with people who are trying to row the same direction.  But I wonder how these churches will be able to build the type of roots that stretch deep through generations.  How one who is impoverished and hungry and living in a broken-down shack in Ireland where everyone shares the pisshole and living on the dole get excited about coffee with Jesus like they do about First Communion. Because there’s something holy and sacred about traditions, and relics, and stories that have been handed down from King James and wafers on tongues and the body of Jesus, broken.

Last Sunday, I thought about bolting after the last hymn.  After all, I had laundry to fold and errands to run and friends to text. The whole concept of communion is slow and old and antiquated.  It’s times like these I wish I were drinking coffee with Jesus and singing praise songs on a Jumbotron. I sat there and wondered what this must look like to the outside world.  Just a bunch of silly chaps eating bites of bread and taking grape juice shots in little plastic cups before noon.  But I waited, because it’s rude to leave and I had nowhere really important to be.  I waited while the choir sang and the little trays were passed around.  I wondered if I had a missed text or if I’d eat leftovers for dinner, and I looked at the ushers going from row to row to row like they did every first Sunday of the month.

And then the tray was passed.  The body of Jesus.  I smiled and took it, which I knew was just a loaf of Hawaiian Original Sweet Round Bread from Kroger and wasn’t the literal body of Christ, but as I tore off a hunk and put it in my mouth something happened.  It just cemented itself like a glob of peanut butter and I couldn’t choke it down.  Try as I might it wouldn’t move, and tears welled up in my eyeballs as I sat there in my new hat wondering if I had any missed texts and whether I should have bolted after the last hymn.

I could feel thousands of years crash into one. Tradition came up deep like drawing water from a well, and I remembered the times as a child I waddled up to the communion rail and sat next to my father in a suit and the nights I cried and sobbed over the fact that the son of God had to suffer on our behalf and how deeply metaphorical and beautiful and special this last supper was so many years ago.  And then the cup was before me and I drank the sweet juice and I felt small and humbled and so full of gratitude my hat couldn’t hold it all in so I held it down as I walked to my car and felt inextricably full.

I swallowed. Greedily my body devoured it.  Hungrily my heart absorbed it.  I accepted that love without feeling paralyzed by guilt or haunted by pain because it was freely given, and despite just being a loaf of Hawaiian Original Sweet Round Bread from Kroger it was the body of Christ after all, broken and torn and laid out for the redemption of sins.

 

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photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/5602245847/sizes/m/in/photolist-9x3YvD-9x3Ys8-9x6Yh7-9x3YtH-9x3YuH-9x6Ygw-9x6YfW-9x3Yu6-9x6YgL-9x6Yi1-9x3Ywn-9x6YgU-9x6Ygh-9x3YrH-9x3YvT-9x3Yun-9x3YrZ-9x3Ytz-9x3Yrx-9x6Ygs-9x3YtM-9x3Ywa-aWPv6e-dNiTEN-xfVBS-aa31Jj-7hob2i-asScmW-asSbDY-9qErJQ-azh1qr-3bN9e9-9rYS9M-9s2QiN-9rYRQP-6C3WyY-eUPpA9-FUyaf-9DTPeX-9qXbWg-4RbXLV-A5bAr-8sUosT-9x6YgA-9x3Yuz-9S1QCW-3rEUnT-QSCo4-dGyARJ-7BMWmN-7LZZav/

Blogging the Bible: David & Goliath

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Caravaggio, my favorite painter of all time, painting David and Goliath

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I think everyone knows this story – there’s this big mean giant that keeps taunting everyone, and the Israelites are afraid of him, but young handsome David rolls his eyes like “seriously ya’ll – he’s only like six feet tall, so quit shivering in your sandals like total weasels and buck up already.” He casually walks over to the front of the line, picks up some shiny stones, pulls out his little deerskin slingshot, and hits the giant with a pebble square between the eyes. The giant falls down, David chops his head off like “that’s how I roll, folks,” and there’s probably a Jaz-Z song playing in the background.  David walks in slow-motion up to the commander, and at the end of the day he’s writing folk songs on the hillside and later becomes king.

Or at least that’s how I remember it.  And honestly, that’s not super practical for my day-to-day life.  But now that I read it with new eyes, more emerges.

So the story begins with the Philistines on one hill and the Israelites on the other with a valley between them, gathering for war.  I suppose in those days, war was a more civil affair, with no fear of chemical weapons or hidden warfare or land mines that blow shrapnel into your armpits and eye sockets, and they all just charged at each other like buffalo.  And Goliath stood out in line and taunted the men of Israel for forty days, which seems a little excessive if you ask me, like “yes yes, we know you’re a bad-ass.  Please stop it already with all that narcissistic bravado.”

But one day when David, a mere shepherd, was bringing food to his brothers, he overheard a discussion about Goliath and asked who this fellow was that kept causing all the fuss.  He was told by the men that whoever killed this man would have all sorts of cool things like money and the king’s daughter and an exemption from taxes.  Don’t get me started how kings are always passing their daughters off like trophies.

So David was pumped, because who wouldn’t want money and a fair maiden and no taxes?  Now I see how he’s able to play the guitar in the meadow.  So David went to the king and indicated that if he can fight off bears and lions while tending sheep, this arrogant prick was not going to be a problem.  He shrugs off armor – what good is that anyway? – and goes straight up to Goliath and his shield bearer.  I really want to explore more about this poor little shield bearer – did he have to lug that heavy thing out there every single day for forty days? If the fighting got super icky did he just hide underneath it like a turtle? Doesn’t that seem a little wimpy for Goliath to need a caddy?  These things are not explained.  Figures.

But here’s where I really spent some mental energy – David said some pretty strong words to this Philistine.  He stated: “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

After reading that, things shifted.  I didn’t just see David as some punk teenager killing a giant with a slingshot.  He might have had the body of a child, but he had a brave heart that belonged solely to God, with a confidence that the killing of this man was a mere afterthought.  It was as if he was setting one foot atop the water and knew that it would hold his weight.  David was making a statement that the things of this world – swords and spears and harsh words and burdens and death and cancer and all other worldly things – are nothing compared to the strength our Lord Almighty provides.

God’s name would not be defiled, and the battle, my friends, had already been won.

Jesus commanded that “if you have faith and do not doubt. . . if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done.  Matthew 21:22. But rarely is such belief displayed. David believed so assuredly that with the power of God he could defeat this man that the entire Israelite army feared, and only with a stone. There was no quiver of fear from the depths of his heart, and no arrogance in his claims.  This was not about David himself, or winning money, or being tax free.  Only arrows of truth were proclaimed, and it was to be.  God had won this fight.  David was only His servant pushing that message through the air with string.

I’m bowing down today at this assurance.  That I will not be shaken.  That when the taunting begins, and a giant is yet again in front of me, I will fear no evil.  For God is with me, His rod and His staff –  they comfort me.  And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  David wrote that, in Psalm 23, because he had a personal relationship with the Father. He knew that there was nothing bigger, and no giant greater, and all those gathered will know that it’s not by sword or spear that the Lord saves, but by grace, and mercy, and love deeper than any man.

Sometimes the battles we face are not on a hillside, but in the relentless grinding of the day.  The taunting of one who hates us.  The anger at one who is shamed.  We sigh deep at the reality of cells eating at our breast tissue, or weep at the coffin of a small child that was ripped from our arms.  We keep wiping away tears in the carpool line because ENOUGH, Lord.  It’s too much, and too heavy to bear, and we don’t have any reserves left to fight.  And sometimes, we just want to lay down our weapons and curl up in a corner, unable to keep rising, and keep smiling, and keep moving.  There is only so much we can take, and we are bending under the weight of it.

So we lay in a ditch with a dusty throat, shivering in fear, unable to croak out even a prayer, and see a child walk by.  Just a boy who watches sheep.  And he says with all assurances that we are more than this.  That God’s name will be praised in all things.  That the Lord will deliver those who are faithful.  And we are paralyzed as we watch him defeat a giant, and use his own sword to sever his head, and we are in awe of such courage.  It’s then that we swallow hard, walk over to David, and fall at his feet as king.

Thank you, child, for reminding me that I am protected.  That when I wander, even though I am one of ninety-nine billion, God will not leave me to my own devices.  He will search, and ache, and reach to the depths of the earth to find me.  Who is the greatest in heaven?  Jesus placed a child among them, and preached about the lost, and the found, and the faces of the obedient, and the lowly.  And in the dust and the bloody chest of a fallen giant, I see the greatest among me is not me, but He.  I see that this child has believed, and accepted that the battle has been won, and I surrender.

Thank you, oh God, for this victory. 

 

photo:

(three w’s)then: flickr.com/photos/ergsap/9633080076/sizes/m/in/photolist-fFf46w-fEXtHt-fEXtHZ-7K5Ub9-532XUQ-69N7De-8SikSL-bpdJED-8teVbd-6qidN1-6Qk1K8-6Qk1UX-Mh25N-6Qk24n-6Qp7Q5-5i6BER-BwEYH-fgLmmb-6mnXxg-8piu6J-8tPR7F-g1Xxj-b663Rr-4DVv3y-6Qk1En-kSF8j-9unWjj-N3juc-5yvQ6U-6Qk2nv-sxX1G-5HtV7G-a9NCgb-6Qp6Qo-dX9jfB-6Qp8bG-5JHbBC-7YKJS4-azcujL-bFAMgZ-5PvKMp-8xoWUe-dDqZW-6Qk1kn-4MiyPD-2BBeQE-62dUqo-5nWy8Z-hr5UZ-bFqZoB-51LZBc/

Blogging the Bible: Daniel and the Lion’s Den

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Okay, folks.  Let’s set the stage.  King Nebuchadnezzar was King of Babylon in 605 A.D., and was a powerful ruler.  Whenever he raided a country, he took the most talented and useful people back with him to Babylon. He ripped off the young, flawless, handsome, winsome, and well-informed. Then he gave them food and training and groomed them to enter the King’s service.

 

Now I don’t know about you, but if I saw my nation overtaken, was taken captive and held in a strange land, and had to watch the king’s court suck down wine in sacred goblets, my heart would burn with anger.  I’d be like “no thanks for the astronomy lesson, my dear chaps” and develop an elaborate plan to escape, or try and overtake this evil reign of power, or maybe even drink too much wine and do something stupid and end up scrubbing toilets.

 

And yet when Daniel was offered royal food and drink that went against his own religious culture, he asked for permission to not partake.  He didn’t hold his hands up in dramatic protest or throw himself on the ground in some religious frenzy. He simply asked if he could refrain.  When the guard scratched his head about it, Daniel said to just observe him for ten days and see if he looked just as strong and healthy eating salads from Whole Foods.  So the guard just shrugged it off, and Daniel and his companions were given knowledge and understanding and studied literature whilst eating healthy vegetarian meals from the royal kitchen.  Daniel sounds remarkably calm and serene to me, like a true celebrity of the Bible with apparently good working kidneys.

 

So then there were the King’s dreams, which no one could interpret, and the King was so pissed off that he’d been training all these young handsome people, all the while giving them good food, providing them interesting scrolls to read, teaching them to recognize constellations, and speak in persuasive sentences, and when he has one freaking dream, no one can help.  All he hears is scratching and burping in the distance.  What’s the use of all these people, anyway?

 

Kill them all, he shouts.

 

I envision him retiring to his chambers with handmaidens and fans.  So a decree was sent out for all the wise men to die, and people naturally looked for Daniel to help, and Daniel went to talk with the commander of the guard “with wisdom and tact.”  He sought out his three best friends and started an all-night prayer vigil, basically saying “we best figure this out, dudes, or our heads will literally roll.”  So Daniel praised God for a while and then asked if He could just please show them the dream of the king so we can all live to eat our spinach lasagna tomorrow?

 

And God did. And Daniel ran to the temple all sweaty and out of breath asked the King to give him a chance to interpret it, and he was spot on, and the king placed him in a high position and was impressed with this God that Daniel so often prayed to. And again if it were me, I’d be like “thanks a ton God – I owe you” and then just sit back and get fat in my purple robe and cheese nachos, backsliding in my newfound Kingdom love, but Daniel was always consistent in his praise to God and humility in all things, and his powerful witness changed the heart of the King himself.

 

So fast forward a few kings, more vision interpretations, a few more grey hairs, and we get to King Darius the Mede.  Jealousy abounded in his kingdom due to Daniel’s position of power and he was envied, so the administrators set a trap for the King to kill any man who worshipped someone other than the King. And of course Daniel was a man of God, as we well know by now, and prayed three times a day on his arthritic knees, and was brought to this new King for violating the law.  King Darius actually liked Daniel and tried to find a loophole to save him but was unsuccessful, so he begrudgingly threw him in a den of hungry lions.  Why the King didn’t just hang him and thought having ferocious animals gnaw him to death like Sunday chicken is beyond me, but it makes for a great story so let’s just go with it.

 

I like what the King says next – he says “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you.”  I got a sense that this King knew somewhere deep inside that the God of Daniel was true and powerful, and the next day the King ran to the den (that was sealed with a huge stone, because the Bible is so into foreshadowing) and called out in an anguished tone, as if there was hope Daniel might still be alive.  And he was, probably wishing he could brush his dentures and have a pillow because this nasty smelly floor gives an old man a backache. Daniel told the King that God sent an angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions, and they did not hurt him because he was innocent and had done no wrong.

 

Let’s pause here.  Why did God sent an angel to shut the lion’s mouths?  If God is all powerful, which he is, and has dominion over all the earth, which he does, it seems to me he could have simply ordered the lions in whatever language lions speak to stay away from Daniel, and they would have purred like kitties and rolled their bodies down at Daniel’s feet for a belly scratch.  I think there is a lesson in even this.  I find God to be infinitely more creative than we can imagine and uses all forms and methods to fulfill His ultimate purpose.  And what we ask for in prayer doesn’t always end up in the way we expect. I sat wondering if the lions were filled with hunger, and had angry faces, and wanted to devour Daniel but couldn’t because of their closed mouths, and this forced Daniel to continue and rely on God for his strength throughout the night.  It reminds me of the verse in Matthew when the disciples were filled with fear during a raging storm at sea.  I mean, they were there with Jesus, for goodness sakes, and they were still scared.  “Save us, Lord; we are perishing,” they pled.  And Jesus responded with, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”

 

But Daniel, oh Daniel. You and Job were kindred spirits and loved God through the hard nights.

 

So Daniel was steadfast, and sure, and took the sins of Jerusalem upon himself and begged for forgiveness, even though later when faced with an angel he admitted that his strength was gone and he could hardly breathe.  And even after he saw the hand of God shut the mouths of the lions, Daniel was visited by the angel Gabriel himself, who said “as soon as you began to pray, an answer was given. . . for you are highly esteemed.”

 

The thing that strikes me most about the book of Daniel is the notion of steadfast allegiance.  A determination to serve God at all costs, without a single doubt. I honestly don’t know if I would have the power to serve so blindly – so unequivocally – so assuredly, especially at such a young age away from the comfort and security of my family.  I’d be sobbing and looking around for help and rocking back and forth.  But maybe Daniel did some of that too?  Maybe his young bravado spirit was also interlaced with shreds of doubt and fear? Maybe even decades later, Daniel sat there all night watching the fierce hungry eyes, shaking in his own sandals.  Even if the beasts couldn’t rip his loins apart with their teeth, they might scratch out his eyes with their claws, no?  And when he said the next morning, “they have not hurt me,” it might have followed a very long night of constant prayer just in case.

 

Let Daniel’s story be a reminder to us that if he could make it through dictators and death threats and drooling fierce lions, we can make it through cancer and death and divorce and all kinds of other modern-day peril.  It’s okay to be scared, and the lions don’t magically disappear, but their jaws are clenched shut and we shall make it until dawn.  The God of Daniel is the God of us, and He hears our very first plea-fueled prayer on the subject of what’s desperately plaguing our hearts.  In the end, God reveals to Daniel that the wicked will always be wicked, and yet the wise will understand.  And he was told to close up and seal the words of the scroll.

 

The time is coming near, my dear friends, that God will separate the weed from the wheat, and this story needs to be saved and sealed and retold to give us all hope.  We need to be reminded that being steadfast and sure is the only way through a night of hungry eyes.  God’s path will prevail, and His love will lead us through the dark night, and in the end all we can hope for is to rest, and rise, and be steadfast in the morning.  For the Lord gives what we do not deserve, and loves when we have no reason to be lovable, and sends angels to protect us when we need protecting.

 

The story of Daniel is one of great hope and safety, even when we are standing, screaming, sobbing in a den thick as thieves, with claws and hungry eyes.  But alas – an angel is with us, shutting mouths.

 

photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ru_boff/8418090146/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Blogging the Bible: Jonah and the Whale

Humpback Whale, Megaptera novaeangliae 29 July 2010

I’ve always seen the story of Jonah and the whale as a strange and rather far-fetched consequence of running from God’s calling.  But now I see it as a beautiful lesson in forgiveness, and God’s equal bounty of love, and of what incredible lengths God will go to in order to teach his children about mercy.

Here’s the basic premise:  Jonah’s a prophet, and a good dude, but one day God asks him to travel to Nineveh to tell the wicked people to repent.  Jonah’s like “Those people?  Those rotten, stinking Gentiles that spit on our religion and hate our ways and hurt their own women and children?  No thanks.”  So he runs off to a sailboat and thinks he can hide, but the seas grow crazy wild.  Finally Jonah realizes God doesn’t do hiding places, so he tells the crew to throw him over.  They all get scared to death but end up thinking God is one big-bad motha, and Jonah ends up water-bound.  But instead of drowning, Jonah is swallowed up by a big fish-like thing, and ends up miraculously alive in a bubble of whale intestines where he can apparently breathe.  I’m not sure about the logistics of all this, but if Jesus can walk on water I’m sure people can survive in stomach-acid if God commands it.  So for three days Jonah just floats around in there, praising God for his salvation and for God’s imminent glory, I’m sure all the while stinking like cooked cabbage.

Three days later the fish spits him out on dry land, and Jonah’s response is, “Fine, Lord.  I’ll go.”  So he travels to Nineveh for a bath and a proclamation that their nation will be ruined if they don’t repent.  He’s not really serious about the repentance part.  It’s more of a “You slimeballs will someday rot in hell and I can’t wait to tell my girlfriend back home that I got to say this to you people” type of thing.  But miraculously, the people believe him.  Probably because if they do, he’ll leave, and ain’t nobody want to hang around a dude that smells like chewed up fish intestines. So they all bow down and fast and declare allegiance to God, giving up their evil ways and asking God to look upon them with compassion. And when God hears their heartfelt prayers, he did not ruin their nation and bring about destruction and ends up sparing the people.

Now at this point Jonah’s looking around at all the happy slimeballs like Wait a second. I just told these people off and now I have to eat those words?  They are terrible and evil and you’re just going to wipe them all clean like it was nothing? I like it that God asks him whether he has the right to be angry about this and Jonah’s like “heck yes I do.”  Then he goes off somewhere in the city square, sits down, and sulks.

So as Jonah’s sitting there throwing a tantrum, the Lord creates a vine around him to shield him from the sun, which makes Jonah happy, but then a worm comes along and eats it, and Jonah’s generally pissy about the whole thing.  Then God basically says “you’re concerned about this vine, which sprang up quickly and died quickly, but you don’t care about the entire nation of Nineveh?”  Then Jonah doesn’t get a chance to answer because the book ends.

See? So much more than a whale.

I see myself more in Jonah than most characters in the Bible.  I am stubborn, and I don’t always want to follow God’s commands.  Like Jonah, I see myself as special – not sinful and hateful and terrible like those people over there. And if God called me to minister to those people over there, I’d be busy doing my hair and making pot roast and going on vacation and singing in church. What’s it going to take for me to listen to God’s plan for my life?  How far will God go to reach me? When will those people over there be rated as equal to me? I turn to those people over there and my heart is filled with hate.  I would never do what they do.  I would never turn from God so far.

I am not them.

And so life throws me overboard.  And I fall so very far, and so deep. But from the depths of the grave.  From the heart of the sea.  From the hurling arm of God into the deep waters, “where the currents swirled about me, all your waves and breakers swept over me. . . The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me, seaweed was wrapped around my head.  To the roots of the mountains I sank down, the earth beneath barred me in, but you brought my life up from the pit.” Jonah 2.

And I’m alive.  Somehow in this swirling mass of death I’m caught in a strange pocket of life.  Long enough to breathe.  Long enough to raise my arms in praise.  Long enough to sense a form of leveling, and realize that I am not special.  Those people over there are just as desperate for God as I am, and they are just as worthy of salvation.

Oh, Jonah.  Israel is not the only nation worth loving.  And we, as the body of Christ, are not the only people worth the resurrection.  Everyone, even those deeply rooted in sin and taken over by evil –those who are lost and broken and tired – they are worth reaching.  They are worth redeeming.  Husbands who cheat on their wives.  Executives who skim the margins.  Men who rape and women who hurt and those groups that snarl hate and venom in the name of God.  Republicans and Abortion Clinics and Liberal Media and George Bush and the whole net of us humankind – God’s healing mercy is for us all.

Sometimes it takes sinking in a deep black hole, when life seems to be ebbing way, to set our sights in the right direction. God has to literally build a vine and dry it up, cause the seas to rise and fall – forcing us to put our pride aside and realize that all people get a hall pass at grace.

But Lord, they don’t deserve it, I scream. I sit in disbelief that my life has been filled with worship and their life was filled with decay and at the end we all end up in the same place.  And instead of being gracious about it I turn up my nose and scowl.  I doubt God’s compassion is equal.  I am angry that they are welcomed into the kingdom.  I feel I’ve somehow earned it. And when God asks if I have that right, I’m honest.  “Yes, Lord.  I’m angry enough to die.”

But brothers, we are all in this together.  Those people over there and us.  We’re all trapped together in one stinking whale-belly of a life, and salvation abounds.

photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebaird/4842884478/sizes/m/in/photostream/