Still Hungry

The apple
The manna
The barbecue offerings
The unleavened bread
The wine jugs in Cana
The food for the thousands
The last supper
The post-resurrection fishes.

God, I think you’re all about food,
About eating together here,
About hospitality now,
In the delectable real world.

But, no.
The Learned Preacher says you mean
Spiritual Food
Feeding the Soul
Bread of Heaven—
It’s all metaphorical.

Maybe he’s right.

But I’m still hungry.

Stained Glass

The prompt was: Where do you see stained glass?

Sainte-Chapelle shines in Paris.
Saint Peter’s awes in Rome.
High-class gallery, NYC,
Stained glass makes its home.

Transom in a tenement,
Pizza palace lampshade,
Jesus in a Baptist church,
Stained glass takes its space.

Came and colors come together,
Worked by hands on wooden tables.
Lead and glass, so lowly, common,
Humble, handled, hung aloft
Like the Christ the glass portrays—
Icon of the transformed way.

Reflection on a Dead Dog

This morning my friend Tanya posted on Facebook about a violent incident she witnessed in her neighborhood. A man was kicking his dogs with his children crying and screaming nearby. He kicked one into the street where it was run over by a car and “died instantly.” Afterwards he returned laughing to the house.

More disturbing to me were the follow-up comments by Tanya’s Facebook friends who said things like, “I would like to be the one to kick him into the street and laugh as he got run over,” “People who abuse dogs should be tortured,” and “Guys like that don’t deserve to live.”

The scenario has lingered in my mind all morning, and I feel called to reflect on it. I posted, “I am enjoined to love my enemies.” What does that mean? I certainly am not called to approve of the man’s actions. I am, however, challenged to have compassion. Father Tom said the other night that “compassion” was “invented” by early Christians. I don’t know if I buy that. However, compassion is the kind of love I think Jesus means, so I am going to explore my compassion for the principals in the story: the dead dog, the children, the other dogs, the driver of the car, the man, and the Facebook posters who want revenge.

The dead dog: If indeed the dog “died instantly,” then my compassion for it is small. In fact, the dog is better off out of a household where it gets constant abuse. Ironically, the posters seem to value the dog more than any of the others in the story and want to commit murder and torture to avenge it.

The children: One of the most shocking memories from my childhood was the day I heard my dad yell the word “Fuck” and slam the door of his Jeep, angry that he had forgotten to set the parking brake. I will never forget how ugly his face looked at that moment. He was transformed into a stranger, a monster. The children who had to see their father committing this ugly cruelty will probably never forget that day. The image of their daddy as their protector and model is forever shattered (if it hadn’t been shattered before). Whether or not they follow their father’s example and perpetuate the cycle of violence, they get my compassion.

The other dogs: I feel more for the other dogs than for the dead one. They seem doomed to a life of fear and pain. Perhaps some mature adult in the family will try to find better homes for them.

The driver of the car: I feel compassion for the innocent bystander drawn into this horror story just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I hope that he can avoid feeling guilt for the accident.

The man: Now here’s the hard one. Tanya says she can “feel sorry” for the man but not “love” him. I think she is saying “compassion” in different words. Anger can be the result of loss of control in our lives. The man had clearly lost control of his dogs when they ran away. But chances are the man has lost control in other areas: he has a low-paying job and a manager who treats him disrespectfully, his wife is distant since he has become so abusive, his kids are withdrawn or rebellious, and he has taken to drinking more than is good for him. The one place where he has always been boss is with the dogs, and today that all fell apart, too. When he ran amok, kicking the dogs, he lost control of himself. Addiction to power and control separates us from Love. We think we are God and we run the show. When the falsity of that stares us in the face, we get angry. The man couldn’t control the dogs; my dad couldn’t control the Jeep; they both got angry and ugly. I have compassion because I have done this myself many times, though not to a dog. When I feel loss of power, I get angry.

The Facebookers: For Tanya I feel much compassion because she witnessed the event. Though there may be some truth that we have become inured to violence on TV and in films, I am still shocked by violence in person. People are never more ugly and sub-human than when they are hitting each other or kicking animals. I hate seeing this side of us, and Tanya can be compassionated for her emotions and her desire to get away from there.

Some of Tanya’s friends are in the same boat with “the man.” They are angry that they can’t control the actions of others, so they are willing to act out their anger in violence. Perhaps violence was modeled for them in their childhood. It is modeled for them on television and other media. Don’t like someone’s actions—kick his ass! Also, Facebook tends to escalate emotional posts. Since you are not face-to-face with the person you are answering, you might feel free to use more inflammatory language than you would use in person. Your violent words may touch off a powder-keg of divisive replies that lead to people saying things they would never say in a different context. Also, people talk big. It’s easy to say you would torture someone or push them laughing in front of a car, but can you actually see yourself doing so?

Thank you, God, for laying this incident so heavily on my heart. I hope that my reflections are in line with your gospel. You made us in your image and you love us all, even the man who killed his dog. Only love, which you are, can heal this whole scenario, and I pray that your will be done. Amen.

Meditation on Psalm 118

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone”

I want to think about the builders. Humans are the builders. God is a maker—things “come into being” at his command, but I don’t think he is portrayed building. Jesus says he can “rebuild the Temple”, but he is a human, too.

Humans built the Temple. Humans built the Tower of Babel. What does building represent? We build for protection because we are fragile (houses, forts). We build for worship, trying to honor but also to contain our God (The Temple, the three buildings the disciples proposed for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah). And we build to aggrandize ourselves (Tower of Babel, pyramids). God doesn’t need to do any of these things, so he doesn’t need to build. Builders, then, are humans.

And Builders are in the Rejection Business. They pick and choose, rejecting offhand any material that doesn’t please them. A flaw in a stone?—Out. A prophet that lays it on the line?—Beheaded. A messiah that doesn’t fight Romans?—Crucified.

Our ability to judge puts us in the rejection business. This immediately sets us against God who is in the Mercy Business. We want to throw things out. God wants to redeem them from the scrap heap and put them to good use, foundational use.

Humans like competition because it lets us choose ONE (the winner) and throw out THE REST. The rest are marvelously made, but because of the accident of being in competition with the ONE, they go onto the scrap heap. This is the way humans think.

God does not think this way. When he sees ALL he has created, he declares it ALL VERY GOOD—none of it belongs on a scrap heap. That is why he keeps sending himself to us in love, telling us we are his, we are good, we are loved, and asking us to stop rejecting all the time. When we all hear this message, the Kingdom of God will be fully here.

Dear Lord, help me to stop rejecting and to see the rejection of ME for what it is—a human thing.

Brewer Boys Escape X-Factor, Integrity Intact

WARNING: This blog is written by a Christian and may refer to concepts you don’t espouse.

This morning I had one of those small epiphanies that the Heavenly Muse sometimes sends: The Brewer Boys, as well as Hayley Stayner, Caylie Miranda Gregorio, Kanan Road Band, and all the other contestants not remaining in the final twelve, are blessed to have escaped The X-Factor with their integrity intact.

I am not saying that Simon Cowell or any other judge or producer is the devil. They are God’s creatures, he loves them, and he dwells in them, as he does in all the contestants. In fact, the talents that all the performers showed are gifts from God.

However, and you can take this literally or metaphorically, the devil is running that show and all so-called “reality competitions” where people are tempted to trade their integrity for money, fame, or power.

Remember (or google) the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. For forty days the devil tempted the hungry, solitary Jesus with power, riches, and fame. Jesus resisted, refusing to behave contrary to his sense of right. Jesus set us an example of how we are to face the temptation of money and fame.

Did you notice that the Brewer Boys still looked like themselves on last night’s live show? They sang songs out of their genre, but they kept their style. Others of our friends also refused to sell their souls to the pop-glitz machine: Kanan Road had the guts to stay country and wear their cowboy hats in a competition that wants urban pop stars with sequins, go-go dancers, and fireworks.

So, I congratulate the Brewer Boys for staying true to their God-given gifts. Like every single one of us, their worth is inherent because God is in them and with them. No amount of human approval or disapproval will change that. This is the Good News.