Monday, April 10, 2017

Revolution: With Women in the Sequel




What do we really focus on in the empty tomb and resurrection story every year? Is it the fact that Jesus defied all odds and rose again? Is it the terror turned to amazement and joy that the disciples feel when they realize he is resurrected? Is it the fact that he appears first to the women and allows them to be the messenger of this amazing news?  It is a complex tale of disciples trying to wade through grief and mourning and determine next steps once their leader has been crucified.  And when they witness resurrection in the midst of the sorrow, it changes everything about how they feel empowered to move forward.

Let's focus on these RE phrases this Easter: 
REsurrection
REcognition
REvelation
REvolution

It's important to remember what the REsurrection of Jesus points to in the distance. It points to a time when the systems that have oppressed the message will no longer be able to do so. It points to a day when the peaceable kingdom is actually achieved.  That is what the true REvelation of Christ is. The knowledge that the story ends in peace. It is important to note that the Bible itself does not end in heaven. It ends here.  With the angel of God saying (in Revelation 21) "the home of God is among the mortals" and that "all things will be made new."  Here. In this place.  

And for God to be at home among us, God must be seen in all of us.  The women see the Risen Christ standing before them in the garden and run to tell the others that they, too, can see him if they but look. In her book Grounded, Diana Butler Bass speaks of the word cosmopolitanism. She writes,
 "Cosmopolitanism is an inner awareness that our individual lives and national identities are playing out on a vast global stage. This implies recognition and a shift of perspective--of seeing and experiencing the web in which we live. Recognition, in turn, gives birth to empathy and the profound realization that we really, truly are in this together."  
When we have that REcognition that God is in our neighbor, when we see ourselves in each other, we grow in communion together. No matter what backgrounds we come from.  And we should be very clear of how this message is first spread in this Resurrection story. Christ comes to those with no voice, no power, no authority FIRST.  The women first receive the news. And Christ insists that THEY are the ones to GO and tell others what they saw. That begins a whole new REvolution.

What Christ points to in the REsurrection REvelation to the women is that God will be revealed in the days to come through all people. In diverse ways. By unexpected means. Even in stark contrast to what anyone might have heard or believed before. That seems to be, after all, one of the key themes of the biblical narrative.  As Bass puts it,
 "God's diversity in who is called to share God's message. She writes,"Even the book of Revelation describes a vision of diversity, of people from every tongue, tribe, and nation who gather in the New Jerusalem. In the holy city, we maintain our uniqueness while God dwells in our midst. Unity is experienced in love and friendship, not doctrine or dogma. There is no coercion of faith. "

I'm pretty sure this is what Jesus was promising when he goes to his death on the cross.  God will not let love die. Instead, Love wins.  It always has. That is the real REvolution that takes place on that morning long ago when some women see a REsurrection that changes everything.

Anyone who has a spiritual awakening or encounter, a sense of awe or wonder, leaves that experience wanting to share more goodness in the world.  That encounter with awe, or GOD, always leaves us breathless but eager to tell others what we experienced and looking for ways to draw others in.  It's like when we see God as all around us, instead of up above us or otherwise apart from us, we understand our common purpose together. 

Thoughts? Email me at peverhart@niwotumc.org or comment by clicking the comments tab below.


Monday, April 3, 2017

"Commons"

Matthew 21:1-11
Philippians 2:5-11



In the triumphant march into Jerusalem, we see the story of Jesus entering the city... neighbors waving palm branches out in the streets and people everywhere seemingly joined in unison celebration. But not really. Right? Because if that were actually the case then the loud Hosannas would have kept on ringing rather than the ever so quick call from the street crowd to "Crucify" him just a short time later.  What was lacking there, beyond a lack of desire to hear Jesus' revolutionary message, was a lack of concern for the commons... what is good for all, collectively.

You see we think we know who we are collectively as a society, but we don't often really act that way. We don't understand that there is a 'commons' that can hold us together. We don't rally around what is good for all of our society, and choose to act in ways that only benefit part of our society.

In Grounded, Diana Butler Bass explains the difference in a neighborhood and a commons. A neighborhood, she says is "whom we live with, those next door, whether 'next door' is literal or virtual geography. . . At their best, neighborhoods are open tribes that practice hospitality and the Golden Rule."  She then says "The commons is not that. The commons, sometimes referred to in the singular as the common, is what we live for, the public world tribes make together--that serves the good for all."

Neighborhoods are made of people and the ways they interact with each other. The commons is the sense of morality and purpose, the sense of doing good for all people. Neighborhoods, then, can choose to have a sense of the commons, or they can choose to be inward focused instead. Same with people. And churches. Especially churches.

In the walk to the cross, Jesus feels ever so gradually alone. Shunned. Disregarded by first acquaintances, then neighbors, then loved ones.  He quotes portions of  Psalm 22 when he's hanging on the cross, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me."  But is it God who is forsaking in this scripture, or is it the commons?

from Psalm 22:
All who see me mock at me;
    they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;

Do not be far from me, (O God)
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help.


The commons is gone. There is no sense of doing good for all. People have scattered and run trying to save themselves.  What do we do when we lose our sense of common humanity and being on the journey together?

Perhaps we should really consider the moral and salvation-inducing effects of believing in the commons. Of knowing that if one suffers, we all suffer. Of believing in the good of the whole, not in the winner takes all.  How do we do that?

Monday, March 27, 2017

"Neighborhood"




(I took this photo at the recent Open House at the Islamic Center of Boulder) 

I don't know why it often takes tragic events to make us feel like we need our neighbors, but often it does.  Over the weekend, many neighbors from all faith traditions gathered outside the Islamic Center in Fort Collins after news reports of its being vandalized. They were all there to show their Muslim neighbors their support.  "It's what neighbors do," I heard someone say on a news report.

Many of us can recall stories about how in the days after tragic events like wars or mass shootings or 9/11, people found ways to connect with their neighbors to 'do good' in ways they hadn't before.  
Many of you can recall such experiences, perhaps in more distant years,like the JFK assassination or the war years of the 1940s.  Times of intense public unity are often times of intense public trial.  We realize that we are not in it alone and that someone else is going through the struggle with us.
It's why people in communities tie yellow ribbons on trees to remember those gone to war, or when a child goes missing from the neighborhood, etc. It's a way to show the tie that binds a neighborhood. A common purpose.
But what constitutes a neighborhood? Is there an actual borderline on who is a neighbor?

In Grounded by Diana Butler Bass, she says, "People create neighborhoods when they gather together beyond family ties, live close to others, and choose to share certain resources (in the contemporary world, those resources include, for example, electricity, schools, roads, places of worship, stores and often a park or some other commons)."

And what of the idea that God is a part of the neighbor and the neighborhood around us?
"If we understand that neighborly relations are woven into divine love, then we can grasp that God is, essentially, a near-dwelling God." --Diana Butler Bass
It is worth noting that we say that God abides with us and that abide and abode are essentially the same word. Our home has God in it and God is also in the neighborhood.  It is important in a world that feels ever more isolating that we see the command to love our neighbors as probably the most important part of being faithful to God. Many religious leaders agree. In fact, Pope Francis has made the command to love God and love neighbor a centerpiece of his papacy.

And in this day and age of isolating lives and garage door openers and social media neighbors, the question "Who is my neighbor?"  is more complex and difficult to answer than ever.  Because of technological advances in who we connect to, our neighborhood is no longer tied to simple geographical proximity. And ironically, perhaps, it is that vast global neighborhood  that has led us to retreat to our homes. We are intimidated by the vastness of our neighborhood in today's terms.

The word neighbor comes from Old English roots and it means "near dweller"  Someone dwelling nearby, But in today's world, does that mean physically near? How has technology changed what a near dweller might be? Neighborhoods are made up of real people who already are, in one way or another, intersecting our lives. Whether they live near or far away.

"All of the world's religions make neighbors the central concern of spirituality and ethics.  Love of God and neighbor are absolutely intertwined."--Diana Butler Bass
Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all have passages in their sacred texts that point to an expanded definition of who we think our neighbor is.  In the Good Samaritan story, Jesus expands the idea of neighbor to include someone who is shunned by his own group. An outsider. He presses the point of neighborliness being tied to kindness and mercy, rather than what we have in common or what group we belong to. In the Qur'an, there is a scripture that says "Worship God and join none with HIM in worship, and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, the poor, the neighbor who is near of kin, the neighbor who is a stranger, the companion by your side, the wayfarer that you meet. (Qur'an 4:36).

Who is my neighbor is an age-old question that people struggle with in each generation, despite the commandments of their faith traditions to love neighbor as self.

Monday, March 20, 2017

"Home"

Exodus 6:1-8          Acts 2: 38-47

"To transform home is to transform the world. Domestic revolts are spiritual and political ones as well," --Diana Butler Bass

The transformation of what a home is and who lives in a home is changing.  In some ways, it is a return to the past... people are starting urban farms, learning to butcher meat,  raising chickens, etc. And in some ways it is a leap into the future. Skyping or FaceTiming so that you can join one another for dinner though miles away, creating economic alternatives like multi-family households, etc.

But what does "home" mean, really?  Home is not really a place. It is more of a feeling. A sense of belonging and purpose and identity that grounds you to who you are.  That is why the old adage "you can't go home again" often rings true.  When we move away from our childhood homes we often change in ways that alter our sense of belonging and identity and purpose and so 'home' can never feel the way it did when we were younger.  And yet, rootedness in that way of life will continue. Meaning your roots will never leave, but your sense of what 'home' is will forever be landing somewhere else.

The Exodus story is filled with painful and longing images of home.  Home that was ripped away from the Hebrews when they were forced into slavery by the Egyptians. Home as a promised land as they were led away by the pillar of cloud toward Canaan.  Home as an unsettled place during the diaspora.  And yet in Acts 2, we have such a beautiful sense of what Peter sees as the image of home for the earliest of Christians.  Home is people who devote themselves to a common purpose. Home is people who believe in sharing what they have with one another. Home is giving to everyone who needs it. Home is meeting together around the dinner table and discussing the ordinary with one another.  Home is a place that all are grateful to find.

The old hymn says it best... Home is not a place, home is God.
"O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home."

No matter how much life changes, our sense of home in the presence of God and God's people remains constant.

What are your favorite stories of 'home?" Would you come and share one with us on Sunday?

Email me at peverhart@niwotumc.org or comment by clicking on the comments tab below.


Monday, March 13, 2017

"Roots"


There's a great story in the book Grounded by Diana Butler Bass of feeling connected to a place you've never been before. She tells of taking a vacation with her husband up the eastern shore of Maryland to visit historical sites, on of them being the Third Haven (Quaker) Meeting House outside of Easton.  She describes her experience there and says she wanted to stay there forever. She later learns, during some genealogical research, that she has ancestors connected to that church. 

from the website: http://www.thirdhaven.org/index.php

Our roots form us. Our ancestors breathe our lives into future existence. They create who we are, even if we don't know who they are. When I read this chapter last year, I knew instantly that I wanted to have an experience like that.  I was writing a grant proposal at the time to take a sabbatical leave and added to it some travel to Northern Ireland and England to explore my ancestral villages.  Unfortunately, I wasn't awarded the grant and therefore, my travel plans were halted, but I do hope one day to be able to explore those villages and see if I, too, can have a connection like Bass does in that meeting house in Maryland. Some of you have told me that you have felt connections like that upon finding a great grandparent's house or visiting a European city that once was home to your ancestors.  I am anxious to know that feeling, too.  

There are reasons why the book by Alex Haley and later TV mini series Roots became so popular in the 1970s. And why sites like Ancestry.com has become so popular.  There are reasons why the Mormon Church has one of the world's largest genealogy collections.  There are reasons why the lineage of the Kings and Queens of England is steadfastly protected and why the line of Catholic popes traces itself all the way back to Peter.  Human beings wish to be connected to who we were and who we are.  Of course, there are other less-than-appealing reasons also, like maintaining patriarchy or racial or tribal purity.  But there is something profound about the way a story of our ancestral heritage affects us that is undeniable. We DO feel grounded in that knowledge.

Paul writes in his letter to the Romans in chapter 11
If a root is holy, the branches will be holy too.  If some of the branches were broken off, and you were a wild olive branch, and you were grafted in among the other branches and shared the root that produces the rich oil of the olive tree, then don’t brag like you’re better than the other branches. If you do brag, be careful: it’s not you that sustains the root, but it’s the root that sustains you. --Romans 11:16b-18
It's not  you that sustains the root, but it's the root that sustains you.  We are not the sum total of who we have created ourselves to be, rather we are part of a larger equation that began being computed long before we found ourselves in it and will continue to be added to long after we are gone.  And all of what comes after is held to the same roots that have always held us to one another.  

That is true not only of our biological genealogy, but of our chosen families like the church and our neighborhoods.  What roots of church and neighborhood are holding us together now? What roots are influencing what we do and don't do in our locations even now?

Thoughts? Email me at peverhart@niwotumc.org or comment here by clicking the comments link below.



Monday, March 6, 2017

"Sky"

Psalm 115:1-3, 16
Matthew 4:12-17

The conventional thought on God is in the heavens and man is on the earth is that God is somehow separate from man, living somehow above the world.  In the chapter entitled Sky in the Diana Butler Bass book Grounded, she describes her encounter with the deep dark night at Ring Lake Ranch in Wyoming and how the dark sky and its millions of stars affects her thoughts on sky.  I think this suggests we think of sky not as something separate from us, but as something that is enveloping us, all around us, part of all we are, but also much more infinite than we can ever imagine.

She writes of sky also being water in the clouds and light from the sun.  Sky encompasses all of life. So why wouldn't the psalmist describe God as being in the heavens?

The words of Jesus also remind us of this God both infinite and right in our faces.  He often talks of the kingdom of heaven as something we create here and now, not something we aspire to.  In the Lord's Prayer it says, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" which means the 'heaven' we speak of is something we are to aspire to create right here on earth.  In this scripture above, Matthew 4, we read of Jesus' relocation from Nazareth to Caperneum as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, which also says that those who have been sitting around in darkness need not do that any longer because now the sun has come up.  We have here the belief that a new day has come through the message and witness of Jesus.  Jesus says, "Change your life. God's kingdom is here."
The heavenly perfection you desire to reach.... just look around you, it's right here.

I have a children's book called ""I've Never Seen the Wind."
"I've never seen the wiind, but I know it's there.
I know it's there because it lifts my kite into the sky. the wind blows my hair and chases off the dark clouds when the rain is over."
Sky is both a concrete concept that can be explained by science and an abstract one that encompasses much of our very being.  What if we stopped thinking vertically about our faith... thinking of God (and sky) as something way up there above us and started thinking more horizontally about our faith... God (and sky) are all around me, a part of all that is and all that has been and all that will be.

Thoughts? Email me at peverhart@niwotumc.org or comment at the comments link below.




Monday, February 27, 2017

"Water"


John 4:5-15


This famous scripture about the woman at the well has a lot to offer us. We see an example shown by Jesus of how to treat a fellow human being.  He treats her kindly although based on the scenario, most men would not have spoken to her at all.  For one, women who were good and decent drew water in the morning, so she was an outcast if she's there at noon. For another, men didn't talk directly to women in such a way.  For a third, she is a Samaritan and he is a Jew.  But he shows her kindness.

Another thing this scripture offers us is a description of what Jesus is saying can happen if we follow him.  What Jesus offers is living water. Water that will be so quenching of our thirst that we will never be thirsty again.

In her book, Grounded, Diana Butler Bass uses this scripture and a lot of other descriptions of water to show us the deep connection we have to water in our lives.  Of course, our bodies are to a large degree made up of water, so there's that.  There is also the deep connection we make to the natural bodies of water in our world. She tells the story of  diving for a conch shell and the connection she has with the sea.

Of course we all know that water is essential to our survival. No possibility of our lives continuing if we don't have water to drink.  But there are so many other ways that water is essential to our existence. And so many ways that the water around us is actually not only essential, but sacramental, in our lives.  Water is holy and powerful and able to connect us both to the earth and to the Divine.

Here are some stories about water that you might find meaning in reading: http://www.takepart.com/feature/2015/03/22/charity-water-world-water-day

We are fortunate in the Western World to not have to work to get our water.   Many do not have that luxury, so while they need water to survive, they have to work very hard to get it.  And so they don't take it for granted.

I admit, water for me usually equates to fun and happiness.  I know I have a memory full of stories from my childhood trips to Myrtle Beach. My brother and I loved to swim and ride rafts in the ocean. And I loved (still do) walking down the shoreline with my feet in the tide.  What memories and stories can you share about water in your lives?   Email me at peverhart@niwotumc.org or comment by clicking the comment link below.