Thursday, June 10, 2010

Jesus, If You Are Willing

A patch of poison ivy rash has spread out like an angry red splash across the front of my left calf. For two days, I tried home remedies. Yesterday, after consulting with the CVS pharmacist (and placing a call for help on Facebook), I tried a few creams and lotions. They all have names like “Bad-Poison-Ivy-You-Be-Gone”. Great colors. Little relief.

Now there are a few tiny blisters on my left wrist and I am suspicious of the itching sensation rising from my right ankle. I’m not going to look.

This is the price I pay for vigorous weeding and not so vigorous leg scrubbing: an inflammation that is stridently present all day long and jolting me awake in the middle of the night.

Inflammation. Skin disease. I’m no Miriam, snow-white with leprosy. But just to be on the safe side, I’m not uttering any complaints against Moses.

Pain and discomfort. I have not suffered the indignity and isolation of those who have contracted leprosy through the ages. Although, if this rash spreads much further, people are going to ask questions (or at least avert their eyes).

Elisha sent a messenger to General Naaman. “Have a skin problem? Go wash seven times in the Jordan River.” Naaman clothed in anger and skepticism, stepped into the river. After seven immersions he came up with “the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.” (2 Kings 5) Naaman showed Elisha his hide was healed and spoke of the healing of his soul.

I like this story for all kinds of reasons. I like Elisha’s sassy attitude. I like that grace is dispensed even to the arrogant. I like the plurality of Naaman’s healings.

Jesus knew a bit about releasing persons from the burden of skin disease. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke there are accounts of Jesus touching a man with leprosy and curing him. The man cried, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean!” Jesus replied, “I am willing. Be clean.”

I like that Jesus touched the untouchable. I like his willingness. I like the the man trusted Jesus to make things right.

In Matthew 10, Jesus sent the disciples out to cure those with leprosy. The order to cleanse the lepers falls right in between the directions to raise the dead and to drive out demons. There’s a tall order.

I like that Jesus told his followers to go do these amazing things.

I’m not anywhere near the Jordan River. While immersion in oatmeal and/or some sort of salty concoction has been suggested, I’m hesitant. I’ll admit I haven’t called on a disciple to try to heal me and I’m not sure that any follower of Jesus I know would be willing to place hands on the angry red blisters welling up on my leg (nor would I want that!).

But this is what I’m thinking. The time I spent this evening with the Bible on my lap, re-reading the old stories of healing has been a blessed distraction. I am thankful that God’s grace can be poured out on anyone. I am thankful that Jesus is willing to touch, even when no one else will. I’m thankful that God trusts us to help each other in profound and amazing ways.

This rash will recede in the days ahead and eventually the purplish hue of healing will fade from my skin. I’ve read the healing stories, and I want the same for my heart and my soul, with its angry, red flare-ups, it’s bent toward stubborn isolation. Jesus, if you are willing. . . .

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Debt

I spent most of this “Sabbath” morning reading Margaret Atwood’s Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. The chapter on the connection between debt and sin has me thinking.

On the one hand, she points out that Jesus Christ is the “cosmic sin eater” or the ultimate “substitute human sacrifice to end all human sacrifices”. Jesus took the debt for human sin on himself. On the other hand, a few pages later, Atwood asks the challenging question, “Which is more blameworthy—to be the debtor or to be the creditor?” If the scale is unbalanced either way, either toward the one who owes or the one who is owed, “resentment builds, each side becomes despicable in the eyes of the other.”

Our orthodox understanding of our relationship to God begins with the assumption that the scale is tipped in God’s favor. Humanity owes a debt for disobedience. But in the saving act of Jesus Christ, the scale tips, wildly and graciously the other way, lifting the weight of the debt away. We pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

One way to live life is with the image of God’s holy scales before us, balancing each life between unimaginable debt and unimaginable redemption from debt. We can imagine ourselves dropped on the scales. We might even believe that we can assist God in choosing who will have their debt redeemed, the Creditor paid, and who will not.

I choose another way. Debt is historically a human construct, stretching back through the centuries to the earliest of times, when those who accumulated wealth in any form, found ways to loan and keep records. When we describe God’s expectations and our disregard of those expectations, when we talk about the saving work of Jesus Christ, it is comfortable to use the language of debt and debtor. But any use of this image has at least two risks. First, that the debtor will need to pay someone back whether it is the ultimate lender (God the Creator) or the one who steps in the pick up the debt (Christ the Redeemer). We will be continually trying to figure out how to settle on what we owe. The second risk is that the debtor will ultimately resent the debt and resent the one who is owed. The debtor might walk away, choosing spiritual “bankruptcy”.

I prefer the image that Jesus used to explain our relationship with God, the loving father. (Luke 15) The son does not get a loan from the father, but what he is entitled to. There is no debt. When the son can’t make the life he has chosen work and he is suffering, he returns to the father. The father is out on the road waiting and watching. He celebrates his son’s return. He doesn’t ask for repayment; he simply embraces his son.

There is no scales here, no balance, no loan, no debt. It’s love. That’s the image I’m sticking with. God crazy in love, watching, waiting, welcoming, and embracing.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Earthlings

Yesterday evening I was reading on the patio. The sun was setting on the other side of the house and I was enjoying the cool coming on after a warm day. As I lay back in a lounge chair I read that human beings are “earthlings”, formed by God from the mud, “dirt babies.” (Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar on the World) Brown Taylor reminded me that the trees and the plants are rooted in the very element from which I came.

I set down my book and looked up at the circle of blue, surrounded by the tops of trees. The sky was brilliant and the leaves yellow-green from the low sun. A hawk glided into the circle of sky. Without effort, its wings wide, it moved in a slow circle above me and the house and the trees. When the hawk tilted toward the east, its feathers brightened by the setting sun, flashed white.

The hawk is rooted too, like me, dust from the earth. I watched until the bird slowly circled away over the treetops. The hawk and I were hundreds of feet apart, near the earth and near the clouds and for a moment, I wondered at the connection.

This morning I started my day with a breakfast meeting at 7:30 a.m. and finished talking with parishioners at 8:45 p.m. In the hours in between, I attended meetings, made phone calls, received and sent emails. I sat with several people, to talk, to listen, to problem solve, to lead. I prayed and heard prayer.

And with all that, a day’s labor in the name of Christ, when I walked up the driveway, newspaper and mail in hand, I was thinking about the trees and the sun, the earth and the hawk.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I'd Rather Walk

I rode my bike this evening. I would rather walk, but my sister-in-law Maryann has signed me up for a fundraising bike ride in two weeks. I tried several excuses, including, “Sorry, I’m running a marathon that day”, but she won’t leave me alone.

Here’s the truth of it; I don’t like bike riding. And, no, I can’t point to a traumatic biking incident (although I’ve had them) that created this attitude. I learned to ride a bike using the neighbor boy’s bike when I was 9 years old. My father was so pleased he surprised me with a new bike. As I remember it, the shiny blue bike surprised my mother, too. (That’s another story.) I rode up and down our long driveway and when we moved a few years later, I could travel for miles on gravel roads. In my early teens, the bike offered freedom. I took trips into town to visit friends and rode to the beach, balancing inner tubes and beach towels.

And I kept riding my bike, even after I was able to drive. I rode a bike in high school (a used bike that my father found for me the day after I won an academic award in 9th grade). Today, I’m riding the bike that I bought for university in 1977. (The frame is the only original part still in use.)

I connect my diminishing bike use, with my practice of walking. I started walking for exercise in my mid-twenties. Over the years, I’ve walked with friends and alone, through countless villages, towns and neighborhoods and in the midst of deep forests and broad beaches. I like walking better than biking.

When I ride a bike, I am more likely to fall over. I did this spectacularly a few years ago, when I hit my head on a telephone pole. Fortunately, I was wearing a helmet. I have never fallen over while walking.

When I ride a bike it’s hard to turn around and retrace an interesting route. I can’t just turn on my heel, I have to find a place wide enough to steer the bike around. (See falling over.)

When I ride a bike, it’s more challenging to stop and look at things. For instance, this evening I rode by a dead Mallard duck lying in the street near the curb. This is something I would normally stop to look at. There was a sign propped up against the curb. In angry, black strokes it read, “Slow Down”. There was an arrow pointing to the duck. Since the sign was leaning against the curb, I couldn’t tell if the sign was for the drivers and bikers or for the pedestrians and ducks. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think too long about this because I rolled by and saw a police officer talking to a man on a front porch, so I started thinking about that. When I’m walking I have time to consider more.

When I ride my bike, my walking routes no longer work. I have routes and I know how long it takes to walk them, 1 hour, 45 minutes, 25 minutes. With a bike, I cover a route and then ride some more and then some more. This means I have to think about where I’m going. (See having to turn around and falling over.) When I walk one of my routes, I’m free to think about other things.

For the next two weeks, I’m going to ride my bike. I’m going to put it on a bike rack and take it with me to visit relatives so I can keep riding it daily. I’ll ride my bike and raise some money for a charity.

And then, I’ll take a long walk and do some thinking.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

In 15 minutes

It's 9:05 a.m. I decided to finally start a blog at 9:00 a.m. The blog title isn't imaginative or clever. Thinking is what I'll be doing when I add posts and "Sherry Thinking" is a title that blogspot accepted. (There must be a lot of "Sherry" bloggers using the site.)

I have the privilege of preaching and teaching. I do get to share quite a bit of what I'm thinking. This blog is for the overflow. Current, contextual, random.

It's 9:09 a.m. I have 6 minutes to check out blog page set up. At 9:15 a.m.? I'll begin to clear my desk for the day. More thinking.