Daily Wonder 11-29-13

Scripture: Psalm 31:24
Be strong and take heart, purchase
all you who hope in the Lord.

Thought for the Day: I’m glad Advent begins this week, and I’m extremely happy the season begins with a celebration of Hope. I know I can be cynical, and that I use The Daily Wonder to push readers (both of you) to seriously consider new ways of thinking about faith, Jesus, the nature of God, and the way we interpret Scripture. I know I push for us all to think carefully about our participation in the corporate-controlled American Empire, urging us to resist as often and as vehemently as possible. And I know the constant struggle against injustice wears us down, and that often, the fight seems hopeless.

So I’m glad we begin the Christmas season with a celebration of hope. Whether or not you call yourself a Christian, and no matter what sort of Christianity you practice, the birth of Jesus represents hope for a better world. The truth in the birth stories is in the revelation that God is with us. No matter how rancid, rotten, and unbearable the world seems, we absolutely must remain hopeful. We’re not fighting this battle alone. God is with us—in every newborn baby, in every teenager, in every adult, in every person fighting for truth, in every heart, even in those corrupted by greed or selfishness. In everyone and everything, God is breaking through this corrupted world, a little more every day.

Prayer: I place my hope in you, eternally loving God. I see you at work in the world, and I know things are getting a little better every day. Continue to use me—to use all of us, to bring about a more peaceful, loving, hopeful world. Amen.

Daily Wonder 11-28-13

Scripture: John 10:22-24
Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, ed and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Thought for the Day: Chanukah is a festival of Thanksgiving, so it is more than a little appropriate that the American holiday and the Jewish celebration occur at the same time this year. Also, it will probably surprise none of you to learn that I love Chanukah, not simply because of my Jewish heritage, but also because it has its roots in a revolution against assimilation.

The events remembered during the festival of lights occurred about 150 years before Jesus was born. He definitely celebrated Chanukah, and it is possible (perhaps even likely) that the account of Jesus on Solomon’s porch given above occurs during Chanukah. I wonder what Jesus might have been thinking as he walked the Temple grounds, remembering an earlier empire that his ancestors resisted with all their might, just as he and his followers were resisting the Romans?

Just as the Greeks had despoiled the Temple a century earlier, the Romans now despoiled the Temple in the same manner. While giving thanks to God for past deliverance, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to imagine Jesus praying to God for deliverance once again, and giving thanks for the courage, fortitude, foresight, and wisdom necessary to oppose assimilation in all its cunning disguises—like, say, a shopping frenzy called Black Friday.

Prayer: Remind me, holy God, that my life is dedicated to you, and to you alone. Thank you, most loving God, for the gifts you have given me that help me resist assimilation by the Empire; gifts that help me remain fully loyal to Your principles of love, compassion, and forgiveness. Amen.

Daily Wonder 11-27-13

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 10:14-17

Therefore, buy cialis my dear friends, pilule flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?

Thought for the Day: In Paul’s ancient world, blood and bread were powerful, well understood symbols. In our modern era, this is no longer the case. While movie directors and great authors certainly use blood and bread in symbolic fashion (those themes occur all over “The Godfather” movies, for example), it has lost its meaning as an accepted, understood cultural metaphor.

When visitors come to our churches and hear us talking about “the blood of Christ spilled for the forgiveness of sin,” or about Christ’s body, “broken for you,” they have absolutely no background in the symbolism of these words. The words are no longer about participation in a new, God-centered community, as Paul suggests. They’ve become literal. I’ll suggest too, that even long-time Christians no longer understand the symbolism of these words, and now take literally the idea that Christ’s blood had to be spilled in atonement for human sin, and that his body had to be broken as a sacrifice, a reparation to God to “fix” the trouble with humanity. This is not what Paul meant to suggest, nor is it what the earliest followers of Jesus believed.

I’ve changed the words of institution in my church to get back to the meaning of the words. We now present the wine and bread for what they are—symbols, as Paul makes very clear in his letter to the Colossians, who were also confused about communion. The bread and wine are symbols of our unity—our unity as human beings, our unity as followers of Jesus, and our unity as one people, under God—all of us, Christian, Jew, Muslim, etc.

There is only one God, there is only one human race, and yes, it takes great personal sacrifice to acknowledge this and live a changed life—a life that participates in the communion of Jesus, a life willing to sacrifice for others rather than self. As we approach our Thanksgiving meals with family and friends—our communal meals, perhaps we’ll take a moment to think about the symbolism in our own lives, and how we, too, might live in a more enlightened community with God and our human brothers and sisters, no matter what we call ourselves (or each other).

Prayer: Show me, Lord, that a greater reality exists, just out of focus, just beyond the horizon. I know there is a hidden world, and that you want me to see it! Open my eyes! Change my heart! Lift me beyond the physical into the wonder of the metaphysical! Bring a sense of wonder, joy, and magic back to this world, too stuck in the muck of the material, too grown-up to have any imagination, and too mean to see the real meaning in life. Amen.

Daily Wonder 11-26-13

Scripture: Psalm 69:30-31
I will praise God’s name in song
and glorify him with thanksgiving.
    This will please the Lord more than an ox, purchase
    more than a bull with its horns and hooves.

Thought for the Day: There are a lot of sacrificial offerings in the Bible, and for a long time, people have read these texts and presumed the offering was all about the physical sacrifice. But the ancient understanding of sacrifice was much deeper. An offering to God was from the soul, a change in a person’s mental and spiritual state. Thanksgiving is an attitude, not an offering.

We give thanks to God by acting like beings made in the image of God. We give thanks when we act with justice, compassion, love, and respect. These righteous actions are the only offering God needs. Sure, you can sacrifice a bull or an ox if you like, I suppose (just check the laws in your state), but the point of this psalm is, if you’re sacrificing the animal without any love or contrition in your heart, without any sense that you can send the regrets in your soul to God, then the sacrifice is an empty act.

I might suggest, you can send thanks, and regret, and hopes, and dreams, and fears, and everything else to God by simply closing your eyes and experiencing God. No ox or bull required.

Prayer: Thank you, Holy Lord, for the incredible blessings in my life. Thank you simply for life, this crazy, roller-coaster of a ride. May every experience I have be an offering of thanks to you. Amen.

Daily Wonder 11-22-13

Scripture: James 2:14-17
What good is it, try my brothers and sisters, ed if people claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Thought for the Day: I’ve always loved James, and I’m glad the Romans and Greeks who assembled the Bible kept him in the cannon—because they threw out a lot of other texts that echoed James’ sentiments. What is the point of faith, though, if it doesn’t compel us to make a difference in the world? Think about the life of Jesus, whom I think most Christians would agree is the person of ultimate faith. Does he sit on his fanny and tell other people how awesome his faith is, berating everyone who thinks differently? Never. He wanders his world and changes the lives of the people he meets, both physically and spiritually. His teachings helped people think about religion and their relationship with God differently. His actions helped feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and clothe the poor. Most importantly, though (and this is where I think modern religion has failed miserably), Jesus asked his students to go out and do even greater things—not to save souls, but simply because our faith compels us to serve God by serving each other.

Prayer: Help me help others, God who helps us all. Amen.

Daily Wonder 11-21-13

Scripture: Psalm 55:22
Pile your troubles on God’s shoulders—
      he’ll carry your load, advice he’ll help you out.
      He’ll never let good people
      topple into ruin.

Thought for the Day: Passages like this are meant to give us hope in times of despair. Unfortunately, doctor sometimes these passages are used to beat us into submission when we’re already feeling down. The implication is that, if our life is in ruins, we must not be good people. This attitude is not helpful when we’re already feeling worthless, nor is it what the author intended.

The Bible was written by people who wanted to convey a sense of mystery and awe to the universe; by people who wanted to let each other know, “Hey, I know life sucks sometimes, but not only do I have your back, but God has your back. Don’t worry. Things will get better. Maybe not today, maybe not even next year—but things will get better. You’re not alone. We’re in this together. We’re in this with God.”

Prayer: I send my inner turmoil to you, Holy One. I pray for sweeping global change as we in the west awaken to the abuses our lifestyle causes around the world. Melt our cold hearts, ease our consumer lust, and call us to minister to the people around the world suffering at our expense. Amen.

Daily Wonder 11-20-13

Scripture: Exodus 17:12
When Moses’ hands grew tired, discount they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, hospital one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset.

Thought for the Day: Somewhat unfortunately, and this loving image of support takes place against the backdrop of war. The Amalekites attacked the Israelites. Moses, Aaron and Hur went to high ground to oversee the battle. Moses carried with him the staff of God. They noticed that every time Moses lifted his hands toward God, the battle went in their favor, and every time Moses put his hands down, the battle went in the Amalekites favor. So Aaron and Hur literally give Moses a hand (and I wonder if this might be the origination of that term—to give someone a hand?) and the Israelites win the battle.

A surface reading of this story leads us to some pretty heinous conclusions: God fought for the Israelites, or God favored one people over another. This sort of reading has led to countless atrocities throughout human history. “Today, God fought for Britain!” Henry V notably exclaims. But remember, at least in my point of view, absolutely nothing in the Bible is to be read literally. It’s all metaphor. People in the ancient world wrote to convey meaning, not fact.

The story is set during a war because when it was written, war is what the people knew and experienced far too often. The meaning of the story is much deeper than the idea that God helped the Israelites win a battle. It offends me to even consider God would condone war of any sort. It certainly offended Jesus. The message the story conveys is that when we are being attacked by a foe—an army of stress or financial burdens; the failing health or death of a loved one; lack of steady income, lack of shelter, lack of food or clothing, a lack of love, the type of oppression that the Israelites were experiencing, or many of these things at once—when we lift our hands to God, we find a way to persevere and overcome.

Perhaps more importantly, notice that Moses doesn’t lift his hands to God by himself—he has the help of his community. So the moral of the story is this: It’s our duty as people who have, to assist people who have not. As people of God, we are compelled to help everyone around us. Only together can we can defeat all the enemies that surround us in this modern world, the real Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: poverty, hunger, homelessness, and oppression. We cannot do it alone. At some point, all of us need someone else to help us raise our hands to God, so together we can change the world.

Prayer:  Everlasting God, who helps me overcome all my hardships, I lift my hands to your presence and offer my mind, body, and soul to You. Put my mind at ease, my body at rest, and task my soul to serve all of Your glorious creation. Amen.

Daily Wonder 11-19-13

Scripture: Proverbs 22:2
Rich and poor have this in common:
        The Lord is the Maker of them all.

Thought for the Day: On this day in 1863, for sale President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. In just 272 words (note to self: the Gettysburg Address is only 272 words!), he reminded people of the principles of human equality upon which this country was founded. Equality for all. It’s a very Jesus-like idea, you know? And while Jesus would never recommend picking up weapons to fight for equality (his is more a path of peaceful non-compliance), Lincoln’s sentiment in the address should certainly resonate with Christians. Perhaps more importantly, Lincoln’s words still speak to all of us who desire to be merely decent human beings.

The text of the Gettysburg Address and some interesting history—like the fact Lincoln’s two-minute speech followed a two-hour oration by a guy we never talk about, can be found in this excellent Wikipedia article.

Prayer: Remind us, Holy God, that we are all equal beings made in your image. What is good for one of us is good for all of us; what is necessary for one of us is necessary for all of us; what hurts one of us hurts all of us. Amen.