Sunday, December 31, 2006

Here's Hoping...

Cheryl Dancing
Originally uploaded by paynehollow.

Three and a half years ago, in March, 2003, I began to wear a black armband. It was the day of the invasion of the sovereign nation of Iraq.

I wore it to mourn the loss of US lives that began immediately and which have continued unabated. Lives lost in an immoral and ill-conceived war.

I wore it, too, to mourn the loss of innocent Iraqi lives, caught between two madmen.

But perhaps most of all, I wore it because I mourned what it meant to our nation. I was under no illusion that we are an innocent nation - no nation is. But this particular invasion seemed so far beyond the pale of morality, legality or advisability that it was particularly appalling to me.

And it wasn't just the invasion of Iraq that I grieved, but all that seemed so wrong with many of the policies that the current administration had come to represent - the arrogance, the dependence upon fossil fuels, the allegiance to corporations, the disregard for science and open debate.

I was grieving our lost way.

I wore that armband for nearly every day in the three and a half years since. A reminder. A sign. A protest.

For now, though, I have removed the armband.

Hope for a new year? Maybe. Certainly it's not an expression of belief that the Democratic shift of power will help us find our way much better. And still, the regime that orchestrated so much of what I felt wrong remains in power and unindicted.

Still too, the ideals held in esteem and the systems held in place by most of us grieve me and I don't see much hope for change without a dear cost.

Nonetheless, I'm removing the armband and will keep my hope in my family and community - hope for a better day to come.

Happy New Year...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Hospitality as Resistance

Crocus Bloom
Originally uploaded by paynehollow.

In this season of get-togethers and parties, I’d like to share an excerpt of a sermon my pastor preached not long ago in a series on Hospitality. Hospitality as resistance! (There’s more of the series found here.) These comments are fitting with some of our recent conversations here.

…The Pharisees, as you may or may not remember, were one of the renewal movements of Jesus’ day. They were attempting, in a time of Roman occupation, to keep their identity as a people intact by being “holy, as God is holy,” to keep themselves separate from everyone else.

Do you remember what I said about how after the exile, some of the Jews were trying to become pure again, to regain their identity as God’s chosen people, by divorcing their foreign wives? Well, now hundreds of years later, the Pharisees are essentially doing the same thing. They are scared that they are going to be assimilated into the Roman culture, scared that they are going to disappear. How do you fight that? You stay separate from everybody else. Kind of like some of our fundamentalist Christian sisters and brothers today.

And so practically, what that meant for the Pharisees (and for some of our fundamentalist brothers and sisters) was that their major focus had to do with the laws regarding purity. The Pharisees didn’t have the police power to enforce these rules about purity, but what they did have was the power to ostracize. If you didn’t conform to the purity rules, then you would lose your civil and religious rights… You would lose your place as a child of Abraham in the life to come (once again, similar to Christian fundamentalists, who say that if you don’t follow a certain set of rules, you’ll go to hell).

And the major tool that the Pharisees used to ostracize people was to refuse table fellowship. To share a meal with a person was an expression of acceptance; to refuse to share a meal symbolized disapproval and rejection. And so, of course, the Pharisees would not share a meal with the non-observant, or the unclean. It was their way of keeping everybody and everything in its place, including the economic structures.

By the way, when the Pharisees here say that Jesus is eating with sinners, they’re referring, not to people who have individually sinned, which is how we often use the word, but to people, who because of their status in life, because of their occupation, or because of physical differences, or because of their poverty were deemed sinners.

And so after the Pharisees criticize Jesus, saying, Why is your Teacher eating with tax collectors and sinners? Jesus responds by saying, It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: “I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,” for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

Jesus confronts the Pharisees with the fact that for all of the talk that they’re doing about making the people of Israel into a holy people, a kingdom of priests, the only ones they’re interested in are the ones who are already holy, already righteous, already paying their dues.

Jesus, on the other hand, is going after the riffraff, the sinners. Jesus is building a radical new society made up of all of God’s people, and he, of course, interprets who God’s people are in a totally different way. Jesus is painting a picture of what Israel was to be, an inclusive community reflecting God’s compassion, a table of hospitality, where everyone is welcome.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Out of frying pan...

Embury Methodist Church
Originally uploaded by paynehollow.

Before I got otherwise engaged with holiday happenin's, I wanted to point out an interesting study begun over on Michael's blog on the topic of gays and Christianity.

As those of you who've been visiting here long at all probably know, I and my church (where Michael also attends) disagree with the notion that homosexuality is wrong. That is, we are fully supportive of gay marriage and healthy gay relationships, just as we are of healthy straight relationships and that we don't think the Bible disagrees.

It's not that we have gay friends and therefore we're wanting to set aside "what the Bible plainly says," but rather that we disagree with the notion that the Bible plainly says anything about loving gay relationships. We're not embracing sin, we're disagreeing with the church tradition that says homosexuality in and of itself is a sin.

While I've talked about it before here and made my case, Michael is infinitely more the biblical scholar than I am and will surely be able to defend our position better.

Be sure to check it out if you are so inclined.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas
Originally uploaded by paynehollow.

Happy Holidays, Blessed Break, whatever you celebrate, I wish you well.

Thank everyone for participating (those who commented and those who just read along) in the look at Jesus' famous, practical and beautiful Sermon on the Mount. The conversations took some turns I didn't see within those passages but I reckon we're all going to read what we read into it.

I was asked by someone recently: How do you see 2007, this Christmas Eve?

The person referenced me to a column by "conservative" Dennis Prager who pointed out the difficulties facing our world and the hope to be found - said he - in embracing Traditional American Values (TM).

I thought it a good question to ponder this time of year. There certainly is a lot to be pessimistic about.

Unlike Prager, I don't think those who say they value America's
traditional values offer much to make things better. I think those who
DO value many of America's traditional values have something to offer, but we have some serious debits working against us.

We have globally lived beyond our means. Or rather, we who are wealthy have lived beyond our means and the world desires to emulate us - an impossible and undesirable dream. The world can't support 7 billion Wealthy Western (ie, over-consumptive) lifestyles.

I have some hopes that our oil will peak sooner rather than later, but
in a gradual enough way that will allow for us all to tighten our belts
and re-order our lives in a way that doesn't result in the deaths of
too many millions of people.

Hopefully, gas prices will jump up another $2 or so in the next year or
two - shocking us with the realization of how dependent we have made ourselves on a resource that is disappearing. Hopefully, this will lead to folk abandoning the personal auto en masse, abandoning Stuff imported from around the world and embrace locally produced and self-produced goods and food.

Hopefully, we have already realized the folly of trying to defeat
terrorism by embracing terrorism and that we'll start treating
terrorism as the serious crime it is (with many complex reasons and
solutions) rather than a war to wage against some other nation. We must not feed the terrorism beast as Bush's policies have done.

It is a bleak picture, if one is inclined to accept bleak.

Despite the current state of affairs, I find great hope in my God, my family, my church and community. But humanity's foolishness is a force to be contended with and I'll have to agree with Prager at least in his assessment that times are tough.

Here's hoping to a Celebration of the Prince of Peace and an honoring of his Ways. Here's hoping to a wiser new year and a new Great Awakening.

And you? How do you see the world this coming year?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Narrow Gate...

Graveyard Exit
Originally uploaded by paynehollow.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?

“Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.

“Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them.

“Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?'

“Then I will declare to them solemnly, 'I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.'

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.

“And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”

When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
Matthew 7:13-29

Monday, December 18, 2006

Pearls Before Swine

Perro y Cerdo
Originally uploaded by paynehollow.

“Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.

“Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove that splinter from your eye,' while the wooden beam is in your eye?

“You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye.

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.

“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.

Matthew 7:1-12

Friday, December 15, 2006

Consider the lilies of the field...

Field Of Gold
Originally uploaded by paynehollow.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal.

But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.

For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.

The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.

No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat (or drink), or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?

Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin.

But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.

If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

So do not worry and say, 'What are we to eat?' or 'What are we to drink?' or 'What are we to wear?'

All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.

Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.
Matthew 6: 20 - 34

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Originally uploaded by paynehollow.

(But) take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.

When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.

But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.

But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.

Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

This is how you are to pray:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread;
and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors;
and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one.
If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.

When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.

But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.
Matthew 6: 1-19

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Be Perfect...

Originally uploaded by paynehollow.

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.'

But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.

And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.

"It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.'

But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

"Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, 'Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.'

But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.

Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black.

Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.' Anything more is from the evil one.

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'

But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.

If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.

Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.

Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'

But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.

For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?

And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?

So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5: 27-48

Friday, December 1, 2006

Let Your Light Shine

Kentucky Sunset
Originally uploaded by paynehollow.

More of Jesus' words from the Sermon on the Mount:

"You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

"You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.

"Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.

"Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.

"Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.

"Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

"I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

"You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.'

"But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, 'Raqa,' will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, 'You fool,' will be liable to fiery Gehenna.

"Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

"Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.

Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny..."

Matt. 5:13-26, New American Standard Bible