Happily Ever After…

Lectionary Passage: John 42: 1-6, 10-17
To read this passage online, go to http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=218124859

We come to the end of the Book of Job.  Job has suffered.  He has lost everything.  He has questioned God and expected God to give him reasons for why all these horrible things have happened to him.  But the actions of God are not centered in conventional responses to wickedness and righteousness.  The universe is, instead, filled to the brim with mystery and surprise and wonder.  God’s answer to Job is:  “Think again, Job.  Open your eyes wider to the whole of the cosmos.  Redirect your attentions away from what you have done to what I am doing.”  This is the turning point—Job now has received a new vision of God as YHWH, creator and sustainer as well as struggler with a complex and mysterious order.  It is that new vision of YHWH to which Job responds here.

Job inhabited a closed-minded world of retribution and distributive justice, where people get what they deserve, where there is a just God to see that all get what they earn based on who they are and what they do.  But then Job is invited out to a new world, a world not based upon simple, distributive justice.  And Job sees now that he is not the center of the world—that his relationship with God is found in his interconnectedness to all of the cosmos—that he is but a small, albeit essential, part of the wisdom of God.  In other words, Job has found not an answer but a true relationship with God.  In her book, Sometimes I Hurt:  Reflections on The Book of Job, Mildred Tengbom says it like this: “No one could tell me where my soul might be; I sought for God, but God eluded me.  I sought my brother out and found all three—my soul, my God, and all humanity.”  (Page 200)

So some would like the drama to end here.  After all, hasn’t Job gotten the point?  But if Job has become new, we must see him act out of his newness to discover if that newness is genuine.  We need to see Job back in the world again.

And so the Lord restores Job’s life.  Some of us struggle with this.  It gives it a sense of some sort of fairy tale ending and we all know that that type of ending is seldom, if ever, realistic.  It also gives us the image of that all-too-common presumption that God somehow rewards us, accepts us, or even (as horrifying as this notion is to me!) loves us based on what we do or who we are. But think about it in the context of the larger vision to which Job and we as readers have been invited.  God does not just put Job back together again.  It is better.  If we read it literally, it is better because Job is given more.  But, again, step back and look at the larger picture.  Perhaps it is a metaphor of what is to come.  It says that Job’s days were blessed but it doesn’t say that others were not.  Perhaps it is a vision of what the world can be when we allow ourselves to look at it through the lenses of God.  It is a world of plenty in which all of Creation prospers.  It is a world where we recognize family and our interconnectedness.  It is a world where all receive the inheritance of the world.  It is a world where we all die, old and full of days of a life to come.  “And they all lived happily ever after…”

God has allowed Job to be the hero.  God lets us struggle and win and when we lose our life, God gives it back to us.  The point is that Job actually encountered God and his life changed.  Catherine Marshall once said that Those who have never rebelled against God or at some point in their lives shaken their fists in the face of heaven, have never encountered God at all.” 

God remains Job’s God.  There can no longer be any talk of “reward” here—we have dispensed with that way of thinking.  God has blessed Job because God loves and wants to bless Job.  There is no other reason.  It is not for us to ask why.  Restoration is a feature of life; restoration is what God can do and does.  At the end, I don’t get answers.  I get a deepened relationship with God.  God doesn’t come with easy answers; God comes offering presence.  THAT is the Wisdom of God.

The story of Job is the story of life—our story.  It does not travel in a straight, easy-to-follow line.  It is not level or soft or easy.  It means much, much more than that. If someone tries to present it in some other way, they just don’t get it.  Sometimes life is chaotic; sometimes it’s just hard; and sometimes, through no fault of our own, it’s downright unbearable.  Answers are not what we need. That’s why I like Job.  It DOESN’T give you answers; it teaches you how to journey through life.  So, here is what I get from the story of Job:

  1. Life happens (but we are never alone.)
  2. Some things just don’t make sense.  (Perhaps we are reading them through a clouded lens, or even too MUCH correction—try wearing your contacts AND your glasses)
  3. We need to make sure that our images of God do not stand in the way of God’s presence in our lives or in the lives of those around us.
  4. God desires to be in relationship with us more than God desires for us to figure God out.
  5. Sometimes we need to just shut up and listen.
  6. Sometimes we need to just give up and let it be.
  7. Everything comes from God.  God breathed life and it was so.
  8. The future is an enigma.  Our road is covered in mist.  There will be times when the journey seems perilous and filled with despair.  But when we fling ourselves into what seems an impossible abyss, it is then that we will finally meet God.
  9. God is God.  We are not.
  10. And then we will die, old and full of days, and realize that life has only just begun.

Grace and Peace,


Finally God Speaks!

“After the Whirlwind”, by Nigel Wynter

Lectionary Passage:  Job 38:1-7, (34-41)
To read this passage online, go to http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=217564661

Boy, thirty-seven chapters is a long time to wait!  Job has waited, begged, screamed, and threatened to just throw it all in and walk away and finally, in this 38th hour, God speaks.  Now you could read it as if God is some sort of tease dangling hope in front of us until we just can’t take it anymore and then suddenly stepping in as some sort of pumped up superhero.  Or you could read it as if God had some permanent unyielding plan that outlined when it was Job’s turn for God’s time and when it was not.  Or perhaps you could read it that the omnipresent God is not, that God comes when God comes and the rest of the time God eludes us.  I think, though, that the problem rests not with God but with us.  And rather than God teasing us or avoiding us or eluding us or existing as some sort of passive-aggressive super-deity, perhaps we are somehow blinded to that ever-presence of God.

Maybe God had been speaking the whole time.  Maybe in the midst of Job’s pleas and Job’s demands, God really was speaking.  Maybe Job was just so wrapped up in trying to figure out an answer that he missed God’s Presence in his life.  Maybe the only answer for which Job was listening was not the answer at all.  Maybe Job was so sure what the “right” answer was that he wasn’t open to what God was offering in his life.  But when Job reaches the depths of despair, when Job is silenced by everything that has happened, when the noisy friends finally shut up, it is there, there in the silence, that God speaks.  But rather than a booming answering voice demanding apologies or repentance, once again God speaks Job into being.  It is not the voice of the judging God that Job’s friends had claimed would come and set Job straight but is instead the eternal voice of the Creator, once again speaking all that is into being just as God did in the beginning and every moment since.  The whirlwind is not to be confused with a tornado or a hurricane or some other destructive phenomenon.  It is instead the creative, life-changing force that, though undefined and unexplained, is the very voice of God speaking us into being.

And Job is reminded to look around, to look at all of Creation that has been laid down, to breathe in that which Job cannot make and cannot control.  Long ago, the rabbinical teachings noted that of all the animals listed as God’s handiwork–lion, raven, the wild ass, the wild ox, the ostrich, the hawk, the eagle, etc.–none had any real use to humanity.  In other words, the ordering of Creation is not about us; it is about God.  God doesn’t punish Job but rather subtly (well, as subtle as a whirlwind can be, I suppose!) reminds him that God is always present, always speaking Creation into being.  God doesn’t offer answers, as much as we think that would clear everything up.  Rather, God offers Presence and Love.  And that’s probably all God needs to say.

And after the speech, Job is changed.  He doesn’t have any more answers than before.  But what he does have is the realization that in all things, there is a God who is waiting to pick him up or hold him or cradle him in the arms of Love.  The realization came not because Job had faith and not because he believed in some rumor of a God that he learned in Sunday School but because in the depths of his life, he met God and finally the two began to dance.  Perhaps God does not desire our allegiance or our belief or some sort of blindly obedient faith.  Maybe God’s deepest desire is for us to make room in our lives and in our thoughts and in our prayers for God to speak us into being once again.  Shhhh!  God is about to speak…

Grace and Peace,


The Silence of God

Lectionary Passage: Job  23: 1-9, 16-17
To read this passage online, go to http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=216907967

You know, when you think about it, most of spend a good part of our lives looking for answers. We look for answers about what to do with our lives, how to prepare for our lives, and where to go with our lives. We search for answers about the weather, the stock market, and the highest-rated sports team. If we wonder about anything in this world, all we have to do is “Google” it (“Google” now being the catch-all answer to finding the answer to pretty much any question that you have.)  Even much of our faith has to do with a quest for answers. We search for answers as to what we should believe, how we should understand God, and what type of person we should be. And we wait, sometimes with an almost desperate impatience, for answers to our prayers. But sometimes, those just don’t seem to come.

Maybe that’s why this Book of Job is so hard for us. After all, we have grown accustomed to the notion that somewhere in the Scriptures, we will find the answers that we most desire and that will make our life full (and probably a little easier!). But contrary to what we may hope, Job offers no real answers to life’s suffering or life’s heartaches except faith. In fact, the writing takes all of those contrived images of God and shakes them at their core leaving nothing for us but a relationship with God. And maybe on some level, that IS the answer.

But, in all truth, this section of Job is even harder to read than the one last week.  After all, it almost seems like our good friend Job is throwing in the towel.  Here he is suffering beyond all reason and he’s done nothing!  He does not deserve this! WHERE IS GOD?!?  Good grief, at least show up so I can complain to you!  And give Job a little credit. After all, his complaint is not that he is suffering—he seems to have resolved himself to that. He doesn’t even seem to be questioning why God would do such a thing. Perhaps he is more comfortable with some of that mystery that is God than many of us. Job’s biggest complaint is that he feels God has deserted him. He feels that God is absent in his life. And yet he still holds his integrity, unwilling to sin before God.  And then, jumping to verse 16, his tune changes a bit. He admits that he is a little afraid of God, afraid of what God will do. He wants desperately to vanish into darkness and away from God. His image of God is falling into one that could quash him, could crush him. He almost sees God as an enemy and, yet, he is still not willing to sin before God. He is holding out for one small vestige of hope.
To understand how Job got here, we probably need to look at the mounds of answers that he has been fed from those that count himself as his friends. First, there is Eliphaz. Eliphaz probably sees God as “The Fixer”. You know the type. “Look, Job, if you just submit to God, if you just have faith, God will fix it.” And then there’s Bildad. Bildad is one of these people that sees God as “The Judge”. “Well, Job,” he says, “I don’t what you did wrong, but it must have been pretty bad because we only get what we deserve. After all, God is just, right? So you must be guilty.” And, lastly, we have Zophar. Interestingly enough, Zophar assumes that whatever he says must be what God is saying. “So, obviously, Job is wrong and I am right.” Good grief, no wonder Job opts to just sit in silence. You know, when you think about it, these are understandings of God that are alive and well today. In fact, there are probably few of us who haven’t at some time in our lives, fallen into these understandings. After all, they put us in control. If we do right, then God will fix it or reward us or somehow give us proof that our faith is working. And, yet, faith is not about being in control. We cannot save ourselves. That’s the whole point. Faith may not even be about trust that it will turn out alright. Maybe faith is instead about trusting that one will find God, even in the midst of the darkness.

So Job admits to being faint of heart, to not understanding at all why all of this has happened to him. Because, after all, it makes no sense. Job was good. He was righteous. He did nothing wrong. Why is this happening? He wishes that he could just vanish, wishes that the darkness would just take him. But instead, he waits. He waits in the silence and trusts that God is there–somewhere.  Job is essentially letting go–letting go of his need to understand God and understand life.  He is letting go of his need to figure it all out.  He is letting go of his need to have all the answers.  After all, faith is not about having all the answers or being certain of what’s going to happen.  As Richard Rohr, says “faith is having the security to be insecure.” (From Job and the Mystery of Suffering)

Sometimes life doesn’t make sense.   Maybe in those spaces when no answer is given is the God who is keeping silence and maybe God is more present in the silence than even in the answers that we have.  When you think about, do you think that sometimes our answers and our language about God get in the way of how God is being revealed in our life?  Austrian-born Israeli philosopher Martin Buber once wrote that “an eclipse of the sun is something occurs between the sun and our eyes, not in the sun itself.”  Perhaps our faith and our understanding of God is the same way.  Maybe we’re seeing all we can handle for now.  Maybe our questions are a whole lot more important for us than having the answer to it all.  (And here’s a hint:  We’ll read the story of our friend Job fo two more weeks.  I have it on good authority that it all turns out OK.  It just doesn’t look like what we thought it would.  Hmmm!  Isn’t that amazing that that keeps happening?)

Let go of your need to have all the answers and just be with God–there, there in the silence and hiddenness of a God who is waiting not to be defended by our answers and our words but to be given the space to say us into being once again.

Grace and Peace,


Our Just Reward

Lectionary Passage: Job 1:1; 2:1-10
To read this passage online go to http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=216363206

This week is the first of several weeks that our Lectionary includes passages from the Book of Job.  I love Job so I have to warn you that you may get your fill!  Someone asked me the other day why I loved this book so much.  I’m not sure.  I also don’t really know what that says about me.  I think it’s because it’s real.  There are no pretenses that are left about God or about ourselves after we read Job.  In fact, Job takes all of those contrived images of who God is and shakes them at their core.  We stand there, like Job, stripped of all we know leaving nothing for us but a relationship with God.

The story begins like a fairy tale usually begins:  “There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job.”  You could just as easily say, “Once upon a time in the land of Uz, there lived a man named Job.”  Job is depicted as righteous, blessed, and happy.  Every thing had gone well for Job.  He has a comfortable house with a large, roomy chef’s kitchen and a terrace overlooking a lush green valley.  His wife is happy and they’ve never had an argument.  His children are perfect.  There has never been a problem with drugs or behavioral problems or kids that just can’t seem to make it work.  And Job–he is healthy, happy, and has lovely straight teeth.  Life is perfect.  Job is righteous and upright and God has blessed them all. 

Really?  Oh come now!  Yes, my friends, it IS a fairy tale.  I mean, get real, no one’s life is perfect.  If they say it is, they are either lying to you or lying to themselves.  Life just doesn’t work like that.  Life is not perfect.  Instead, it is rich and deep and profoundly full of abundance and poverty, joy and sorrow, health and sickness, hope and despair, life and death.  And in those crevices between all of this emotion and all of this stuff, we find God.

We are uncomfortable with this idea of God “testing” Job.  I mean, really, do you like tests?  What kind of God does that?  But, remember, testing is not just about right and wrong.  If life becomes a focus only on getting the right answers, then there is no hope for any of us.  Think of testing more like a chemical test.  The outcome is not good or bad as outcomes go; rather, it is different, changed, something new.  So maybe God does allow this hassatan character to “test” Job a bit.  Keep in mind, this has nothing to do with either the first century notion of “satan” (notice there’s no capital letter–this is not a title or a person or even a being) or the later-contrived notion of a little red man with horns messing up our lives.  (I mean, personally, I do a good enough job of that myself!)  Rather, this more of an adversary operating on God’s behalf.  And the test proves that, even changed, Job’s integrity and Job’s love of God is intact.  When all that he knows and all that he relies upon is whisked away, Job still loves God.  But the adversary claims that Job would give all of this for his life.  He proposes a “skin for skin” challenge.  So, what would Job do if YHWH attacks Job’s life?  There is Jewish midrash that claims that God’s directive to spare Job’s life actually outwitted the trickster and skewed the whole question.  The command was like saying, “you may break the wine bottle, but you must not let the wine spill.” 
So the satan afflicts Job with foul boils that cover his body.  It was more than painful.  You remember the cultural understanding of that.  He would have separated from the community and shut away with the other unacceptables.  Job’s wife begs:  “Stand up for yourself!  Curse God!  DO SOMETHING!”  But Job remains steadfast.

SO, the prosperity gospel is not some new notion!  How many of us fall into the trap of thinking that if we just live right, eat right, vote right, play right, act right, worship right, and pray right, then God will reward us with prosperity or ease or eternal life.  You can fill in the blank.  Whatever it is, we will receive our “just reward”.  But then the story of Job drops into our lives like a cannonball.  Job’s story reminds us that God never promised us ease and plenty.  Rather, God promises Presence, Grace, and a Love more incredible than we can ever fathom–now, tomorrow, and every tomorrow thereafter.  No matter what we do, God keeps God’s promises.  Isn’t that better than worrying about whether or not we’ll be rewarded or punished in the future?

5th century theological St. Augustine of Hippo laid out two types of love–uti and frui.  Uti is essentially the love of use, the love for something because of what it gives you.  Admit it, you love money.  Now you’re not IN love with money.  You don’t look at a pile of green paper (or now a bigger number on your electronic bank statement) and love it.  But you pursue it because of what it will bring you.  That is “uti” love.  But “frui” love is loving something not because of what it will bring you but for the subject of the love itself.  It is unconditional.  Augustine maintained that our problem was that we often love God with “uti” love.  We love God because God will reward us (or because we are afraid of losing God’s support in our lives.)  But God desires something different.  God desires to be loved not because of what God can do for us, not because of any reward we hope to gain, but because in the deepest part of our being, we are made to love God and enjoy God forever. 

So, why do bad things happen to good people?  I don’t know.  Why do bad things happen to bad people?  I don’t know.  Why do bad things happen at all?  Job gives us no answers.  The story just reminds us to love the questions and the journey and the God who walks with us through it all.

So, go and love God…just love God.

Grace and Peace,


Room for Us

Esther and King Ahsuerus
Dura Euopos, Syria, 3rd century
The Jewish Art Museum of Minnesota

Lectionary Passage: Esther 7: 1-10, 9: 20-22
To read this passage online go to http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Esther+7:1-10&vnum=yes&version=nrsv and http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Esther+9:20-22&vnum=yes&version=nrsv.

The Book of Esther is a strange and difficult book for several reasons, first and foremost because it seems to be non-theological. There is no mention of God or God’s Presence.  There is no praying or worship.  But the book is very important to Jews because it records the deeds of a woman who was prepared to risk everything to save her people from the threat of genocide.  She is a heroine and her story is the basis for the Festival of Purim, at which time the whole book is read in the synagogue. 

On that holiday, the story is told of a beautiful young Jewish woman in Persia named Esther and her cousin Mordecai, who raised her as if she were his daughter. Now the king has divorced his queen, Vashti, and wants to take a new virgin bride. Esther was taken to the King’s house to become part of the harem, where she was loved more than any other woman by the king and made his queen, because he did not know that she was a Jew. The villain is Haman, an arrogant advisor to the king, who plots to destroy the Jewish people because Mordecai will not bow to him.  Mordecai persuades Esther to intercede for the Jewish people with the king even though this was very dangerous for her. Esther fasts for three days to prepare herself and then goes to the King. The Jewish people were ultimately saved and Haman was hanged on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Esther is depicted as a hero, a clever and faithful model of courage.  Rather than staying in the comfort and safety of her life, Esther stood up and spoke out in truth and love.

As I mentioned before, there is no mention of God.  There is no real religious motivation for anything that anyone does in the story.  So what do we do with a Biblical story where God is NOT inherently and obviously made know?  What do we do with a place where God is not?  Well, the truth is that God probably was not missing from this book at all; rather, God’s Spirit and God’s way of moving us to be who God envisions us to be is sometimes not as obvious as wind or fire but is rather embodied in the very Creation, the very humanity that God shaped into the image of the Godself.  It is, then, a story of God, embodied.  God is always and forever still God but maybe this story is a reminder that God does not control the world with seemingly robotic movement but rather breathes a piece of the Godself into each of us.  Perhaps, then, the will of God has nothing to do with fate or plans or some sort of pre-ordained destiny that is laid before us and on which we must tread but is instead handed to us for such a time as this.  Perhaps those places where it seems that God is not are the places where we are called to be.  Because, when you think about it, if we truly believe in God as an omnipresent otherness in our life, then how can there ever be places where God’s Presence is not?    

In her book, When God is Silent, Barbara Brown Taylor talks about another book by Hebrew scholar Richard Elliott Friedman entitled The Disappearance of God.   In it he chronicles what Taylor calls the “divine recession.”  “Working his way from Genesis to the minor prophets, he paints a portrait of God that fades as it goes.  Divine features that were distinct at the beginning of the story grow blurry as God withdraws, stepping back from human beings so that they have room to step forward.”

Room to step forward…maybe that’s the whole point.  Maybe that’s what the Book of Esther is about—the story of one who responded to the room God made to step forward, to act not upon our individual understanding of God but rather to respond to who God envisions God to be.  And maybe that’s what this dance with God is.  We don’t “get to” God and then check it off our spiritual “to do” list; rather, we let ourselves feel the rhythm of a God who sometimes holds us, sometimes takes us by the hand, and sometimes steps out onto the floor with a new beat and a new song and waits on tiptoe hoping that we might courageously and faithfully move to a place we’ve never been before. 

There is so much work to be done.  I don’t really think that God ever envisioned doing it all for us; otherwise, we would have been mere robots in the world and God would have instead sat there as some sort of divine programmer.  And, really, if that were the case, why would God have had to walk with us on this earth at all?  I mean, really, that was a whole lot of trouble for God to go to if God was just going to do everything anyway.  Instead, God created time and space such that we are experiencing now, stepped back, and called us to fill it with God’s love and God’s grace and the piece of the Godself that we are called to show to the world.  God not only gave us the gift of God’s Presence but with a wisdom only God could know, also gave us the gift of a holy absence that makes room for us.  You see, that IS the very Presence of God.  So what are you going to do with the room God made for you?

Grace and Peace,


The Wisdom Ideal

Arthur Kolnik
Woman Blessing Sabbath Candles

Lectionary Passage: Proverbs 31: 10-31
To read this passage online, go to http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Proverbs+31:10-31&vnum=yes&version=nrsv

We often don’t know what to do with this passage.  It’s just so odd.  I mean, here we’ve had thirty chapters of these little snippets of wisdom, a veritable checklist of the characters to which we should aspire and now, in the last chapter of Proverbs, they start talking about “a capable wife”.  What is that about?  I suppose it would be easy to dismiss it as some sort of archaic remnant of another time, when women stayed locked in their domesticated, caring roles and almost never ventured beyond, when the ideal was the perfect wife and the perfect household and the perfectly well-manicured children.  And in doing that, we’ve set up an ideal that when set against our lives, we would surely fall miserably short.  But I’m not so sure that was the intent at all.  I mean, really, do you think things were all that easy for women when this was written?  Do you think that living in a culture where women were subordinate if not meaningless really made it easy for them to get to the “ideal” described here?  In fact, do you really honestly think ANYONE in the thousands upon thousands of years of humanity ever really got to this?  Doubtful, very doubtful… (I mean don’t you think those cave-dwelling women had just as much trouble keeping their abode clean as we do?  And they didn’t even have the advantage of a Swiffer or Pledge All-Surface Cleaner!)

So what if we thought about it another way?  What if rather than wondering what in the world this odd little passage laying out an impossible ideal has to do with all the depictions of Wisdom that came before it, we looked at it in light of it all.  I mean, think about it, Wisdom literature by its very nature is not random.  It’s very intentional and very all-encompassing.  Perhaps rather than some sort of odd little tag on, this passage was meant to be the climax of the whole Proverbs collection, a sort of all-encompassing depiction of what it all means.  In fact, maybe it’s not really meant to be gender-specific at all!  Yes, before you men dismiss this as having nothing to do with you, what if you think of it as a metaphor for the composite that IS Wisdom, that IS the ideal to which we should all aspire?  I mean, there are numerous places in Scripture that carry feminine imagery–Lady Wisdom, Bride of Christ, the mothering, nurturing God.  They are not talking about women!  Why, then, would this particular one be limited to females (and wives and mothers besides)?  I guess I just don’t think that the Scriptures were intended to be gender-specific or even that life-situation-specific. 

Maybe it’s a metaphor of who we are all called to be—trustworthy, of strong character, and deep and abiding faith.  The “capable wife” is meant to convey the full significance of the wise, well-run household, the household that is run within the wisdom of God.  It is the household that is a powerful emblem to teach and guide future generations.  It IS the Household of God, our very lives.  And Wisdom calls us to follow in her ways.  It is a portrayal of faithful living, a depiction of the ideal believer to which we can all aspire.  It is not meant to set us up for failure.  I mean, have you read the Bible?  Stuff just keeps getting in the way.  (Thank God that Grace stuff also continues to show her lovely face!)  But this is an image of a different way.  That’s what our faith journey is about–finding that different way to relate to others, to live, to love.  It’s about finding the way to become Wisdom, to become the very image of God in which you were created.  It’s about letting go of the “ideal” that this world has fabricated and journeying into the Wisdom of God.

Don’t think of the Scriptures as a perfect “plan” laid out by God.  Think of it as the story of a journey that sometimes takes us through wonder and beauty, and sometimes through muck and crud.  We experience joy and grief in the same lifetime or we just aren’t human.  And sometimes we don’t make our beds every morning.  Thanks be to God!  But always, always there is more to come.  The journey is not about perfection; it is about longing–longing to be with God, longing to be the one who God envisions you to be.

When all work is brought to a standstill, the candles are lit.  Just as creation began with the word, “Let there be light!” so does the celebration of creation begin with the kindling of lights.  It is the woman who ushers in the joy and sets up the most exquisite symbol, light, to dominate the atmosphere of the home.  And the world becomes a place of rest.  An hour arrives like a guide, and raises our minds above accustomed thoughts.  People assemble to welcome the wonder of the seventh day, which the Sabbath sends out is presence over the fields, into our homes, into our hearts.  It is a moment of resurrection of the dormant spirit in our souls.  (Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath, p. 66)

Grace and Peace,


Freedom of Speech

Lectionary Passage: James 3: 1-12
To read this passage online, go to http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=James+3:1-12&vnum=yes&version=nrsv

I love words.  I like them alone or strung together into some semblance of a sentence or just a random thought.  I like learning new words.  And I am well on my way to becoming addicted to online Scrabble.  Words are powerful things.  They can soothe.  They can heal.  They can encourage. They can show love.  They can also hurt feelings, belittle, incite violence, or cause irreparable pain.  Words can destroy life and they can give life.  That’s really pretty incredible, when you think about it.

This passage from the epistle James is the longest in the Bible about the role of speech in our lives.  In a nutshell, it is telling us to “bridle our tongues”. (Which, I suppose is a little odd that there is this much talking about it!)  (Oh, forget the semantics.  Yeah, it’s telling us to shut up!)  But lest we get offended by the writer’s somewhat austere and offputting choice of words, it’s also about something deeper.  It’s asking us to look at the base or the foundation from which our words come.  It’s about how we relate to others and how we depict who we really are in the deepest core of our being.  “Taming our tongue” is more than just shutting up; it is more than merely being tactful or knowing the right thing to say at the right time.  Rather, our words point to who and what we really are.

This an interesting passage to read in light of what goes on in our world today.  We read of bullying by children toward their classmates.  We know that there is bullying in the workplace, when one who has power inflicts that power in force rather than wielding power as a creative and life-giving force.  And in the midst of this campaign year, we know that the rhetoric that we hear is anything but conducive to good human relations.  There are often times when our speech and our words in this world and society are indeed toxic.

So, in light of this passage, what does it mean to exercise “freedom of speech”?  Does it mean that we are allowed to say whatever we want to whomever we want whenever we want and for whatever reason we choose?  Well, that’s sort of the way our society lives.  Is that OK?  Is it alright for a random real estate developer to make a movie depicting Islam as a hateful religion?  Well, I suppose in the words of our law, it is.  But what does that say about us as a people, as a country, as Christians?  Just because a word can be uttered does not mean that it should be.  With great freedom comes great responsibility.  Perhaps freedom of speech is not about saying everything that comes to mind.  The writer of James would probably say that it is more the freedom to say yourself into being.  Because, when you think about it, that was done once, way back there, before you spoke your first word.  God spoke you into being, bringing life.  And God gave each of us the freedom of speech to say ourselves into being again.

Words are indeed powerful.  They are an expression of who we are.  They depict our character, our knowledge, and our command of the language with which we have been gifted.   Who do your words say that you are?  What part of the Godself in you do your words depict?  Shhhhhhhhh!  Listen…You know, that’s as powerful a word as any you might hope to utter.  Perhaps the wisdom of words is about knowing when to use your tongue and knowing when to use your ears, or your brain, or your heart.  Words are deeper than we usually let them be.  They have power.  And in between them, in the listening and the silence, comes the voice of God saying you into being once again.  Shhhhhhhh!

Last evening, I received a gift.  I visited two people who know each other, who have helped and supported each other.  And while visiting the first, he gave me the gift of words–words of affirmation, words of thanks, words of respect, words of love.  They were not for me.  Rather, I was gifted with the opportunity to carry those words to the other person.  I did.  There were tears when they were uttered and tears when they were heard.  They were life-giving words.  That is what they should be.  What words do you utter?  What words do you hear?  And what words do you carry from one heart to another?  Do this in remembrance of me.  What we say and what we don’t say are part of who we are and who we are called to be.  The Word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

Grace and Peace,