2018 Sonnet 27

Chinese dragons have no wings. Over there
Nature didn’t sing scale Occidental.
They do have scales. Just sayin’. If you care.
Their European cousins live in mental

Space that’s much the same. Breathe fire. Scale armor.
So what’s the deal with feathers on the wings?
Eyelids, not like snakes, and such. There’s far more
Features shared than not between those two things.

Europe dragons fight Knights of Round Table
Chinese dragons shield emperial power.
Feral dragons flying free disable
Dragonmaster’s dream in ivory tower.

Sunrise dragons are stuck behind the Wall.
Sunset dragons won’t answer when you call.

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2018 Antisonnet One

Maybe I should just be a rapper
Stringing rhymes within my Trapper
Keeper. But never going Deeper.

Maybe I should be a poet
Trying not to let you know it
Matters. It’s just how language shatters.

This one doesn’t count because
The pattern hasn’t found the pause
On paper. It’s just a language caper.

This one doesn’t make the cut
Because it doesn’t take time but
It shows. That’s just the way it flows.

Fools rush in, and now I’m bolder
Than when I was 12 years older
Than a baby. That’s when I said maybe

I should put it in a book,
So I did but now it all looks
Scrappy. It’s just a little crappy.

Words deep fried, cooked in lard,
And drained upon a greeting card
For later. You shread it in a grater

And serve it up with grits and cheese
Then sit around and shoot the breeze
About the story. You can’t take the glory

Because it’s all been driven
By the rhyme that we were given
From the culture. I’m just a language vulture.

All in the Family

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

Mark 3:31-34

At Mark 3:20, we learn that Jesus and His disciples had entered a house, just after Jesus appointed 12 as apostles, and the crowd that gathered was so thick that the He and his disciples could not even eat. His family went to take charge of him and they said, “He is out of his mind.” Apparently, the crowd was so thick that Jesus mother and brothers could not even enter the house.

This was an example of Jesus seeking first the Kingdom of God. He wasn’t interested in eating. It was not that He never got hungry, but Jesus knew that God would provide. Jesus was practicing what he preached in the Sermon on the Mount. Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or drink. (Matt. 6:35) Jesus knew that there would be time to eat after the crowds went away.

There is a law in the book of Leviticus that says the Israelites are to farm the land for six years, then let it go unplanted and unharvested in the seventh year. God promised a blessing in the sixth year that would get the children of Israel through the seventh year. Orthodox Jews are adamant about keeping the Sabbath – performing no work on the seventh day – for the same reason. They do no work on the seventh day to demonstrate that God ultimately, God takes care of us, even when we exert no effort.

It’s also worth noting that Jesus and the disciples are in a house. They are not in a Synagogue or a Temple. In a synagogue and in the Temple, men had authority over women, Jews over Gentiles, and Priests over laity. In a house, there is no such restriction.

Consider what Jesus says in our scripture. There are many places in our Bibles where “brothers” is translated “brothers and sisters.” That’s appropriate because it actually meant all siblings, or everyone of the faith, and not just male believers or siblings. The same problem arises with “deacons”, which is always masculine but meant both. In Paul’s letters, the King James translators used “minister” where it referred to men and “servants” where it referred to women. Today, we might use “deacons” and “deaconesses” to make the point that women are included. But the very reason we debate this is that in Paul’s letters, men and women ARE included as deacons, or ministers, or servants, or whatever you want to call them. We are not doing something weird by including women in church leadership – they have always been in church leadership.

But here, we don’t have to politically correct the translation. In the original manuscript, Jesus actually says “mother and brother and sister”. He didn’t say father, because as he had taught, “you have one father, even God,” and that’s certainly how Jesus identified Himself. But the inclusion of “mother” and “sister” in this scripture is from the lips of Jesus, and not some modern addition by the translators. I’m certain that Jesus looked out over the crowd in that house, saw many women, including women followers, and spoke about what he saw. He intentionally said that those who do the will of God “ARE my mother AND my brother AND my sister.”

I believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. That means that I am not going to take what it says lightly, and I try not to spin it to personal advantage. We all know that there are denominations who read the translators instead of the word being translated, and by doing that, women are barred from leadership. I think we also go wrong when we read the culture instead of the message. In so many places, the culture of the Bible says that women and gentiles and persons with physical disabilities are less than holy. But in many other places, the Word of God breaks through the culture of that day. We read at Pentecost how the prophet went out of his way to say “sons AND daughters”, “servants, both male AND female.” And if you read Paul to restrict women, then you also have to read how he said that in Christ there is neither slave nor free, Greek nor Jew, male nor female.

The stories of Jesus dining with sinners, calling tax collectors, healing Gentiles and including women are not beside the point; they ARE the point. The Bible sets the scene of a society where normal is one way, then God intervenes to break out of that mold.

Before our scripture today, Jesus has designated the 12 apostles, and we all know that they happened to be men. One was a traitor too, by the way, so we know better than to think that Jesus was selecting the holiest of people. He was choosing those who could move freely in that day, across boarders and into the synagogues and the temple. But at the crucifixion, in Mark 15:40-41, we read this: “Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdaline, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him from Jerusalem were also there.”

In Luke 8:1-3, after the story of the woman who anointed Jesus feet, we read this: “After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and villagte to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the Manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.”

Please don’t think I’m trying to be feminist or politically correct. What I’m trying to say is we accept women as equals not because it is politically correct, but because it is ACTUALLY correct. Because in the text of a male dominated religion from a male dominated society, scripture written by men has to report on women in leadership or fail to tell the whole story.

This is not about women. When Jesus healed ten lepers, He marveled that the only one who returned to say thanks was a Samaritan. When a Roman Centurian asked Jesus to heal his beloved servant, Jesus praised him as having greater faith than all in Israel because that Gentile came with humility and believed that Jesus could heal without even coming into the house. When Jesus called the first disciples, he didn’t call priests and politicians, but fishermen and tax collectors. Sages from the East followed a star to the newborn Jesus, but the Angels in Heaven appeared to unclean, common shepherds.

There are a lot of scripture that talk about being separate – separate from the world, separate from gentiles, separate from nonbelievers. There are scripture that say touch no unclean thing, and I know we all have heard that the “holy” means “set apart for God.” My grandfather was taught that these scriptures meant that people of different races, nationalities and denominations, and he didn’t shake that until very late in life. He didn’t reject scripture, but he did study it for himself and made up his own mind. Jesus didn’t break the Sabbath and dietary laws; he just took the true meaning of scripture instead of what everyone else said it meant.

My point is not to sow seeds of doubt in the Bible. As I’ve said before, I bow to no one in deference to what scripture says. But I do emphasize what it actually says, and not what people think it says. If you use a scripture to make your point, you have to know and understand all the verses that make the opposite point. And in the end, we have to be humble enough to say that we don’t know everything about the Bible.

Last week, we talked about how God looks beyond outward appearances, how God sees the diamonds while we see the Dixie cups. The Bible has a lot to say about those Dixie cups, but the important part is what it says about those diamonds in the Dixie cup. Peter said scripture is spiritually discerned

The Bible is the story of the family of Adam, then the family of Abraham, then the family of Israel, and finally the family of God. The first three families were by birth, but the last is by faith. Jesus was the son of David and the lion of Judah, and he rightfully claims both titles from his family lineage. But here he tells us that those titles won’t get us into heaven, or keep us out. “Those who do God’s will are my mother, and my brother, and my sister.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, may we all be accepted as brothers and sisters of Christ by doing the Father’s will: Working together, loving one another and walking humbly with God.

Amen.

From Out of Nowhere

Jesus is the ultimate outsider – adapted by foreign cultures, rejected by His own, at conflict in His day with Pharisees, Sadducees and Zealots – translate as the radical, establishment and rebellious branches of Judaism. And with every new generation, Jesus is adopted by traditionalists and progressives alike, each convinced that His true teaching agrees with theirs.

Jesus is a religious outsider. According to Hebrews 5, Jesus is “a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” The first mention of any priest in scripture is a reference to Melchizedek, King of Salem (“peace”) and Priest of the Most High God (“Elyon El”). Melchizedek came from out of nowhere. “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, [Melchizedek] remains a priest forever.” (Hebrews 7:3)

The people of His day expected the Messiah to be a King, not a Priest. Melchizedek was both, the first of his kind and honored by Abraham, father of Israel and many other nations. Through Joseph, Jesus’ lineage was accepted as in the house of David. With the virgin birth, that lineage is cast into doubt. And Jesus could not be a traditional priest because he was not a Levite, the priestly tribe. “For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.” (Hebrew 7:14)

Wrong place, wrong time, wrong people, friend of sinners and the outcast. In Him the Gentiles place their hope. Jesus was, and still is, the ultimate outsider.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, boys could be expelled from school for wearing their hair too long or growing facial hair. In response, we all pointed to Warren Sallman’s “Head of Christ”, the iconic Jesus image with shoulder-length hair and that perfect beard. The painting sold more than 500 million copies, and that Jesus was also featured in other Sallman paintings. With that, our parents were forced to admit that “we don’t actually know what Jesus looked like”. That, in turn, opened the door to even the even more radical possibility that Jesus was more Middle Eastern than White.

Still, each generation tends to see Jesus as looking like themselves – in opinion and morality, if not physically. In 1939, German theologians established the Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Religious Life. It’s purpose was to remake Jesus in the Nazi image, the perfect Aryan who started Christianity to oppose Judaism. The notion turns history on its head, and yet it isn’t so different from many anti-Semitic, Aryan groups that exist even today.

In Matthew, Jesus sent out the twelve disciples, saying, “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matt. 10:5-6) But the people Jesus healed were largely Gentiles and Samaritans. And at John 12:21, the Greek visitors seeking Jesus during the festival was taken as a sign that Jesus’ ministry was nearly done. (“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” 12:23)

This outsider status of Jesus has spiritual significance. None of us can claim to possess Jesus; we are either grafted-in Gentiles to a Jewish Rabbi or descendants of His people who rejected Him. Jesus does not mimick our looks, our politics, our morality, nor anything else about us. He possesses us, not vice versa, and He is the cornerstone to which we must square our lives – not vice versa.

It is tempting to remake Jesus into our image. But Jesus knows no political party, because the parties hold the moral high ground like the gambler holds cards – some good, some not so much. All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God – and Jesus is the standard by which that is determined.

This outsider status is also a tool for evangelism. “But you were raised Christian; I wasn’t.” Jesus was not raised Christian! “If I was blessed like you, I’d be a Christian, too.” Jesus was a blessing, but few people would describe Jesus as “blessed.” “I just don’t fit in; I’m not like you.” Jesus was not like anybody. He was unique, from out of nowhere, after the order of Melchizedek.

In short, Jesus comes from somewhere else, from outside of our world, our opinions, our viewpoints. We are equally challenged by the life of Jesus, and we all fall short. We can’t use Jesus to control others – indeed, we can’t use Jesus at all! Rather, Jesus uses us to forward His kingdom. We pray for God’s will, not our own, and we see Jesus as the ultimate example of one putting God’s will above His own.

Jesus comes from out of nowhere. When we embrace that concept, we empower the Gospel story to bring eternal life to whoever believes, from all nations, cultures and generations. Remake Him like us, and we take Him away from those who are different. A Jesus who is more like us is less like Jesus. God forbid that we should compromise the Gospel to fit our agenda, regardless of which direction it leans.

Death by Clutter

Today, I remember a friend who died of clutter. He saved everything that might fit his dream future, everything that might sell for more than it cost, and everything that had sentimental value. His stuff tied him down, stole his money, chipped away at his fragile health and separated him from family and friends.

In the end, it was clutter that took his life. I don’t know what happened to all his stuff. It was probably bulldozed into a ditch or sold to a salvage yard for pennies on the dollar.

My friend was not unkind, but in this matter, he was unwise. Jesus warned us not to store our treasure on earth, not to let riches choke out our ministries.

Dear Lord, don’t let us die of clutter! Give us the faith to let go of the things that trip us up and hold us down. Let our time be spent loving others. Take away our love of stuff and replace it with a hunger to know and serve You.

“The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

— Luke 12:16-21 (NIV)

Social Media & Bookish Diversions

Much is said these days about the addictive quality of social media — with good reason. In my lifetime, I have witnessed the addictive quality of television, the internet and the 24-hour news cycle. As teenagers, our parents said we were addicted to the telephone — the dumb one attached by wire to the wall. As the first owner of a radio in his neighborhood, my grandfather experienced the addictive power of radio. Even reading has an addictive quality.

I have been known to use all of the above as a substitute for, or a shield from, social interaction. It isn’t easy to be painfully shy or socially inept. Sometimes, we’d rather see ourselves as loners, nerds, or bookworms. Social skills must be learned, and I played hooky from that school by burying myself in bookish distractions and gadgets.

Fortunately, a career in journalism forced me to interact with others, and with ministry, I have become “addicted” to interacting with other people.

I caught a waitress dancing as I left the restaurant yesterday. Her embarrassment was short-lived, because I started dancing, too. I talk to people in checkout lines. I unabashedly ask for names, declare my memory bad and ask for names again. I once embarrassed a new friend by praying for the meal in a restaurant, and I offered to stand on the table and preach to the wait staff and customers. A painfully bashful boy has become an intrusively social adult — and I like this better!

Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue. He and his disciples were NOT illiterate or ignorant. Jesus read people like we read books: “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.” (John 2:23-25) He taught his disciples to do so as well — but with love, empathy, and goodwill. Most of all, Jesus taught us to get personal with God, to fall into God’s embrace and bask in God’s love.

Jesus also taught us to put things in their proper place. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

Books and computers are things, not people. It is good to use them to learn about people, to express kindness to people, and to serve others. But these things are no substitute for field research. The goal is people; things are good that bring us closer, and not so good if they isolate or insulate. Don’t let any Thing stand between you and real people, in real life. And don’t let any Thing or Person stand between you and God, the source of all life.

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Good Servant, Bad Servant

“Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

— Matthew 24:24-30 NRSV

We have all heard the parable: A man goes off for a long journey after giving three servants five talents, two talents and one talent. The servants with five and two each doubled their talents, and having been faithful in a few things, they were entrusted with many things. The servant with one talent protected the talent, but didn’t invest it. The punishment seems harsh – casting into outer darkness – but remember, it’s a parable, and Jesus was big on hyperbole.

I grew up thinking the talents in the story were actual talents, like singing, dancing, public speaking and the like. We may differ in gifts of talent, but our job is to multiply those talents. Now, I know that in the parable, talents are money – but the story works either way!

We are all gifted with something – talents, prowess, location, nationality, family, race and the like. Regardless of what we were given at birth, or by good fortune, the point is not to hoard and protect it, but to invest it and multiply it. As Jesus says in the book of Luke, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48)

The master in this story is presumably God, entrusting us with God’s treasure, and expecting a return on investment when God comes back. The parable could represent anything – talents, money, merchandise, souls – but for my purposes, I’ll modernize it like this:

The bishop entrusted three pastors with three churches. One church was plenty big, with lots of people. The second church was a modest church, with more than a few empty pews. The third church was nearly empty, and the aging members were thinking it might be time to throw in the towel.

The bishop flew to Europe for a while, then returned unexpectedly to see how the three churches were doing. He visited the pastor of the big church. “Look what we’ve done!” the pastor said. “We have the church you assigned me to, and we’ve grown to fill two more auditoriums! We’ve raised up an army of pastors, and we’re stuffed to the brim every Sunday. They come for the music, but a lot of people have come to Christ through this church!”

“Well done,” the bishop said. “You’ve been faithful with a big church, and now you’re in charge of an even bigger church! I’ve got my eye on you.” Then, the bishop moved on to the second church

“God has been good,” said the second pastor. “Our membership has grown a little, but our missions have grown a lot! Since you assigned me to this church, we’ve started a food bank, do homeless outreach, and conduct after-school programs to keep kids off the streets. Our Vacation Bible School this year was bigger than the church! I want to thank you for assigning me to such a great bunch of people. They really love the Lord; all I had to do was to give them encouragement and support.”

“Well done,” the bishop said. “You’ve been faithful with a sleepy church, and now it’s a church doing great things for the community. What a testimony! I might have other churches that could use encouragement like that. I’ve got my eye on you.”

Lastly, the bishop went to see the third pastor. “They wanted to close,” the pastor said, “and I almost let them do it. But I kept putting it off and telling people if they just hang in there, we’ll grow a little bit.” Well, we didn’t grow, but we did take care of the building, and we managed to hold on to most of the members. I’m glad you’re back; here’s your church, just like you left it. Do you maybe have another assignment for me?”

The bishop was furious. “What, you think this is your retirement home? What did you do to shake things up? Did you even hang a sign outside? Add a service? Beef up the refreshments? Did you learn to make a decent cup of coffee? You’re a pastor! You know what it takes to grow a church, and you didn’t even try! Another assignment? Hah! I wouldn’t trust you with a dog wash! You’re out of here, you bum! Go sell shoes or something!”

Two whom much is given, much is required, but that’s okay, because it’s a lot to work with. The first two servants doubled their master’s money. The first two pastors put forth some effort, and it paid off. The last servant just buried the money. The last pastor kept things from falling in, but that’s all.

The question is, where are we in these parables? What is our own parable? What talents or gifts did you win or inherit? What gifts were you born with? If it’s one talent, invest it; you might end up with two! If it’s one testimony, talk about it; you might see another miracle before it’s over. If it’s one assignment, do it with all your might, then offer take on more assignments, as well. But if you have one gift – good looks, math skills, a good eye for deals, whatever – then you don’t need to rest on your laurels. Invest whatever the Master gave you, because the Master’s coming back, and we will be held accountable for what we did with those gifts.