Sunday, March 31, 2013

How Our Hearts Glowed! (Easter 3/31/13)

How Our Hearts Glowed!
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

Easter Sunday
March 31, 2014

Denying the Resurrection
Peter Rollins 
Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think…
I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.
However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.

Luke 24:13-32, A New, New Testament
It happened that very day that two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem, talking together, as they went, about all that had taken place.  While they were talking about these things and discussing them, Jesus himself came up and went on their way with them; but their eyes were blinded so that they could not recognize him.  “What is this that you are saying to each other as you walk along?” Jesus asked.  They stopped, with sad looks on their faces, and then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, said to Jesus:  “You must be the only person in Jerusalem not to have heard of the things that have happened there within the last few days.” “What things do you mean?” asked Jesus.  

“Why, about Jesus of Nazareth,” they answered, “who , in the eyes of God and all the people, was a prophet, whose power was felt in both his words and actions; and how the chief priests and our leaders gave him up to be sentenced to death, and afterward crucified him.  But we were hoping that he was the one to set Israel free; yes, and besides all this, it is now three days since these things occurred.  And what is more, some of the women among us have greatly astonished us.  They went to the tomb at daybreak and, not finding the body of Jesus there, came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels who told them that he was alive.  So some of our number went to the tomb and found everything just as the women had said; but they did not see him at all.”

Then he said to them:  “You slow and hardhearted people, slow to accept all that the prophets have said!  Was not the Christ bound to undergo this suffering before entering into his glory?”  Then, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them all through the writings the passages that referred to himself.  When they got near the village to which they were walking, Jesus appeared to be going further; but they pressed him not to do so.  “Stay with us,” they said, “for it is getting toward evening, and the sun is already low.”  So Jesus went in to stay with them.  After he had reclined with them at the meal, he took the bread and said the blessing, and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him’ but he disappeared from their sight.  “How our hearts glowed,” his followers said to each other, “while he was talking to us on the road, and when he explained the writings to us!”

This text, known in shorthand as the “Walk to Emmaus,” is one of my favorite Easter stories.  It tells in a narrative form the experience of an encounter with the holy or with the sacred.    

We might ask at some point in our life, perhaps in the midst of uncertainty or loss, or perhaps at a point in which we have matured to a state of openness, or in a time in which we are not afraid of exploring our doubts or expanding our vistas, we might dare to ask these kinds of questions: 
“Where is God to be found?”  or
“What is God doing in our world and in my life?” or
“How might I be more connected spiritually with myself, others, and Earth?”
These are the big questions.   If you are tired of the simplistic answers to them by people who seem to want to sell you their theories, I am on your team.   There are many stories in the Bible and in other spiritual texts that touch on those questions.   The best of these stories are packed with metaphor, symbol, and levels of meaning that require an engagement.     They are not questions whose answers are explained in a fill in the blank study guide.    They require a willingness to wrestle and they refuse to tell you if you are right or if you are wrong.  They refuse to give the answer.    You have to ask, seek, and knock yourself.  

Not everyone wants to do that of course.  That is fine.  No one can judge that.  There is no one keeping score.  One can settle for ready made answers.    One can live his or her life by following what someone else decides is right or wrong, or true or false.  

But when the questions begin to nag you, you have to choose.   You can choose to ignore them or if they really bother you, try to silence them.  Or you can explore them.   On the path, one is not given permission.  One cannot have permission taken away.   One is not told when to start or when to stop.    The spiritual path is yours.   There are many fellow travelers.   There are guides on this path.   Stories can be guides.   The best, the ones that have stood the test of time, don’t say too much.  They poke, tease, trick, whatever, so you’ll take notice.   

Notice in this text how little is said.   Two are walking on the road.   Joining them is the Risen Christ.  They don’t recognize him.  Isn’t that like life?   The holy one, the sacred is in our midst and we can’t see a thing.    It isn’t that we don’t see it, we don’t see it for what it is.    They hear Jesus.  They see Jesus.  They don’t see him for who he is.   

The irony is of course that they are talking about him.   Then Jesus tells them that they are “hardhearted.”  That is an interesting word.   Their eyes are fine.  Their ears are clear.  Their hearts are hardened.     The problem is not with understanding and knowledge.  The problem is the heart.  

Jesus explains to them the scriptures.    One would think that the author would use this opportunity to give us the answers.  What scriptures?   Give us the proof.   Show exactly which scriptures provide us with the answers.   No, the author doesn’t do that.   The author doesn’t tell us what scriptures are relevant, how they should be read, what they mean, or even what texts are scripture in the first place.  

There is a lot of unknown there.    

After Jesus explains the scriptures to them, our travelers stop for the evening.  They implore this stranger to stay.   They still don’t know who he is.  At the table, as Jesus blesses and breaks the bread, they see him. 
They see him as he really is.  Immediately, of course, he disappears, and then they say, “How our hearts glowed!”   They are talking about how their hearts glowed when the scriptures were explained by Jesus on the road.     

Notice that there are no answers in this text.  No smoking gun.   No proof of God.   There is nothing for them to take as evidence.    All they have are hearts that glowed.     Bread is bread.  Scripture is made of words on a page.  But when the sacred appears to them, when they encounter the holy, their hearts glow.    Bread becomes a divine meal and words on a page become divine speech.   
Hardened hearts become hearts that glow.

That story describes an encounter with the Risen Christ.  It is a story of resurrection.   Resurrection is a transformation not from death to life, but from suffering to life.   It is transformation from brokenness to life. 
Theologian Peter Rollins has been my guest this week on my radio program,Religion For Life.   If you missed it, he is on today at 2 on 89.5 WETS.   In the interview he said that people think religion is about asking whether there is life after death.  But really religion asks, “Is there life before death?”  

Resurrection is not about life after death.  It is about transformation from brokenness, suffering, pain, injustice, and loss to life.  It is transformation from hardheartedness to a heart that glows.  

That assertion cries out for an illustration.  Here goes:

In our Thursday study group we have been reading James Cone’s important book,The Cross and the Lynching Tree.   Alongside of that we have been watching the PBS video series, Eyes on the Prize:  America’s Civil Rights Years.   This whole experience has been an illustration of resurrection.
Brokenness, injustice, indignity, is transformed, painfully, story by story, into life.   Think of the courage of the nine black students who went to school in Little Rock under the guard of federal troops.   Each student had to be escorted from class to class.    The whole nation had to be transformed during this time.  Hardened hearts had to be softened.   

One story I am thinking of in particular centers around the desegregation of the lunch counters in Nashville.   From February to May 1960, the National Student Movement led non-violent, direct action sit-ins at lunch counters in downtown Nashville.    They trained to sit and not resist violently if attacked.   

They were attacked verbally and physically at the various sit-ins around Nashville.  Rather than desegregate store owners tried to outlast the movement by closing the counters.  Violence increased and people didn’t want to go downtown at all.  The police came and arrested the students engaged in the protests.   The students surprised them.  As they arrested one group sitting at the counters, another group of students would take their place.  And then another wave.   Eventually, the police arrested 150 of them.   The lawyer, Alexander Looby,  who was defending the students had his home bombed.    This event proved to be the catalyst for change.    

On the day of the bombing 4000 people marched on City Hall.    Ben West, the white mayor, had used the typical rhetoric and strategy that outside agitators were the problem.    But that day he was confronted on the steps of City Hall in front of the news media and was asked what he believed about the morality of segregation.   A young college student at Fisk University, Diane Nash, asked the mayor:
“Mayor West, do you think it is wrong to discriminate against a person solely on the basis of their race or color?” 
He admitted in front of the cameras, that yes, it was wrong.  He later said of this exchange:
 “And I found that I had to answer it frankly and honestly – that I did not agree that it was morally right for someone to sell them merchandise and refuse them service. And I had to answer it just exactly like that. Of course I received considerable criticism for it, but if I had to answer it again I would answer it in the same way again because it was a moral question and it was one a man has to answer and not a politician.”
That to me is resurrection.   That is when the hardened heart is transformed into a heart that glows because it has been confronted with truth and morality.   His heart glowed, it burned that day, because he was confronted with a moral question and had to answer it as he said as a human being not a politician.      
That is being confronted by the Risen Christ on the Emmaus Road.

It has done my heart good this week to watch the proceedings at the Supreme Court.    My heart glows to see the courageous, colorful, and creative people with humor and determination tell the truth about their lives and expect full equality.  Hardened hearts, who knows, maybe even some on the Supreme Court, will be transformed into hearts that glow.  

There will be justice, equality, and dignity for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people and their married partners and their families throughout this country.   It will come because people ask for it and expect it.   Like the young college student Diane Nash asked of the mayor in 1960, so millions are asking now, 
“Is it wrong to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity?”   
If any institution needs changing in regards to this issue, it is the church.   I am grateful for this congregation for not being afraid and for taking a stand and for opening its table to be a welcome table to all people.     It is a moral question.    We should never forget that.
How our hearts glowed.
“Where is God to be found?” 
“What is God doing in our world and in my life?”
“How might I be more connected spiritually with myself, others, and Earth?”
One answer might be that God is in the midst of struggle for human dignity.    That is where the early followers of Jesus found God.  They met together and broke bread and didn’t give up or give in to bullies with crosses and whips.    For them Jesus was risen and alive and inspiring them to live the truth of Galatians 3:28: 
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
When I was in Billings, Montana at my last church I made friends with a couple of Sisters of Charity.  I was involved with some of them in social justice issues including racial issues and in helping the church and community understand LGBT concerns.    In short, to transform hearts.

One day one of the sisters was in the hospital.  I can’t remember what she was facing, but it was serious and she was in a lot of pain.  I sat with her in the hospital.   She asked me how I was doing.  I was nearing the end of my time in Billings.  It was a conflicted time.   With 20/20 hindsight, I can see how I might have been more skillful in navigating it all.   At any rate, many of the people were ready for me to go.   Gay rights, and my action against the war, and historical Jesus scholarship were three causes too many.   

Even though she was the one suffering, I told her about my struggles.  She did a beautiful thing.  She said she would take her suffering and pain and turn it into prayer so that it might be healing for me.    I was touched by that.    I thought what a beautiful way to approach your own suffering and brokenness.    Use it as a path to show compassion and healing for others.  I have tried to remember that.  

That is resurrection.   

Transforming brokenness and pain into life.    
It was for me an encounter with the holy.
One final illustration.

Those who are visiting today might not know that we lost our twenty-five year old son, Zach, nine months ago.   This is of course the first Easter since his death.    

What is resurrection?  

It is for me a promise.  I can’t say my heart glows.  It hurts.   It is broken.   If resurrection is the transformation of brokenness to life, I am going to need to take that on faith for now.   And I do.   I do know that I am being transformed.  I am being changed.     I can’t look at pictures of Zach without feeling the pain.   But I still look because I know that is the path.    I know that every act of remembrance is transformative.    I trust my grief will be transformed into compassion.   I know that my pain through prayer may serve as healing for another.    I know also that the beautiful things about him will not be lost and the painful things will be transformed.     

That is where the resurrection meets the road for me.    

And finally in the bigger mystery of it all, I trust in the Great Peace symbolized by the welcome table in the presence of the holy one and in the communion of saints where there will be no more grief or crying or pain. 

In the meantime, this side of the grave, I am held up by this communion of saints as we travel the Emmaus Road together, breaking bread, and catching a glimpse of the Risen Christ as our brokenness is transformed by grace.  


Sunday, March 24, 2013

E'er Love and Sorrow Meet (Palm/Passion 3/24/13)

E'er Love and Sorrow Meet
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

Palm/Passion Sunday
March 24, 2013

Diary of a Young Girl  Anne Frank    
It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death.  I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions.  And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.  In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals.  Perhaps the day will come when I’ll be able to realize them!

Led by one of Jesus’ disciples, the police show up at the place Jesus and the rest of his followers were gathered.  Because Jesus had often gone to the place, Jesus’ followers knew the place too.  And the police seized Jesus and held him fast.  And the disciples all deserted Jesus and ran away.
They brought Jesus before the high priest. 
The ranking priests bound Jesus and turned him over to Pilate, the Roman governor.  Then Pilate had Jesus flogged and turned him over to be crucified.
And the Roman soldiers bring him to the place Golgotha (which means “Place of the skull”.  And the soldiers crucify him.
Now some women were observing this from a distance, among whom were Mary of Magdala, and Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses, and Salome.  These women had regularly followed and assisted him when he was in Galilee, along with many other women who had come up to Jerusalem in his company.
Then Jesus breathed his last.

On Sunday the crowd welcomed Jesus with palm leaves and shouts of, “Hosanna!”

On late Thursday night or early Friday morning the crowd shouted, “Crucify him!”

Why is that?  

Many sermons and commentaries explain the why by saying that the crowd was fickle or fearful.   Usually the sermon emphasizes our sin and how we human beings aren’t to be trusted.   We follow Jesus when the going is fun and easy and abandon him or even crucify him when the going is rough.  Because of that Jesus dies alone without a friend.

And so on.

I always found that depressing.  
Actually I find most theological reflection on the cross to be depressing.    The whole debt of sin thing, for instance.   Because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden, all human beings are stained with original sin.  We are totally depraved and must face God’s righteous punishment, which is eternal damnation.   But God is merciful and sends Jesus to die on the cross for our sins thus paying our debt for us.   Those who believe that story will be saved.    Those who don’t will be damned for all time.    

That's one way to look at it.  It is not the only way.   You won't find that theory in the Bible even.  Called the substitutionary atonement theory or the satisfaction theoryof the atonement, it was developed in the 11th century, 1000 years after Jesus by a theologian named Anselm.  

Did you know that Christians never even depicted Jesus on the cross in their artwork until the 10th century?   Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker searched through early Christian artwork for images of Jesus dead on the cross and couldn’t find them in any artwork within 1000 years of his death.   Images of Jesus for early Christians had him in front of an empty cross or as a shepherd, teacher, or healer.   The images were of a restored creation, not an otherworldy realm.  The sense was that through Jesus, creation itself is restored to justice and peace.    You might be interested in their book, Saving Paradise:  How Christianity Traded Love of this World for Crucifixion and Empire.  

We have most certainly traded the historical Jesus with his teachings and his healing for theologies of crucifixion.    It is good for crowd control.   

It is true that Jesus was crucified.  He along with many others were tortured and executed by the Roman Empire in collaboration with local political and religious leaders in order to bend the population to Rome’s control.   

A modern parallel to that was the lynching of African-Americans from the 1870s to the 1940s.  Between three and five thousand African-Americans were lynched by crowds outside the law but blessed by the law and custom.   The reason?   Crowd control.  They wanted to make sure that African-Americans knew and kept to their supposed place.   

Theologian James Cone, author of The Cross and Lynching Tree is surprised throughout his book why it is that African-Americans made the obvious connection between the cross of Jesus and the lynching tree and Whites couldn’t.   It depends which crowd you identify with, he decides.     Or in the words of Jesus,
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
African-Americans sang songs about the cross of Jesus, songs like “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?”   They knew the terror and the fear of the lynching tree and they found in Jesus someone who had gone through it.  They saw in Jesus, the face of God who identified with them in their suffering.   

My ancestors, my great-great- grandfather John Shaubut and his brother Henry Shaubut were likely present at the largest mass execution in United States history.   Not a lot of people know about this.  It happened the day after Christmas in 1862 in Mankato, Minnesota.    The United States government had made treatieswith the Sioux that the United States government decided were not expedient to keep.  The Sioux were in the way of white progress.   

In response to the violation of treaties as well as famine, there was a revolt called the Sioux or Dakota uprising.  It climaxed on December 26th, 1862 with the public hanging of 38 Native Americans.  Following the execution, The U.S. Governmentexpelled all the Dakota from Minnesota.    A newspaper reported that a crowd watched the execution from Henry Shaubut’s store.    I imagine my great-great grandfather watched the spectacle as well.   They were good Presbyterians and law-abiding folk.    I am sure they saw the execution of these 38 human beings as the execution of justice.   That day, they were part of the crowd.

My two nieces’ grandmother on their mother’s side is a Sioux Indian.  We have a photo of her father, on a horse and in a full headdress.   My nieces don’t know their ancestry beyond that, but it would be likely that they are related to those who were executed.   My nieces have ancestors in both crowds.  

Crucifixions, executions, and lynchings of various sorts have always been popular.   They are entertaining.  A spectacle of supposed justice and identity.  A way to ward off fear of the other.   A way to project fear and rage onto an enemy.  There are people who are lynched and there are people who do the lynching.  
That takes us back to the crowds.   

I was relieved when I learned that there were two crowds in the Holy Week story.  The crowd wasn’t fickle, praising Jesus on Sunday and calling for his death on Thursday.  There were two crowds.   The crowd that welcomed Jesus with palm branches was made up of those who were poor, who were landless, and who were pushed around.  They were the lame, the blind, and the outcast.   They also included some who had means and who, perhaps for matters of conscience, identified with them.    

They saw in Jesus, hope, dignity, and possibility.  This crowd was more likely to be lynched than to be cheering on any lynching.  For them, crucifixion meant terror, pain, and death, not law and order.  The crowd that cried out for his lynching was made up of the religious leaders and the political leaders, those who had been the enemies of Jesus all throughout his ministry.    They are the ones who wanted him dead.   They wanted to make of him an example.   For them crucifixion was a way to control the other crowd so that their dreams of liberation and dignity wouldn’t mess up the good thing the religious leaders had going with Rome.  

The second crowd that called for the execution of Jesus did not have a heart for the first crowd.  

They couldn’t see another’s suffering as their own.  They instead saw the other’s liberation as a threat to their own way of life.

Here we are in 2013 hearing once again this story of Jesus.    Why?  It is not an easy story.   It is not a light and happy story.  Why tell again the story of the torture and execution of Jesus?  What purpose does it serve?    When the powerful tell the story, that is, when organized religion and empire tells and interprets the story, it is about keeping people obedient.    The dominant story of paying the debt of original sin and what all keeps people in a continuous state of dependency.   You are guilty and you are bad and we have the solution.   

This dominant empire/organized religion story of Jesus also takes the focus away from what is real.   The torture and execution of people for the purposes of greed and power is as real as rain.   Whether that happens in 1st century Palestine, 19th century Minnesota, 20th century Tennessee, or 21st century all over the planet, this story is real.  

We bomb people.  We imprison people.   We fix elections.  We assassinate people.  We kill them with drones.   We even crucify Earth for our greed.   When I say “we” I mean we citizens of one domination system among many.    That is why Holy Week invites us to answer the question,
“Who are we?” 
Who are we, really?
A question for Holy Week is “Whose crowd is your crowd?”    

If we are going to wave the palm branches that puts us in a crowd.  That is the crowd of people in Jesus’ time who suffered directly and personally from the forces of greed.   As we wave the palm branches we are making a commitment as well.

I included the reading from the Diary of Anne Frank, because I especially loved the hope in her voice.  For Anne Frank, hope is a verb.  Her hope was connected with her commitment, as she puts it,
“to hold to my ideals.”
Holding our ideals is the hope and the challenge of Holy Week and of Palm Sunday in particular.  That is why we tell this story.   We tell it to be honest.  We tell it because it is true.  We tell it because it empowers and encourages us to show our heart.  

When we wave the palm branches we are saying that we have a heart for those who suffer needlessly. 
That we are the Dakota lynched and driven from their lands…
That we are African-Americans enslaved, lynched and segregated…
That we are those who live in polluted waters and denuded forests…
That we are those who hunger and thirst for real food and real drink…
That we are those who lack access to real health care in a land of plenty….
That we are children, neglected and abused…
That we are the elderly, alone and forgotten…
That we are LGBT people asking for simple equality….
That we are the children of a Kenyan village rejoicing over fresh water and a grinding mill…
That we are those who give their lives for others at the cost of their own…
That we are the possibility of sharing and forgiveness…
That we are the makers of a just peace and a whole Earth…
That we also are the greedy, imprisoned in our fear,
         but who can be touched, liberated, and healed…
This is the story of Jesus.  
That is the story of God among us.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Yes, we were.  
We can feel across time. 
We can feel across space.
We can feel across language.
We can feel beneath skin color.
We can feel pain.
We have heart.
We can love.
And we will.
Where love and sorrow meet.
We are there.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Meaning of Life (3/17/13)

The Meaning of Life
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

March 17, 2014

The name of this infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being is God. That depth is what the word God means. And if that word has not much meaning for you, translate it, and speak of the depths of your life, of the source of your being, of your ultimate concern, of what you take seriously without any reservation. Perhaps, in order to do so, you must forget everything traditional that you have learned about God, perhaps even that word itself. For if you know that God means depth, you know much about Him. You cannot then call yourself an atheist or unbeliever. For you cannot think or say: Life has no depth! Life itself is shallow. Being itself is surface only. If you could say this in complete seriousness, you would be an atheist; but otherwise you are not. He who knows about depth knows about God.
--Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations

Psalm 130
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
   Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
   to the voice of my supplications!
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
   Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
   so that you may be revered.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
   and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
   more than those who watch for the morning,
   more than those who watch for the morning.

Today, in addition to being St. Patrick’s Day, is the last Sunday before Spring.   Earth has turned through yet another season.  For several years now, I have constructed the worship services so that the seasons through which Earth journeys correspond to a spiritual path.    Four paths for four seasons.    Winter’s path is the via creativa.    We might not think that Winter is especially creative; Spring might be more creative.    Perhaps, but there is creativity in Winter.   Think of all the creative things you can do during Winter.   

Summer months are full and busy, but Winter is a reflective time.    My Father likes the Winter as it gives him the opportunity to read, and at soon to be 95, he is still a voracious reader.   My mother, too, enjoys Winter as a reprieve from the garden and summer’s work, to allow the artist and the poet and Spirit to attend to her mind and heart.  

Winter is a growing season of creativity.  At Winter Solstice, the longest night, the light of creativity and promise makes its epiphany.    The birth of Christ is celebrated then as the birth of the Light.   As those days grow longer, the creative spirit moves within us.    The point is not to say you are only creative this time of year.  The point is to use worship to attend to this path, this way of approaching the Sacred.

This path, the via creativa, the path of creativity and imagination, is not to be treated lightly as if we are just making up stories.  The via creativa, is seen through the cosmos.     Stars burn out, die, explode, sending their elements into space to form new planets, and in the case of Earth, new life.   The atoms in your body have come from elements that were released in the explosions from many different stars.    As we look to Earth and watch life we are watching, feeling, and hearing, creativity.    

The human does reflect the creativity of the cosmos.  We are inseparable from the creativity of the cosmos.   While related to, we are unique among Earth’s animals in that the creativity of natural selection has provided us with language.   Through language, human beings have desired and attempted to tell the universe’s story from the time of cave paintings to computers.     

We study those who have pushed the envelope of creativity.    Whether they were thinkers or sages, observers, or those who through silence opened us to insights we had not seen, those are the ones we remember and to whom we look back with gratitude.    

Moses, not satisfied with the oppression around him was called by a bush that burned but was not consumed to speak about freedom even though he had no words.   

Buddha, in a palace of comfort that could not hold him, saw human suffering and went on a quest to find its meaning.  He didn’t give up.  Learning the practices of his contemporaries but not satisfied with them, he found his own enlightenment and in turn changed the world.  

Jesus found his voice in parables and aphorisms and dared to challenge the ideology of Empire and domination with the promise of God’s empire within oneself and among those who love and who treat with dignity all people regardless of their station or condition.   In his own life and in the movement that followed him, he showed that this empire, God’s empire, cannot be destroyed even with torture and execution.
Creativity didn’t end with Jesus or with the Bible or with the creeds or with a 1st century or a 4th century version of God.   It didn’t end with Buddha’s eight fold path.   It didn’t end with the Bhagavad Gita.  It didn’t end with Mohammad and his revelation of the Qur’an.   Creativity will not be satisfied living in anyone’s box.   Creativity explodes boxes of dogma like stars.  

Creativity did not end with Ptolemy’s understanding of the universe or with theSumma of Thomas Aquinas.  It didn’t end with Copernicus or Galileo.    Creativity didn’t end with Martin Luther’s 95 theses or with Calvin’s Institutes or with the certainty of the Westminster Divines and their confession. 
It didn’t end with Hildegard of Bingen, Rabia the Sufi mystic, Catherine of Sienna, or Joan of Arc.  It didn’t end with Elizabeth Cady Stanton who courageously wrote her own woman’s Bible to show that creativity didn’t end with men.  

It didn’t end with Descartes thinking and therefore existing.  It didn’t end with Kant, or Hume, or Jacques Derrida.   It didn’t end with Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung.  It didn’t end with Darwin’s, “Origin of Species” or with Einstein’s Relativity.     

Creativity didn’t end with Michelangelo, Beethoven or the Beatles.  Creativity didn’t end with Shakespeare or Alice Walker.   

Creativity didn’t end with Karl Barth or Paul Tillich.   Creativity didn’t end with Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Matthew Fox, or Joanna Macy.      

All of them pushed the envelope of creativity.   That is not exactly correct.  All of them had their envelope pushed by creativity.   

That is why they are interesting.  

The people who are not interesting are those who think that it has all been done.  There is nothing left to read, nothing left to write, nothing left to see, observe, calculate, paint, explore, chant, or say.   No new dance steps to learn.   Those who are not interesting look at life and are bored. 
My mother and father are scheduled to turn 90 and 95, respectively, this year.  I don’t think either of them have been bored a day in their life.   They are both characters, but they aren’t boring.  They live life to its limits and each in their own way push the envelope.

Yesterday we remembered and celebrated the life of Doris Cope.   My experience with her resonated with what others said about her.   She was charming and delightful, of course.  Also, she was curious and interested.    She was always game for the show, whatever the show might be.

I don’t pretend to know the meaning of life, but being curious and game for the show can’t be a bad way to make life meaningful.  

During the season of Winter, the via creativa,  I created a series of sermons on the topic of “spirituality as if the stars mattered.”   You can read them all on the website, if you like.    The audio of some of them are on podcast.   

I started this series by reflecting on my teenage years, lying on top of a haystack and gazing into the Montana sky wondering about the stars and about God.   How things have changed both over the millennia when our ancestors saw the stars and reflected on them and how things have changed in my own life, and in perhaps your life.  

I created this series of sermons on changes that have happened over the millennia and how these changes have challenged Christian theology and spirituality.  I talked about Jesus, the Bible, God, evolution, life.    I am not saying it is great.  I am not even evaluating it.  It is exploration. 

Related to it is the grief over the loss of my son.  In both cases, I am trying to put together something.   I am trying to put together the pieces of a shattered stained glass window.    Pieces are missing and I don’t know where any of them go.   I know it has to be hard to watch and I thank you for your patience and for your love for my family and me through all of this.     My hope is that others might find me to be a companion in their journey, but I don’t know that.    I do hope that you would talk with me.  I think we all share something, that is an experience of depth.

This past week I found this quote from a sermon from Paul Tillich.  It is from his collection of sermons, The Shaking of the Foundations, and this one is called “The Depth of Existence.”     He used as his text the first verse from Psalm 130.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
The paragraph that our liturgist read spoke to me.    The names and symbols for Divine Mystery, Life, God, and so forth, we may or may not understand in common, but the experience of depth is.    This depth can be from sorrow or from love.   Isn’t sorrow even a form of love?  It is the depth of feeling and we all share that.     Paul Tillich wrote:
He who knows about depth knows about God.
Creativity present in the depths of time and in the depths of space is present in the depths of our own experience.   That creativity transforms our depth.   In the midst of uncertainty or grief which is a form of depth, creativity is most present.    We don’t have to hide our uncertainties or be anxious about them.   The psalmist was present to them and called out from them.    

The creative people we have admired, I named just a few, also cried out from their own depths for what was true and real.   I am thankful that they did.  In so doing, they enriched us all.  

I hope that you, too, will never find life boring or live only on the surface or accept another’s box of belief.  God is much larger than any name and even in those times when all names seem wrong or small, the Divine Mystery is present, waiting, and creating.   

Since it is St. Patrick’s Day I want to share with you this prayer that speaks both of depth, hope, and strength to live.
The Prayer of St. Patrick
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.
I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a mulitude.
Christ shield me today
Against wounding
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation