Making God’s Way Straight

For the last few years during Advent, I’ve been pondering the mind-blowing idea of “God with us.”  That’s huge. God. with US. See? Your mind is blown too. I’ll give you a minute.

This year my mind has been focused on something else. Make straight a highway for our God. What does that mean? I have a few ideas but I think this is one I’m going to be chewing on for a while.

It means removing obstacles. When highways are being made, there’s a lot of blowing up of things that have been there a long time. Sometimes obstacles are circumnavigated, but sometimes they’re just blown the hell up. I know that if I’m going to make a highway for God to move through my life, it’s going to be about blowing up some stuff. I’m all about God removing stuff but as it gets closer to being my personal stuff, I’m a little less eager. Not only that, I’m a little less aware. Some of the things I think aren’t obstacles actually are.

As with all parts of spiritual formation, this is about submitting to a process that God’s spirit drives and in which I am both an active and passive participant. The prize is always the blessing, which is knowing God. The benefit to the world is a picture of God’s kingdom.

Isaiah 35:1-10

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Friday Five: Advent Random

revkarla writes:

I hope this Friday Five finds you happily wandering through these deep long twilight days with a reasonable  amount of hustle, bustle and peace in between.  Knowing however, that this can also be a jam-packed  or stressful time, my first FF question is:

1.  How are you?  How can we pray for you?

Overall I’m well, but some life changes are afoot and I have some decisions to make. It’s all contingent on a phone call that I should get next week, and once that happens, things will be in motion.

2.  On another level, I am sure that many of you have treasured Christmas ornaments.  Tell us about one of your more treasured, and why it is special.

I have a box of ornaments that I didn’t use this year because I went with a tiny tree, but I will always have them and they will always be special. I don’t know if this still exists (since I have small strokes when I go into craft stores) but back in the 70s you could buy fabric that had pre-printed shapes and instructions on it. My mom and I got some to make ornaments back in 1976 (I was 4). They are fabric ornaments in the shapes of stars, candy canes, and some other stuff. Mom stitched them on the sewing machine and I stuffed the filler into them, and then she closed them and added a yarn hanger. I love them. Great Christmas memory with my mom.

This year, however, this is my favorite ornament:

002

3.  Since I have started in a new call in a new city, I have a new guilty pleasure calledShubies which is a store of wine, cheese, craft beer, gourmet foods, fun kitchen gadgets and more, besides a bakery/lunch counter.  I am currently enjoying an (overpriced)  kale-avocado-goat cheese pressed sandwich on cranberry sunflower seed wheat bread. O.M.GOODNESS.   What is one of your current guilty pleasures?

First, congrats on the new call & new city! I’m currently in a place where I’m trying to make choices that exclude guilty pleasures – not judging you of course. Just need to make better choices for me. However, if I were indulging this time of year I’d be eating a lot of Mt. Tam cheese from Cowgirl Creamery and Candy Cane Jo-Jos from Trader Joes (either in cookie or ice cream form).

4. I picked up a beautiful hank of handspun wool in heather grays and purples in October that I am sending my sister for her birthday this month.  I have been looking forward to giving it to her.  What is something (tangible or less tangible) you are looking forward to give in the next few weeks?

I didn’t know “hank” was a thing. Did I mention that I have small strokes in craft stores? The only making stuff I do is cooking. I can’t get specific on the things I’m going to give because I don’t want to give things away. However, there’s a couple of things I’m stoked to give to my dad this year. He’s really hard to shop for so when I have something good, it’s kind of a big deal.

5.  We must have random words for a random sentence or story, right?  So, here are your words (or forms of) to use in a sentence or two:   earth, cranberry, codfish, kettle corn, pitcher, love, joy, hope, peace, Santa, artist.

The artist stepped back from his painting of Santa, took a bite of codfish and washed it down with a pitcher of mulled wine, a sense of peace washing over him.  The whole earth loved his work and look forward to the painting with joy, hoping to be able to give copies as gifts in time for Christmas.

Thanks for playing!

Peace

Today at church Andrew talked about the importance of understanding the historic context of Jesus birth in 1st Century Rome. Historians call the period that spans roughly 200ish years (27 BCE – 180 CE) the “Pax Romana” or Peace of Rome. Basically, this was a time of relative calm in the empire. The Roman Empire was the largest it ever would be, there were very few internal uprisings or external threats. Alexander’s policy of conquering an area and then keep their own customs and religions seemed to be working. Peace on (the known earth) seemed to be in effect.

So why is there all this talk of peace during the Advent & Christmas seasons? Why did the angels slip that “Peace to all men and women on earth who please him” thing into their message to the shepherds? Were they being polite? Was that just like saying, “Have a good one” in the parlance of the day?

I think the reason that peace is such a big part of this season is because God’s definition of peace differs greatly from that of the Roman empire and God intended to bring God’s brand of peace to earth through Jesus.

Scripture lets us know that Jesus was born during the time of Augustus, because historically Augustus is known as the one who ushered in the Pax Romana. Augustus is the Emperor of Rome, but Jesus is the Prince of Peace.

“Augustus faced a problem making peace an acceptable mode of life for the Romans, who had been at war with one power or another continuously for 200 years. Romans regarded peace not as an absence of war, but the rare situation that existed when all opponents had been beaten down and lost the ability to resist. Augustus’ challenge was to persuade Romans that the prosperity they could achieve in the absence of warfare was better for the Empire than the potential wealth and honor acquired when fighting a risky war. Augustus succeeded by means of skillful propaganda. Subsequent emperors followed his lead, sometimes producing lavish ceremonies to close the Gates of Janus, issuing coins with Pax on the reverse, and patronizing literature extolling the benefits of the Pax Romana.” (Stern, Gaius (2006). Women, children, and senators on the Ara Pacis Augustae: A study of Augustus’ vision of a new world order in 13 BC. and Momigliano, Arnaldo (1942). “The Peace of the Ara Pacis”Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 5: 228–231.)

A few thoughts on the differences between God’s Peace & Rome’s Peace:

1. Rome believed that peace could only be achieved when their opponents had been beaten down to the point that they could no longer fight back. God’s peace involved opponents resolving differences and co-existing peacefully.

Isaiah 11:6-9

The wolf will romp with the lamb,
the leopard sleep with the kid.
Calf and lion will eat from the same trough,
and a little child will tend them.
Cow and bear will graze the same pasture,
their calves and cubs grow up together,
and the lion eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens,
the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill
on my holy mountain.
The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive,
a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.

I think it’s important to note the interactions between these would-be enemies. There’s romping, sleeping (an act of supreme trust), sharing of food, tending, discovering. Killing and violence has stopped because there is the doing of everyday life together without the threat of danger. This is God’s definition of peace. The need for domination is gone.

There is also no need to make one into the other’s image. The passage doesn’t read, “The lion will give pouncing lessons to the lamb”. Each animal retains its identity but is able to live well with their counterparts. God calls us to look past our natural tendencies and calls us to peace by celebrating, not just tolerating, those who are different from us.

Finally, there is a clear absence of fear. Scripture tells us that God is love and that fear and love cannot co-exist. In this vision of the world to come, God is so present that fear is not even possible. When we are fully in pursuit of God and God’s view of a peaceful world, we can eliminate fear from our interactions with the other.

2. Augustus used the promise of personal prosperity to motivate his country to lack of conflict. God’s peace brings together communities and families and is focused on eternal benefits.

God’s plan is bigger than just a short-term, tenuous peace accord that keeps violence at bay. It’s a vision for what God intended for humanity and for the planet. When Jesus started explaining God’s kingdom to his followers, he basically said, “You’re gonna be poor, people will hate you and they might even kill you. Who’s with me?” It’s hard work, this peace thing, and it’s not always going to go well. God doesn’t sugar coat it for us. God takes the long view, knowing that the short term may be bumpy, but the effort is worth it.

3. Rome used a systematic propaganda campaign to convince the empire to follow his peace plan. God used a homeless guy, 12 other dudes, some rich women and a few other folks to talk about God’s kingdom – a new kingdom that was about the restoration of the world to what God originally intended.

God sucks at marketing. I’m just going to say it. If God would’ve gone to Madison Avenue with this plan, they would’ve led him in another direction – a You Tube channel, social media campaign, commercials, twitter feed, buying ads during the Super Bowl, etc. This is an important message. God is telling the world that there’s a crazy kind of peace coming where babies play with snakes. The Snakes-On-A-Plane Tie-In is a no-brainer. God knows that God’s vision of the world is what we all crave and that when it’s seen in real life, it’s going to attract people in droves.

Here in the US we’re about to mark the anniversary of the horrible shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. Gun violence has continued to escalate in this country despite that horrific event that took the lives of  20 first graders. The NRA has used fear to convince its supporters that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Violence to end violence. How does this fit in God’s view of a peaceful world? I don’t think it does.

In August of this year, a woman called Antoinette Tuff took a different approach to a potentially violent situation and modeled another option for stopping a bad guy with a gun. Antoinette works in the front office  of Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy just outside Atlanta. She was at work when Michael Brandon Hill slipped behind someone else into the school with an AK-47-type weapon. He went into the office and shot at the ground, then darted between there and outside to fire at approaching police. Antoinette didn’t have a gun but she had words. She talked to him. She told him about her personal struggles. She told him she loved him. She went with him and helped him surrender to police with no one harmed. Antoinette is a person of peace, modeling the effectiveness of words in the diffusing of violence in a difficult situation.

Last week, Nelson Mandela passed away. While much has been said about him, there are two quotes that stood out to me.

“It’s not that he didn’t feel rage. He just thought love would do a better job” – Bono on Nelson Mandela

“It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well.” — Barack Obama

Mandela modeled the importance of love over fear to bring peace. He also recognized the needs of the jailer as well as the needs of the prisoner. We’re all bound by fear on some level and that is what ultimately prevents true, God-honoring peace.

Friday Five: Let’s Pray Together

3dogmom writes:
I am always grateful for the prayers of others, but I am especially touched when someone asks, “How may I pray for you?”

During this season of fullness, how may we pray for each other?

How may we:

  • Pray for you – you know how it is. Just when you get yourself settled (or think you have yourself settled), more possibilities arise. There are some things on the horizon that might mean some life changes. No idea, could be nothing. I would appreciate prayers for discernment, budgeting, transitions and relationships.
  • Pray for someone you carry on your heart – I have a dear friend who is leaving on Sunday for the Congo to film an important documentary. Pray for her safety, the safety of her crew and that the film would bring light to the subject of healing from trauma.
  • Offer thanksgiving with you – where to begin? I have such a great life and so many things for which I can be thankful. I have rock star family, a job I love, a perfect apartment, lots of great opportunities, and a brilliant circle of friends. I am super blessed.
  • Ask God’s blessing in your life – I always go back to the Greek for blessing, which is about knowing God more than it is about getting stuff or being happy. I always want knowing God to take precedence over anything else I might request.
  • Lift up anything else in your heart – I’ve had some interesting things happen this year from which I am almost healed but still curious about the reason I needed to have these experiences. I know that clarity isn’t something God usually hands out, but I’d appreciate some in this case.

A Return to Traditional Values (No, not those), part 5

So, our system is broken (big shock) and the government is trying but not succeeding to help. Churches should be doing more, but aren’t (when was the last time your church took up a collection to help someone pay medical bills?). Non-profits are doing what they can. What do we do?

It’s easy to argue that we are in a system that rewards the industrious and wealthy and that we have to accept it. Give two people each $1,000,000 and in a year, one will be rich and one will be broke, it’s just how it is. In my view, these aren’t God’s values. This doesn’t represent the God I read about in scripture and it’s not anything like what I see in the life of Jesus. We aren’t called to be a slave to “the market”, but rather we are to care for the poor and fight against injustice. Yes, I guess I am calling for a redistribution of wealth, but not one that is mandated by the government, rather one that is demanded by people who believe that everyone has a right to the dignity of feeding their families and seeing a doctor.

I guess what I’m saying is that I see the whole traditional values conversation entirely differently than just outward behaviors that don’t match an inner reality. I believe that as followers of Christ we are to be continually re-made inwardly and that will change our communities, our cities and the world.

Isaiah 58 (The Message)
1-3 “Shout! A full-throated shout!
Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout! Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives,
face my family Jacob with their sins! They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,
and love studying all about me. To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—
law-abiding, God-honoring. They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’
and love having me on their side. But they also complain,
‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?
Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’

3-5 “Well, here’s why:

“The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.
You drive your employees much too hard. You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
You fast, but you swing a mean fist. The kind of fasting you do
won’t get your prayers off the ground. Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:
a day to show off humility? To put on a pious long face
and parade around solemnly in black? Do you call that fasting,
a fast day that I, God, would like?

6-9 “This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.

What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families. Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage. Then when you pray, God will answer.
You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

A Full Life in the Emptiest of Places

9-12 “If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people’s sins, If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. I will always show you where to go.
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones. You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry. You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.
13-14 “If you watch your step on the Sabbath
and don’t use my holy day for personal advantage, If you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy,
God’s holy day as a celebration, If you honor it by refusing ‘business as usual,’
making money, running here and there— Then you’ll be free to enjoy God!
Oh, I’ll make you ride high and soar above it all. I’ll make you feast on the inheritance of your ancestor Jacob.”
Yes! God says so!

A Return to Traditional Values (No, not those), part 4

Now, where were we? Ah, yes. Values.

As a person who falls slightly to the left of center on the political spectrum, I’ve struggled for years to reconcile my view of the role of government vs. the role of the church. Politically, I believe that there needs to be cooperation between the private and public sectors. I do not believe government is the enemy nor do I believe that it has all the answers. It functions as a fairly efficient delivery system in some areas (Medicare) and not so much in others (DMV).

However, I have this pesky Bible thing over here on the side that speaks very clearly about the role of the church in taking care of the poor. We need to be doing WAY more in this regard and for a long time I’ve thought that in some way, the government taking over that role has been something of an economic equivalent of the “rocks cry out” thing, and the reason that it’s not going all that well is that the wrong people are doing it. I was right on one count. The wrong people are doing it, but it’s more that just church or government.

There is a third entity that I have not given enough weight to in years past but as I began to think more about traditional values and their perceived decline, it occurred to me that there is one major cause for the behaviors associated with the demise of these values and that is economic injustice. Please don’t think I’m saying that all poor people commit crimes and if we would just give them money they would stop. It’s not that simple.

It turns out that God cares a lot about how we operate our businesses. I did a search for businesses and employers and turns out there are some things we need to look at again. Here are a few examples:

Deuteronomy 25:13-16
“Don’t carry around with you two weights, one heavy and the other light, and don’t keep two measures at hand, one large and the other small. Use only one weight, a true and honest weight, and one measure, a true and honest measure, so that you will live a long time on the land that God, your God, is giving you. Dishonest weights and measures are an abomination to God, your God—all this corruption in business deals!”

Proverbs 11:1-3
11 God hates cheating in the marketplace;
he loves it when business is aboveboard.

2 The stuck-up fall flat on their faces,
but down-to-earth people stand firm.

3 The integrity of the honest keeps them on track;
the deviousness of crooks brings them to ruin.

Proverbs 16:10-12
10 A good leader motivates,
doesn’t mislead, doesn’t exploit.

11 God cares about honesty in the workplace;
your business is his business.

12 Good leaders abhor wrongdoing of all kinds;
sound leadership has a moral foundation

Ezekial 28
You had everything going for you.
You were in Eden, God’s garden.
You were dressed in splendor,
your robe studded with jewels:
Carnelian, peridot, and moonstone,
beryl, onyx, and jasper,
Sapphire, turquoise, and emerald,
all in settings of engraved gold.

In much buying and selling
you turned violent, you sinned!

By sin after sin after sin,
by your corrupt ways of doing business,
you defiled your holy places of worship.
So I set a fire around and within you.
It burned you up. I reduced you to ashes.
All anyone sees now
when they look for you is ashes,
a pitiful mound of ashes.

Hosea 12:6-8
What are you waiting for? Return to your God!
Commit yourself in love, in justice!
Wait for your God,
and don’t give up on him—ever!

7-8 The businessmen engage in wholesale fraud.
They love to rip people off!
Ephraim boasted, “Look, I’m rich!
I’ve made it big!
And look how well I’ve covered my tracks:
not a hint of fraud, not a sign of sin!”

Acts 16:18-22
16-18 One day, on our way to the place of prayer, a slave girl ran into us. She was a psychic and, with her fortunetelling, made a lot of money for the people who owned her. She started following Paul around, calling everyone’s attention to us by yelling out, “These men are working for the Most High God. They’re laying out the road of salvation for you!” She did this for a number of days until Paul, finally fed up with her, turned and commanded the spirit that possessed her, “Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!” And it was gone, just like that.

19-22 When her owners saw that their lucrative little business was suddenly bankrupt, they went after Paul and Silas, roughed them up and dragged them into the market square. Then the police arrested them and pulled them into a court with the accusation, “These men are disturbing the peace—dangerous Jewish agitators subverting our Roman law and order.” By this time the crowd had turned into a restless mob out for blood.

In the last 5 or so years we’ve talked a lot about whether or not we should regulate businesses, particularly banks. I won’t bore you with a whole history of the banking system but I will tell you that the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 was the biggest blow to the regulation of the banks and led to the financial crisis in 2008. It repealed much of the Glass-Steagall act from 1933 that kept us from having any major recession for almost 50 years. During the same time as banks were being deregulated, the Moral and other conservative evangelical groups were beginning to align themselves closely with the Republican party, mostly over the issue of abortion. The Republican party is also the party of deregulation. Small government, or little to no government involvement in business, is the goal of conservative politician and coincidentally, they are the ones who have benefited financially. 

Large banks and businesses have become deified as “job creators” and if you want to regulate them or make them answer to any government agency, you are considered unamerican. The truth is, we have tangled up capitalism with democracy and Christianity and the Church has bought into this lie that businesses don’t have to be accountable.

The thing is, these businesses aren’t creating jobs. Oh, things are getting better, for sure. But the same businesses who are asking to be called “job creators” are doing what they can to cut jobs while making record profits and paying no income taxes.

Large corporations are making more money than ever before but are doing whatever it takes to avoid paying taxes and taking care of their employees. According to Bloomberg:

“The largest U.S.-based companies expanded their untaxed offshore stockpiles by $183 billion in the past year, increasing such holdings by 14.4 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg .

Microsoft Corp. , Apple Inc and Google Inc each added to their non-U.S. holdings by more than 34 percent as they reaped the benefits of past maneuvers to earn and park profits in low- tax countries. Combined, those three companies alone plan to keep $134.5 billion outside the U.S. government’s reach, more than double the $59.3 billion they held two years earlier.

The build-up of offshore profits — totaling $1.46 trillion for the 83 companies examined — is increasing because of incentives in the U.S. tax code for booking profits offshore and leaving them there. The stockpiles complicate attempts to overhaul the tax system as lawmakers look for ways to bring the money home and discourage profit shifting.”

In 1980, CEOs typically  made 42x the income of their average worker. In 2011 it was 380x. As illustrated in the above graphs, lower wage jobs have grown the most over the last two years, the majority of which pay minimum wage or barely higher. Minimum wage has not been raised in years and has not kept up with inflation. People who work full-time at minimum wage live well below the poverty line and must still get government assistance to put food on the table.

Here’s some info on the minimum wage:
$10.74 – How much the federal minimum wage would be if it had kept up with inflation over the past 40 years. Instead, it’s $7.25.
$15,080 – The annual income for a full-time employee working the entire year at the federal minimum wage.
0 – The number of states where a minimum wage worker can afford a two-bedroom apartment working a 40-hour week.
3 – The number of times Congress passed legislation to increase the minimum wage in the last 30 years.
19 – The number of states (including the District of Columbia) which have raised their minimum wage above the federal level of $7.25.
10 – The number of states that annually increase their state minimum to keep up with the rising cost of living.
67 – The percentage of Americans that support gradually raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to at least $10.00 an hour, according to an October 2010 poll.
64 in 100 vs. 4 in 100 – What are the chances an adult minimum wage worker is a woman vs. the chances a Fortune 500 CEO is a woman?
76 – The percentage of Missouri voters that voted to increase and index the Missouri minimum wage in the 2006 ballot initiative.
$2.13 – The federal minimum wage for tipped employees, such as waiters and waitresses, nail salon workers, or parking attendants.

We’re told that this is all about “the market”. We pay CEOs crazy amounts of money because “that’s what the market will bear”. And that’s supposed to be the right answer. It’s fine. You know…the market.

I love this new pope so much that I might convert. Recently he said:

Condemning the “new tyranny” of unfettered capitalism and the “idolatry of money,” Pope Francis argues in a newly circulated apostolic exhortation that “as long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.”

The pope has taken a side, not just in his manifesto but in interviews, warning: “Today we are living in an unjust international system in which ‘King Money’ is at the center.”

He is encouraging resistance to “the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation” that creates “a throwaway culture that discards young people as well as its older people.”

Yeah. What he said.