It Was Good

Genesis.
The start!
What is first?
In the beginning when…

I’m part of a writers’ group. We meet weekly, supporting each other and critiquing our work. Occasionally new people join. At some point Ms. or Mr. Newbie shares for the first time and I usually ask—no surprise, I’m one of the loud-mouthed members—if they’re reading from the opening of their work-in-progress.

The 1st Sunday of Ordinary Time – for June 19, 2011

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…” (Genesis 1:1)

Openings matter. The first sentence and paragraph and page are where a reader’s hooked, especially if the book is by an “unknown.”

Genesis is the Bible’s hook. Was it the first written of the 39 books of the Old Testament? Most scholars would say a loud, thoughtful “NO.” Others were composed before Genesis. Along with Genesis, all were written by many scribes over a period of years. Multiple minds, hands and agendas influenced every first, middle and last sentence in the Bible. But at some point (and please read others smarter and more interesting than me to find out about that “point”) Genesis became the Bible’s official hook.

Church youth having breakfast, at Yosemite's Lake Ireland - June, 1977

With Genesis, readers plunge abruptly and magnificently into the Creator creating. The universe. The stars. Water and earth, sunrise and sunset. Plants and animals and humans. In the opening verses, goodness and blessings abound. In the opening verses the reader was and is overwhelmed with God’s extravagance, and intimately aware of the bold stroke of being created in God’s image. In part the continuing hook of this story of goodness and abundance is declaring the reader/believer as a reflection of the divine. Whoa!

I have spent some of the best parts of my ministry honoring and being indebted to Genesis’ brash first verses.

As I write these words, I’m approaching the 34th anniversary of my ordination as a United Methodist clergy. I have become what I once observed with distant amusement: an old geezer pastor who attended seminary when the faculty talked about Martin Luther in the present tense. My personal genesis as a clergy seems a long time ago! And yet it will surprise no one who knows me where and how I began ordained ministry. My debut clerical act wasn’t preaching, worship leadership, baptism, communion (though Eucharist came second), a hospital visit, celebrating a wedding, or conducting a funeral. Nope, I didn’t even plop onto an unbalanced folding chair for a “first” committee meeting.

In a June ordination service, the bishop laid his hands on my head and blessed me, a reminder of God’s blessing of Genesis’ first humans. A few days later, I arrived at the parish where I’d do a yearlong student internship. Soon after my arrival, I led a backpack, tramping into the wilderness, into ongoing genesis, with the church’s youth. Continue reading →

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J is for . . .

JUDGMENT

I am naïve. I wish we could dump every part of the Bible that highlights God’s judgment. No Revelation as the last book of the Bible (it’ll be Genesis to Jude III instead!). The book of Daniel severely edited. And while we’re at it, let’s no longer read any of the Gospel of John’s spiteful comments about “the Jews.”

Silly me.

But I so weary of how many “faithful folks” think of God as a judgmental Creator. I’m probably wrong…perhaps the Holy is all about dividing folks into right-thinking and wrong-thinking groups. I’m in, you’re out. I have insider information and you’re a dull-witted fool. But I pray not. I believe the Divine’s judgment—if there is any—is more like seeing how good we are created and how much better we can be. Less judging. More cheerleading.

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The Gospel Lesson Is All Wet

After Jesus’ ascension*, his followers gathered in an upper room. There, fire stunned them. Maybe the holy flames were literal; maybe metaphorical. But the factual or mythic fire reported in Acts was life transforming.

Pentecost Sunday (last official Sunday of Easter) – for June 12, 2011

“Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38)

No water allowed. Nor booze! After all, the disciples, flame-fueled and able to speak unexpected languages, were accused of drunkenness. Not a chance, said Peter, “It is only nine o’clock in the morning.” I smile when I read that. I smile, even after a thousand readings, of the morning spirit that had nothing to do with a champagne buzz.

Odd then, in the lectionary, that the gospel lesson chosen to compliment Pentecost is all wet. Quoting from Zechariah, In John 7:37-39, Jesus declared, Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.

Another example of "Living Water": Clear Creek Canyon in the Grand Canyon...

Almost always our talk about the Holy, of the ways known and unknown of how God works, use the most basic elements—fire, water, wind—to prop up our inadequate reporting. So it doesn’t surprise me, on fiery Pentecost, where the spirit dazzles, that the Gospel lesson happens to be all wet.

The elements of fire, water, and wind are fearsome and necessary, healing and horrible. Have you preached or heard a Pentecost sermon after someone’s home was burned or, on a larger scale, a wildfire raged and hundreds were forced to flee? Have you baptized a child while the national news reported the flooding from Katrina or when, on an international scale, a devastating tsunami killed thousands? Pentecost arrives this year twenty-one days after the Joplin, Missouri tornado. How will the survivors of that furious windstorm receive the breezy “good news” from the gathered disciples?

Suddenly, the “safe” scriptural metaphor is dangerous. More awful than awesome.

And yet, dangerous as it is, and all Pentecost flames considered, some of my life-changing, spirit-filled moments were born from “living water.” Wild water. No known flames were nearby.

This I know, we humans are 78% water. 70% of Earth is covered by water. However 97% of the surface’s 70% liquid coverage is seawater. Which means 3% (or less) is fresh water. And—more wet math—about 2/3 of the 3% is “trapped” in the polar ice caps.

H2O is precious. I’ll drink to that!

What’s the best water I’ve ever tasted? Over three decades ago, on a backpack in Kings Canyon National Park, I gulped water from Bubbs Creek. Below me, Bubbs Creek drained into the mighty Kings River. Above me, it was birthed from mountain peaks teasing the sky. Those were the days before backpackers were warned to filter water, to eliminate nasty, naughty parasites like giardia. I was tired, there were still miles before camp, and I knelt by that creek, snow-fed, spring-fed, with sweat and grit encrusting my body, and drank. Continue reading →

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