Pho (not faux) Friendship

My friend Mark asked if I wanted to find pho with him.

Pho? Off we went during an Annual Conference lunch break, in search of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that served pho, a traditional Vietnamese dish. After all, ever since a Conference twenty or so years ago, I’ve never considered fasting when I have a chance to share table with friends.

The 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – for July 3, 2011

“…the Son of Man came eating and drinking…” (Matthew 11:19)

Some definitions…

  • Pho: Noodles served in a bowl of broth, with slices of beef, vegetables, herbs, and who-knows-what-else that is “every day food” in Southeast Asia. Heavenly. More pho, please!
  • Annual Conference: United Methodist churches are “connectional,” with lay and clergy meeting annually at a regional conference for worship and business.
  • Fasting:  Spiritual discipline, where not eating for a period of time honors God and/or protests a societal concern. (i.e. Caesar Chavez fasted to call attention to the plight of field workers.)

Mark and I attended seminary together nearly forty years ago (sorry for being forthright about that, Mark). He’s done extraordinary things during his ministry, serving and working alongside folks in Africa, Central America and Malaysia. He’s currently the senior pastor at a large, thriving congregation in California’s Silicon Valley where he jokingly—and seriously—describes some of his church members as “masters of the universe*.” When Mark worked in Malaysia’s Sarawak, he discovered the pleasures of pho. He’s as comfortable with children playing on the streets of Southeast Asia as he is in California’s high-tech, high-powered jungle.

Delicious Pho (photo purloined from Foodbeast.com)

When Mark suggested pho, I had no problem following him down a street and away from Annual Conference business. For me, it’s the essence of friendship and Christian fellowship. Table time. Breaking bread and spreading crumbs. Chatting and eating. Napkins tucked on the lap, laughter the best and last spice added to the meal.

In Matthew (along with Luke) Jesus claimed others referred to him as a “drunkard and glutton.” Is there a more embarrassing passage in all the Gospels? Who do you follow as a way to embrace God? I choose to walk with the drunkard! Who has shared as no other about the power of forgiveness and the life-altering need to serve neighbor? The guy called a glutton!

Isn’t it embarrassing for Christians to have Jesus—the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of Humanity, Mary’s child—referred to as drunkard and glutton? Absolutely. And yet, it’s also one of the most refreshing revelations about the Nazarene. What mattered…people! What mattered…the equality of a table where all are welcome! What mattered…there’s always room for more chairs!

At an Annual Conference years ago, Theresa (another friend from seminary) asked if I wanted to go to lunch. I hardly ever saw her. We were both ministers and, darn it, always busy on weekends and holidays. Theresa was also the person my wife and I asked to marry us, so any opportunity to spend time with her felt precious and essential. Continue reading →

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B is for…

BROKEN

I’ve broken a leg. A finger. A nose. (All mine…I don’t think I’ve broken other people’s bones.) I’ve had a broken heart. However, though I’ve sometimes had little money, I’ve never really experienced being broke. My car’s been broken. My home was once broken into. Not long ago a spoke snapped and my bike became broke.

Some breaks are obvious; most are hidden. But we’re all broken. All. Sometimes, for we’re all fools too, we glance toward others and imagine perfection and contentment. In them. Not in us. But this I know as much as I know anything, all are broken. I believe the ones who admit it welcome healing: the are scarred and scared, but boldly grinning. I believe the ones that deny brokenness invite even deeper wounds.

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Twitter in a Thicket

Let’s tweet Genesis 22:1-14:

God tests Abraham: tells him to sacrifice son. Abe does. God’s angel stops him. Abe sees ram in bush. Son lives; ram killed. God provides.

That’s 138 characters, including words, punctuation and empty spaces. Twitter’s limit is 140, so there’s a smidgen of wiggle room to make changes.

The 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time – for June 26, 2011

“Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son…” (Genesis 22:10)

How would you use 140 characters to convey one of the Bible’s central stories? Abraham—Abe to save space—was the faith “father” for the three great monotheistic religions. Moses was indebted to Abraham, as were Jesus and Mohammed. Abe’s trust in God, in a singular Creator, birthed faith traditions now exceeding 3,500,000,000 followers. Are they not (so Genesis 22:17 promised) as “numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore?”

Is my tweet a fair rendering of those fourteen verses? For me, what I kept seems bare-boned essential, and yet also includes key stumbling blocks to (my) modern faith.

First, here’s what I discarded…

  • The journey. Abraham takes Isaac, along with two servants, and travels quite a distance before the attempted sacrifice.
  • Bundles of wood, fuel to start a fire, a donkey and a sharp knife also didn’t make the cut.
  • Isaac, whose name means “laughter,” became merely “son.” After re-reading the story, I was reminded how passive (trusting or ignorant or submissive?) the boy called Laughter was.

What did I include? Even if I revised my tweet, I’d prioritize these four words: test, tells, sacrifice and provides. Without them, this central story of our faith—of my faith—doesn’t matter. With them, it equally undermines and undergirds belief.

Test and sacrifice trouble me. They are stumbling blocks.

In the ways I ponder/feel/glimpse the Holy, I no longer believe the Creator tests creation. But in Genesis, the Bible bluntly described God as Test-giver. So my view, while supported by some scholars, will always cause debate. I’ve had encounters in my ministry where a person—maybe a church member dealing with horrific loss or an argumentative student in a Bible study class—used Genesis 22 as proof that, “just like Abraham, God tested me.” They believed God placed obstacles before them to grade their faith. Nonetheless, I disagree. Instead, I believe the One Jesus called “Daddy” challenges, lures, loves, cheerleads for humans…rather than gazing upon us with a judgmental pass/fail attitude. I’m probably wrong.

Ah, sacrifice! No thank you. I see Abraham prepared to sacrifice Laughter less as depicting God’s ways and more reflecting his ancient culture of bloodletting and eye-for-an-eye vengeance. A knife plunging into the flesh of an animal or human to “please” Jehovah makes no sense to me anymore. I understand its historic context, but not its relevance for a vibrant, modern faith. I’m probably wrong.

However, tells and provides inspire me. Whether twittering or reading all fourteen verses (over and over), these words are foundations for my feeble, inadequate faith. Continue reading →

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