K is for . . .

KEEPS KNOCKING

There’s a well-known painting of Jesus knocking on a door. Did I first see it in Sunday school or at home? Maybe both.

Regardless of when or where I saw it, I understood it from a child’s perspective: Jesus would keep knocking until the person opened the door. Persistence. Commitment. Urgency. It was a good Sunday school lesson, almost as compelling as those happy paintings of children sitting on Jesus’ lap.

As an adult, I wonder more about the painting’s perspective.

If I’m the observer, I’m watching the Nazarene at work from my comfortable distance. Good for good old two-dimensional Jesus, I hope he gets that stubborn person inside to open up.

I can also easily imagine being on the inside, pretending the knocking is only branches clacking in the wind. Or it’s those mean kids from next door, smacking baseball bats against a fence. I convince myself it’s unsafe outside; it’s smarter to stay inside. I’ll just turn up the TV’s volume and drown the irritating noise.

The old painting was right about one thing: he’s persistent. For me, Jesus is a defiant example challenging the part of me that prefers to let someone else do God’s work. Jesus is also a compassionate example nudging me to acknowledge where I’ve built walls between others and myself.

Jesus keeps knocking.

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But He Looks Back

Exodus 3:1-15 – The 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for August 28, 2011

“. . . and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’” (Exodus 3:13)

With sandals again strapped to his feet, did Moses gaze back toward the burning bush after his encounter with the Holy?

You know what happened in the fiery confrontation between Moses and God. Aren’t we grateful Cecil B. DeMille happened to be there with his camera crew and Charlton Heston conveniently served as a body double for the handsome Jewish shepherd? (As an alternative to Mr. Heston, I’ve placed an interesting YouTube link at the end.)

Whether possessing deep faith or no belief, whether a Christian, Jew, Muslim or even if you’re the solitary member of the church of Me-Myself-and-I, you know something about a desert shrub that flames couldn’t consume.

The sacred chat between God and Moses wasn’t short, covering most of chapters 3 and 4 in Exodus. Once Moses removed his sandals, his best and worst sides were revealed. He’s a clever enough fellow and talked God into revealing the divine name. And yet he also whined about how he couldn’t speak well—even as he speaks well to the Holy Flame—and implied the Lord God Almighty should choose a sweeter-tongued servant to deliver the Children of Israel from bondage.

You know this.

You can thumb through your Bible and “read all about it.” Or you can watch a clip from the TEN COMMANDMENTS, feel slightly guilty for taking the easy route, but could still convey the basics of the Holy/human chat beside a glowing plant.

What is a nickname you have (or had) that reveals something about you?

This is the moment of Moses’ call. What will he do when confronted with a new path, a new task, a new way of seeing himself? Will he acknowledge his gifts and God’s invitation? Moses in this moment is every person. This passage is not anchored to one religion or one period of time. Are you engaged in what brings you great joy? In my first year of seminary, a fellow student declared, “You better feel the call to ministry. Do you really want to serve God?” He asked those questions with more conviction than any of the clergy who were on the endless committees guiding my ordination process. But it’s not a question unique for clergy. You better feel the call to teach, fix cars, defend clients, drive a bus, raise a child, sell stocks, repair toilets, insert catheters. Whatever it is you do, do you want to do it? Have you seen the burning bush, or are you still wandering in the wilderness, eyes averted, life avoided? This question should haunt us. Honestly answering it dares us to declare who we are. Continue reading →

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Z is for . . .

ZERO

A few years back I took an official sabbatical from church. It represented a step away from serving full-time as a pastor and a step toward writing as the focus of my ministry.

How much money would I earn for taking this leap of faith? At first, nothing. Zero. Later? Perhaps double or triple nothing!

In the months that followed my announcement to leave the parish, kind church folks asked what I’d do with my time. My standard reply was, “Nothing.”

How flippant. How true.

Every form of creative expression begins with nothing. There is no outward music until the inward sounds nudge (or elbow) the composer. A dance floor remains empty, filled with space to be defined by an initial spin or jump. A preacher turns from studying the comforting (or troubling) pages of the Bible to a sermon hoped for (or dreaded), but either way, it’s not yet there. A novelist, about to plunge into the marathon of writing and rewriting 100,000 words, contemplates a blank yellow legal pad or a lonely cursor blinking on a monitor as vast as the Pacific.

The Biblical story opens with a zero. Chaos. A void. A waiting. Awaiting. Every form of creative expression begins with nothing and then . . .

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