This or This or This or This

It’s breakfast time.

Oatmeal or granola? Sourdough toast or a bagel with cream cheese?

Since it’s winter, my favorite choice—and I love to contemplate this while thinking of friends in frigid Nebraska or icy Wisconsin—involves sauntering a few steps from my kitchen. Should I drink OJ from the supermarket or head outside to determine which oranges are ripe on our backyard trees? After grabbing a few, I’d then squeeze dee-licioius citrus nectar into a glass!

Choices for each person are more bountiful than the hairs on our head, the sand on the beach, the stars in the sky, or other clichés I could keep using. Tree-ripened or store-bought? Leaded or unleaded? Arise or punch the snooze button? Peets or Starbucks? Packers or Steelers?

The 6th Sunday of Epiphany – for February 13, 2011

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live . . . (Deuteronomy 30:19)

“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life,” Deuteronomy declares, blatantly speaking for the Holy with ancient words that are as fresh as the oranges dangling from my tree. Life or death . . . choose!

If only choices were that simple.

In 2010, Hurt Locker received the Best Picture Oscar. Though it holds the dubious reputation of being the least seen of any Best Picture, I believe it deserved the award. Of its many startling scenes (and I’m not spoiling the story for the zillions of you who didn’t see director Kathryn Bigelow’s flick), one that still lingers a year later comes toward the end. William James—actor Jeremy Renner—home from war, home from disarming bombs on the streets of Baghdad, goes shopping in a local supermarket. For long, long seconds, James stands in an aisle, surrounded by breakfast cereal. I set before you life and death. Choose: Cheerios or Cap’n Crunch or . . .? Continue reading →

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Which Comes First?

You are an egret on a gloomy day in the San Joaquin Valley.

Which, for me at that very particular moment, felt the same as, “You are the light of the world.”

(Photo from - Creative Commons / Mehmet Karatay)

On a recent morning, I’d read the snippet from Matthew on “the light of the world,” a passage I’ve used with sermons, Bible study, and—in deeply private ways—for my prayer life.

Hours later, while pedaling through a park, I glanced right, abruptly squeezed my brakes, and came to a complete stop. An egret stood, still as a statue, in the middle of the field. Behind, vehicles rumbled by on a busy street. Beyond the roadway, suburban homes sprawled, backyards jammed together, and endless driveways poured more cars into the Fresno-area roads. Above and around me, low clouds dulled the day, creating a vase expanse of monotonous, relentless gray.

The 5th Sunday of Epiphany – for February 6, 2011

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.” (Matthew 5:14)

The egret, a magnificent bird with feathers as white as fresh snow, remained immobile. It seemed, in that dreary cold, like “the light of the world.”

Alive. Glowing. Phosphorus.

I stood, watching. I pray for my faith to be that bright. That metaphor. That truth. To be, if only for a handful of others, if only once or twice in a lifetime, alive and glowing and phosphoric enough so that those others may see my, in Matthew’s words, “good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

I wish all of us would remember that we are the light of the world, that we are called to shine forth with beauty and mercy. It’s awful hard these days to “shine forth” with the divides between red states and blue states, liberals and conservatives, angry Biblical literalists and people like Christopher Hitchens and his God Is Not Great atheism. On too many days, the world seems roiling with hate and spoiling for a fight. What difference can I make? What difference can you make? Continue reading →

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You Be The Judge

Did I pass or fail the test of my own making? You be the judge.

However, before judging me, maybe you’ll join me.

This week I read the extraordinarily familiar beatitudes. They are the first notes, a kind of fanfare, to the symphony of Matthew’s fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters, also known as Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” After reading the eight beatitudes—or are there nine?—I wondered: “What if tomorrow, I tried to recall all the ‘tudes?” Since I was the teacher setting the rules for me the student, I made sure I didn’t look at Matthew again and also decided to give myself a minute (tick, tick, tick) to jot down what I remembered.

The 4th Sunday after Epiphany – for January 30, 2011

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying . . .  (Matthew 5:1-2)

Decision time for you! If you think you know the blessings Jesus spoke of in Matthew . . . quickly turn from your computer and list them right now. Don’t dawdle. And it’s not an open book test. Then come back and see how well, or how poorly, I did.

First, let’s confront the “tude” count. Most scholarly types claim eight. They stop at verse ten and the “blessed are those who are persecuted . . .” But isn’t there one more blessing? Sure it’s repetitive (another reference to persecution), but verse eleven does begin with “Blessed are . . .” and also adds a unique twist. Let’s go with nine. Continue reading →

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