Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Such A Romp

Some of this post will look very familiar.  A lot of it contains things I have said before.  But the truth is that while there a plethora of Christ figures to explore in fantasy, science fiction, and even horror—when it comes to Resurrection, for me, it will always be Aslan the Lion:
The rising of the sun had made everything look so different — all colours and shadows were changed— that for a moment they didn't see the important thing.  Then they did.  The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no more Aslan.
In one of his many letters, Lewis refers to the Stone Table as Narnia's version of the tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were written.  But I can't help interrupting the narrative here to point out that there's another allusion here.  When Jesus breathed his last, the curtain in the temple that separates the Tabernacle—the place where the Glory of God resided in a very real sense—split from top to bottom.  It tore in two pieces.  From end to end.  And where is the Glory of God then, one wonders...?
"Who's done it?" cried Susan.  "What does it mean?  Is it magic?"
"Yes!" said a great voice behind their backs.  "It is more magic."  They looked round.  There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.
"Oh, Aslan!" cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad.
"Aren't you dead then, dear Aslan?" said Lucy.
"Not now," said Aslan.
"You're not — not a —?" asked Susan in a shaky voice.  She couldn't bring herself to say the word ghost.  Aslan stooped his golden head and licked her forehead.  The warmth of his breath and a rich sort of smell that seemed to hang about his hair came all over her.
"Do I look it?" he said.
"Oh, you're real, you're real!  Oh Aslan!" cried Lucy, and both girls flung themselves upon him and covered him with kisses."
When the girls calm down, Susan asks Aslan what it all means.  But I'm not going to give you Aslan's answer here—that quote is easy to find and it even made it into the resurrection scene in the Walden Media film.  The point of theology is, indeed, to make meaning.  But sometimes in our struggle to make meaning we forget to pay attention to how we feel.  And Lewis painted a brilliant picture of how the Resurrection—and therefore Easter—should make us feel!
"Oh children," said the Lion, "I feel my strength coming back to me.  Oh, children, catch me if you can!"  He stood for a second, his eyes very bright, his limbs quivering, lashing himself with his tail.  Then me made a leap high over their heads and landed on the other side of the Table.  Laughing, though she didn't know why, Lucy scrambled over it to reach him.  Aslan leaped again.  A mad chase began.  Round and round the hill-top he led them, now hopelessly out of their reach, now letting them almost catch his tail, now diving between them, now tossing them in the air with his huge an beautifully velveted paws and catching them again, and now stopping unexpectedly so that all three of them rolled over together in a happy laughing heap of fur and arms and legs.  It was such a romp as no one has ever had except in Narnia; and whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind.  And the funny thing was that when all three finally lay together panting in the sun, the girls no longer felt the least tired or hungry or thirsty.
"And now," said Aslan presently, "to business.  I feel I am going to roar.  You had better put your fingers in your ears."
Happy Easter!
Be good to each other,
Have a good romp,
Rev. Josh

The scripture lessons for April 6th—The Fifth Sunday of Lent Year A—are:
Acts 10:34-43Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24Colossians 3:1-4John 11:1-45

“It isn't Narnia, you know," sobbed Lucy.  "It's you.  We shan't meet you there.  And how can we live, never meeting you?"
"But you shall meet me, dear one," said Aslan.
"Are -are you there too, Sir?" said Edmund.
"I am," said Aslan. "But there I have another name.  You must learn to know me by that name.  This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


This Sunday is Palm Sunday, the Christian holiday where we celebrate the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  This is his Big Heroic Moment.  This is the point in the story where the people recognize Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah.  And because they're expecting a King David, Master Chief-style military tough guy, that's what they see.  And they greet him with a ticker-tape parade.

The problem clergy have encountered with Palm Sunday over the years, though, is that fewer and fewer people come out to the Maundy Thursday and/or Good Friday services—the holy days that remember the betrayal and execution of the Messiah.

The people expected the Master Chief, but what they got was Jesus—a man who was as close a thing to a natural pacifist as a human can be.  It's important to remember his betrayal and execution, or Easter and the Resurrection have no meaning.  If you go directly from the ticker-tape parade atmosphere of Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday Jesus becomes the Master Chief.

And that would miss the point.

So Palm Sunday has gradually morphed into Passion Sunday, a kind of thumbnail mash-up of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday rolled up into one.

And that always brings my mind to Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Evangelion is so much more than a simple giant mech anime.  It relentlessly explores everything it means to be human.  Every awkward, horrible, depressing, misanthropic, violent thing it means to be human.  With just a dash of hope thrown in every once in a while.  Every so often a moment when the tension breaks.

It draws imagery from multiple religious traditions, and as such it is not a direct allegory for the Gospel. But I cannot help equating Shinji with humanity:  the disciples who cannot understand, the young man in the linen cloth who runs away naked...  Judas...  even Pilate.

And even though he's a Christ figure in only the strictest literary sense, I can't help seeing Jesus in Kowaru.

This video is pretty long.  And it cuts off at a key moment.  But it is dubbed in English and gives you a good taste of the Lenten, sordid nature of man flavor that I'm talking about:

And this video is in Japanese.  And subtitled in Spanish.  But it shows the key moment:

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Mark 14:1-15:47

It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, "Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people."

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, "Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor." And they scolded her. But Jesus said, "Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her."

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, "Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?" So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, 'The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there." So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me." They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, "Surely, not I?" He said to them, "It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born."

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."

When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, "You will all become deserters; for it is written,

    'I will strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep will be scattered.'

But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee." Peter said to him, "Even though all become deserters, I will not." Jesus said to him, "Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times." But he said vehemently, "Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you." And all of them said the same.

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake." And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want." He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand."

Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard." So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, "Rabbi!" and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to them, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled." All of them deserted him and fled.

A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.

They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, "We heard him say, 'I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.'" But even on this point their testimony did not agree. Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, "Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?" But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?" Jesus said, "I am; and

    'you will see the Son of Man
    seated at the right hand of the Power,'
    and 'coming with the clouds of heaven.'"

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?" All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, "Prophesy!" The guards also took him over and beat him.

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, "You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth." But he denied it, saying, "I do not know or understand what you are talking about." And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, "This man is one of them." But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, "Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean." But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, "I do not know this man you are talking about." At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, "Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times." And he broke down and wept.

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" He answered him, "You say so." Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, "Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you." But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, "Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?" They shouted back, "Crucify him!" Pilate asked them, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify him!" So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor's headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

It was nine o"clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, "The King of the Jews." And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!" In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, "Listen, he is calling for Elijah." And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down." Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was God's Son!"

There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

One Girl In All The World.

So, last week I had some kind of technical difficulty (it might have been with my brain) and my blog post got written but not published.  O.o  I think I'll post-date it, so it will be searchable by when it was supposed to pop up in the lectionary.  And hey, maybe you'll enjoy reading it, even if it is late.
Into every generation, there is a chosen one. One girl in all the world. She alone will wield the strength and skill to stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness; To stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their numbers. She is the Slayer.
~The Prophecy of the Slayer
Usually when I try to provide a pop culture illustration of what Roman occupied Israel was like I turn to the setting of Star Wars.  There are so many great parallels there, that I have to wonder if George Lucas didn't have the political realities of that time and place in the back of his head somewhere when he was creating that story.

What Star Wars doesn't have, however, is the powerful echo that the Jewish people must have been hearing when Rome conquered Israel.  To my knowledge, in Star Wars, the fall of Jedi Order was a new and shocking development with no historical precedent.  The Hebrew people had a historical precedent, though.  They had a national and religious catastrophe lurking the history that had to have every man, woman and child thinking "Oh no, not again."

They had Babylon.

I have yet to run across a story in popular culture that has the same political parallels for the Babylonian Exile that Star Wars has for Roman occupied Israel.

But when I think of the prophets of that time, Isaiah, Jeremiah... The all ahead full honesty of them.  The way they stood up to evil, even when it was being perpetrated by their own people.  For some reason, it keeps bringing Buffy the Vampire Slayer to mind.

Maybe it's because the prophets tend to be kind of brash personalities.  Maybe because, like Buffy's special Slayer powers, God's protection allowed them to mouth off against foes who would appear to hold all the cards and get away with it—all in the name of Good, of course.

But more than that, the scriptural focus for this Sunday—a passage from Jeremiah that speaks of God making a new Covenant with the Jewish exiles—reminds me of one the reasons that Buffy was the greatest Slayer of all time.

After all, she was always willing to do a new thing.

A lot of people feel that Buffy jumped the shark before the series ended, and I'll freely admit that the earlier seasons were probably better than the later ones, but I LOVE where it ended. I loved the theme of potentiality—all those girls who could potentially be the next one and only Slayer.  As one by one the potentials are taken out by a hellish evil, they remind me of the Jewish Exiles.  Broken.  Defeated.

Then there's the New Covenant:
this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord:  I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

And that, that reminds me of the new thing that Buffy orchestrated.  The moment when all that potential get's realized.  The moment that changes everything.  No more "One girl in all the world."  No.  Every potential slayer becomes a Slayer in full.

It's enough to make you feel like you can do anything, doesn't it?  Like there's something in your heart that cannot be denied?

Look into your heart.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Jeremiah 31:31-34

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt — a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Psalm 51:1-12

Have mercy on me, O God,
  according to your steadfast love;

according to your abundant mercy
  blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
  and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
  and my sin is ever before me.

Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
  and done what is evil in your sight,

so that you are justified in your sentence
  and blameless when you pass judgment.

Indeed, I was born guilty,
  a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being;
  therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
  wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness;
  let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins,
  and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
  and put a new and right spirit within me.

Do not cast me away from your presence,
  and do not take your holy spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
  and sustain in me a willing spirit

Hebrews 5:5-10

So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, "You are my Son, today I have begotten you"; as he says also in another place, "You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek." In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

John 12:20-33

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

"Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say — 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Best Place to Store Health

Usually my entry titles are a reference to a (more or less) universally known geeky reference.  But today I'm quoting an old gaming companion from college.  We were playing Dungeons & Dragons together, and one of the other players was trying to decide if it was more wise to keep a healing potion for a later emergency, or to consume it right then and there to bring themselves up to full health.  And he said, "The best place to store health is inside of your body."

And he was probably right.  I know that when lost hikers are found dead of thirst, they are frequently found with water still in their canteens because they elected to ration their water rather than drink it.  It would have been better to store it in their bodies, for sure!

One thing a good D&D adventure and real life hiking have in common is that you never know when something might go wrong--so it is best to be prepared.  That's really what the discussion around the healing potion had to do with--how shall I best be prepared?  With a potion in hand or with full health in my body?

Jesus once told a story about being prepared--ok, actually, he told several--but the one I'm thinking of has to do with a wedding.

Now, I have to admit that we don’t have all of the details, but most scholars believe that in those days and in that place, weddings were even bigger events than anything you’ve seen on “Bridezillas.”  

For one thing, there was a pretty lengthy amount of negotiations beforehand.  Not between the bride and the groom, as we would expect today, but between their families.

It seems quite a bit backward at best and misogynistic at worst today, but the families had to agree to the bride-price--the amount of money or property paid by the groom or his family to the family of the bride upon their marriage.  There seem to be several possible reasons for this arrangement--the money could be to compensate the family for the loss of their daughter’s labor.  Or it could be to care for her should her husband die or get a divorce and return to her family of origin.  Or it could simply be an incentive for the husband to not divorce her in the first place!

In any case, once all the haggling and legalities between the families are settled, you have to go and fetch the bride and the groom and celebrate.  For days!  So the image of the bridesmaids all sitting around and waiting for an indeterminate amount of time and eventually dozing off with their lamps still burning would have been a familiar one to Jesus’s audience.

And in his story, Jesus tells us that some of the bridesmaids were well-prepared and had brought extra oil with them.  And so when word came to them that the bride and the groom were on their way, they refilled their lamps and were in good shape.  But others found their lamps going out and had no oil with them.  Those bridesmaids ran off to buy more--which is really foolish, since it was the middle of the night--and got locked out of the wedding.

You have to be prepared for the arrival of "The Kingdom of Heaven," Jesus is telling us, "for you know neither the day nor the hour."

So what is the oil?  Or the healing potion if you prefer?  What do you need to have with you to be prepared at any moment for the Kingdom to arrive?

Well, I believe that it's love.  Over and over again Jesus taught us that it's what in our heart that matters. That it's how we treat each other that matters.  That if we want to follow the Law and the words of the Prophets that we have to do three simple (but difficult!) things:

Love God

Love Neighbor

Love Self

That's why I beseech you every week to...

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

This week I worked with a text that belonged in November according to the Revised Common Lectionary because I'll be preaching over it at a church that uses a narrative lectionary instead.  The Spirit must be moving, however, as I somehow neglected to write a blog entry for that Sunday!

Matthew 25:1-13

[Jesus said:] "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this.  Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.  When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.  As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.  But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom!  Come out to meet him.'  Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.  The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.'  But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.'  And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.  Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.'  But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.'  Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour."

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What's Your THAC0?

As much as I love the Psalms in general, and Psalm 19 in particular, I have to admit that part of me cringes a little when I get to verse 7:
The law of the Lord is perfect,
   reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
   making wise the simple;
Not because I don't believe in God's law or it's perfection.  But because I can almost feel my unchurched brothers and sisters rolling their eyes and thinking, "Here we go again."

Because I'm embarrassed that my Christian brothers and sisters are so willing to tell each other that their understanding of God's law is the only legitimate Christian interpretation.

Because, quite frankly, I've seen God's law used as a weapon too many times.

Too many by far.

And this is one of those places where I'm tempted to uplift geeks.  To point out that when the rest of society looks down on the things we love, we band together and love them anyway.  To point out that because we know what it's like to be ostracized we're more likely to play nice than the cool kids.

But it's Lent, a time of introspection, and in my heart of hearts I know the truth—we can be just as horrible as anyone else.  We just have different triggers.

Take Dungeons & Dragons.  Folk who experienced 1st or 2nd Edition AD&D as their first experience of the game remember THAC0 (To Hit Armor Class 0).  In all honesty, I first learned to play with THAC0 and I found it to be more complicated than strictly necessary.  I'm not a number-cruncher kind of geek.  I'm more of a reading a paperback novel while I wait for my food to come in the restaurant kind of geek.  Yes, I was that kid.

Yes, I did.
In any case, I remember struggling to wrap my mind around THAC0 at first.  I remember the atmosphere in the group as my struggles slowed down the game, and how I feared that I would be deemed not smart enough to play.  And I remember how proud of myself I was when I finally got it.

At it's best, THAC0 was an initiation—a secret handshake you had to learn to be part of the group.

At worst it was a weapon to make people feel stupid.

Personally, I wasn't sad to see THAC0 go, it made it easier for me to pull people into one of my favorite pass-times.  And my saying that can still trigger a rather lively debate among certain groups of people!

(By the way, you can find the t-shirt here.)

I was going to use Macs vs. PCs as another example, but I really don't need to say anything more than that, do I?  Both kinds of machines have their advantages and disadvantages and in the end it's a matter of personal preference.

And yet people will still go out of their way to shame each other over their choice in the matter.

And so I find myself believing that both Christianity and geekdom have something to learn from Psalm 19.

If you're wielding THAC0 like a Vorpal Sword, you're doing it wrong.

If you're shaming someone for the brand of computer they have, you're doing it wrong.

If you're using God's Law to tear down your neighbor you are doing it wrong.

God's Law is supposed to be a beautiful thing.  Using it like a club makes it ugly.

It's supposed to be as great and awe-inspiring as the cosmos.  Claiming that you have the one and only true understanding of it diminishes it.

God's Law is pure.

It revives your soul and makes your heart rejoice.

If you use it with a heart full of hate, then what is the point?

In this geek's opinion, God's Law is just this simple:

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh