Friday, March 25, 2011
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
May the Earth Tremble
It’s hard sometimes to listen to the idea that God’s hand is in the trembling of the earth and the smoking of mountains. When natural disaster strikes, some people will say it’s the hand of God, rendering quick judgment against our sins. But for most of us, I would guess that our thinking wouldn’t really go down that path, but if we’re going to be honest, we might have to admit that sometimes, even if we don’t mean to, we wonder.
Japan was just hit by the fifth largest earthquake to ever be recorded in human history. It was soon followed by devastating tsunamis. Thousands of people are dead. To drive home the point of just how devastating this earthquake was, I need to remind you that this is not a third world country with few resources. Japan has one of the largest economies in the world and they know earthquakes. Just like children in California, Japanese children practice earthquake drills on a regular basis and have earthquake emergency kits always close at hand. Japanese buildings are designed to withstand all but the strongest of quakes and they have enough experience to know that earthquakes can trigger tsunamis. Between their coastal cities and the ocean are high walls designed to keep tsunamis at bay. Walls to hold back the ocean. From what I understand, most of the time, these walls work. But, this was a magnitude 8.9 earthquake, and the tsunamis it triggered flew over those walls, like an ocean wave crashing over the moat of a child’s sandcastle at the beach. These tsunamis carried with them the full force of earth and water, Mother Nature’s fury unleashed on our tiny human attempts to contain her.
In our reading today of Psalm 104:24-34, there is only one tiny mention of humanity. Not only is there but a single mention, but the mention itself is indirect. In between the great and wide sea, and the Leviathan, there are ships. That’s all. That’s all we get. Ships.
The thing that you really have to remember here is that the Psalms are poetry, and in poetry, the choice and placement of each word is extremely important. Words in poetry are always in relation to each other. So when the text says, “living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan,” you know that Leviathan is great, and that the ships are small.
There was this amazing image of the aftermath of the earthquake. It was a ship caught in a gigantic whirlpool that the earthquake or tsunami had somehow triggered. I’m not sure exactly how big this whirlpool was, but it looked like it might have been the size of a city block. And there was this ship, this tiny white speck, about to be sucked into a funnel that was pulling everything towards the ocean floor. The news reporter didn’t know if anyone was onboard.
This is what we’re up against. The Japanese were not unprepared. There was no preparing for this.
It’s no wonder that ancient peoples equated these natural forces with acts of God, for who else but God could command such power. Psalm 104:31-32 says, “May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works – who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.” The hand of God, in the trembling of the earth and the smoking of the mountain.
As the death toll from the earthquake rises, we have to ask ourselves, “Was this really the hand of God? Did God do this?” See, times are different now. Unlike the antique writer of the psalm, we know the scientific explanations for why these things happen. We know about tectonic plates, and friction, and the convection currents of magma under the Earth’s crust. And, since we have all of this knowledge, it’s not just the non-believers that have stopped pointing their fingers at God every time there’s a lightning storm, a volcanic eruption, or an earthquake. But, if we’re going to believe in an all-powerful Creator, even if we’re not going to blame God directly for doing it, we have to ask ourselves, “Didn’t God have the power to stop it?” If we aren’t going to blame God for causing this disaster, do we also let God off the hook for letting it happen?
This psalm talks about the many ways in which God is a wonderful creator. God made all the creatures, the raging sea, everything. God set everything into motion at the beginning of time, and as the psalm says, did so in wisdom. So, what does that mean anyway, did so in wisdom?
I like to think of God as an artist, and creation is God’s continuing masterpiece. Now, you can take this metaphor in two different ways. One way to think of artistic expression is to think of fine porcelain or hyper-realistic painting, you know, those paintings that look like photographs. When creating art in one of these forms, the artist has to exert almost absolute control over the medium in order to create the desired effect. The amount of talent and skill that’s required to produce one of these works of art is incredible, not to mention the patience and the time involved. These are perfect works, flawless, unchanging. Like marble sculptures. Perfect, flawless, frozen. Can you imagine a perfect world? A world were everything is perfect and beautiful? A world where nothing ever changes. A world that is stark and hard. Frozen. Some people would say a world like this would be the opposite of good. I might venture to say that a being who created such a thing might actually be evil. The God that we know and love could never create a world like this.
But, there are different kinds of art. If porcelain is at one end of the ceramics spectrum, raku is way over on the opposite side. Porcelain requires the finest clay, and sometimes even powdered bone, the highest quality glazes, extremely hot, non-fluctuating firing temperatures, and a slow, controlled cooling process.
With raku, the type of clay that you use isn’t as important, and the glazes are sometimes thick and clumpy on purpose to provide texture. So you take what might start out looking like a lumpy mess and throw it onto what basically amounts to a campfire, and you toss some random things on there, whatever you happen to have on hand, pine cones, seaweed, whatever, and you cover it with a garbage can. The firing temperature is low and uneven. There is no cooling process. You cannot plan with any kind of precision what the end result will be, because the materials you use have almost as much say in how the piece will turn out as the artist does. But, the results can be amazing! I once created a bowl, and I have no idea how it happened, that had an almost glowing metallic fuchsia circle on the inside wall, surrounded by metallic blues and golds and greens. It was stunning! You really just never know what you’re going to get.
That’s the kind of artist that I imagine God to be; an artist that works in cooperation with us, instead of simply bending us to some cosmic purpose. We talk a lot about our free will and how we exercise it. Free will is a gift from God. But, we are the component parts that God works with in the formation of this world. And make no mistake, God is in control, and knows what the world is supposed to look like. But, God will never override our freedom. God doesn’t force us to do anything. Only with the utmost love, encouragement and desire for what is best for us does God graciously appeal to our better selves that we might participate in this grand symphony of life.
But, the gift of God’s freedom does not stop there. What good would our freedom be, if our world was not free? There would be nothing for us to do, nothing for us to participate in or interact with. Nothing for us to help create. God grants freedom to all of creation. Dogs are free to be dogs, cats can be cats. A car is free to be a car, a city is free to be a city, and a mountain or forest or island is free to be that thing that God created it to be. A tectonic plate is free to be a tectonic plate. A large body of water is free to be a large body of water.
See, I believe that God was there in the earthquake. And, I believe that God was there in that wave. Does that mean that God wanted these things to happen? I don’t think so. I think God anguished over it. I think God suffered with all of the people that were caught up in the crush of the rushing waters. And so I wonder, maybe if God wasn’t in the earthquake, if God wasn’t in the tsunami, maybe the human tragedy would have been that much worse. How much more devastating might they have been, if God wasn’t there?
See, God doesn’t act in singular moments, isolated from other moments. Think about how God was working through history, moving the Japanese people to build those sea walls. How much more devastating might the damage have been if those walls were not in place? And, think about God working through people to make buildings capable of withstanding the force of an earthquake this large. Think about how much higher the death toll would have been if all of those buildings had collapsed. And then, God was in the making of earthquake emergency kits. Victims of the earthquake and tsunamis are suffering right now from the lack of food and water and other resources. How much greater would their suffering be if not for the supplies in those kits.
The psalm tells us that God gives all living things food in due season. God made sure that those emergency kits were ready for when this would happen and is acting even now, moving in the hearts of people around the world who are donating food, money, their skills and labor, to help the victims of this disaster. And, God is right now with all of those people who are suffering, all of those people who have lost their loved ones, all of those people who may not know where their loved ones are, or whether they’re living or dead. God is there, suffering with them, loving them, being present for them, offering them hope and the truth that death does not have the final word.
As much as I love the art metaphor, it’s an imperfect metaphor because no matter how free you allow the materials to be, there always tends to be a final frozen form. There comes a point at which the freedom of the materials comes to an end, and no matter how beautiful it is, in some ways the materials have died, to remain forever frozen as a vase, or an abstract painting, or a candid photograph. The world’s not like that. As human beings, as tiny, tiny human beings, we are working with God and with the rest of creation to bring the realm of God into fruition, where everything that has died will live again. How this happens is a mystery. We are human and we have free will, but God is always with us. God is always with us. And like the mystery of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, our actions will always be both fully human, and fully divine. We are the medium. God is the artist. But, we are also the artists. And creation never stops. Amen.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Thursday, March 3, 2011
1 Corinthians 11: 3 says, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ.” Verses 7-9: “For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man. Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man.”
I’m not gonna lie, I had a lot of trouble with this text. I think it would be safe to say that most of the people in this room would have trouble with this text.
Before I started writing this, I decided to check some commentaries on the subject. Those were pretty much not helpful. To sum them up, they basically stated that yes, men and women are equal, but that men have authority over women. Equal, but under authority.
So, I went online to try to find some examples of sermons or Bible studies that had been done using this passage. It was exactly the same as the commentaries. The one Bible study I found that was kind of helpful, was still basically saying the same thing, just with a slightly more nuanced argument. The writer said that men should worship with their heads uncovered, because they are the glory of God. Women should worship with their heads covered, because they are the glory of man, which should not distract from the glory of God. I was kind of surprised he didn’t come right out and say that women should wear burkas.
All of these treatments on the passage were really not helping me figure out how to write this sermon, because I know, I know to the core of my being that these writers are wrong. How do I know this? Someone once told me that it’s not just the truth of your theology that’s important; it’s how people live it out.
We know what happens when this line of thinking, that women are under the authority of men, is drawn out to its logical conclusion. The ability to vote and own property is not a right that women have always enjoyed in this country, but at least here, most women were never forced to wear burkas, like so many women are forced to in many Middle Eastern countries. But what does happen in this country, and all over the world, is human trafficking. Young women and girls kidnapped and forced into a life prostitution. On average, these women and girls last only four years before succumbing to disease, drugs and despair.
In India and China, millions of baby girls are killed, simply for being the wrong gender. And in some places, young women are murdered at the hands of their male relatives in order to cleanse their families of shame, because they were the victims of rape. These actions are not of God, but the actions of people who think that women are under the authority of men.
So, why? Why did God allow this to be part the Bible? That’s a difficult question. See, the Bible was a collaborative effort between God and humanity; God chose to work through people to send us the divine message.
And, perhaps that is the true meaning of this text, that God didn’t write this alone. Perhaps what God is trying to tell us here is that God lives in community with us, that God is in us and around us, and didn’t write the Bible alone. So, what does this mean if God is not the sole author of the Bible? Does that make it any less true? Do I believe that the Bible is authoritative and instructive for our lives? Yes. Do I believe that the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit? Yes. But we need to stop thinking of the Bible as a collection of books and letters. In terms of how it should govern our lives, it is a single text.
God gave us The Bible, not just 1 Corinthians 11: 1-13. We need to take the Bible as a whole, because when we start pulling bits of it out, whether it’s a couple of verses, or a whole book, and we use just part of the Bible to justify the things we do, that’s when we start getting into trouble. When we do that, we take the chance that the human voice behind the text is going to be louder than the divine one. Every part of the Bible needs to be seen in light of every other part.
It’s only when we take the Bible as a whole, and we listen to all of those countless voices across the millennia, speaking to their individual experiences of God, that the glory of God is revealed to us. Because God could never be confined to a single voice, even a voice as loud as Paul’s. So I ask that we stop oppressing each other, and ourselves, based on a few select passages of the Bible. Because when you read the whole thing, the Bible is freeing. It’s liberating. And, that's how God intended it to be. Amen.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
About fifteen years ago, my dad decided to stop eating red meat. He did this because his cholesterol was too high. Now, this did not stop the rest of my family from eating red meat. But, my poor mother was now forced to cook something special for my dad whenever she made something that contained beef or pork.
After a while, this led to my family consuming more and more ground turkey, as my mother became increasingly tired of having to pull double duty in the kitchen. I’m not a fan of ground turkey. It doesn’t brown right, it has a weird spongy texture and more often than not comes out tasting kind of like liver. Honestly, I would rather eat almost anything else.
About four years ago, I found out that I too needed to stop eating pork. I discovered, painfully, that I was now allergic to it. It causes my joints to swell. I had gotten to the point where I was actually having a hard time walking, when I remembered a comment my mother had made. She said one time, that pork made her shoulder hurt. Now, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the correlation could be between pork and shoulder pain, but there I was, hobbling around and I suddenly saw the connection. It was only a theory at the time, but I needed to try something, anything to be able to walk normally again. So I gave up pork, which is really, really hard for someone who is half Chinese and half Filipino. But, about a month later, the pain was gone.
It’s no wonder to me now, that this dirty, smelly, albeit delicious, animal is considered to be unclean by the Jews. To this day, there are Jews and Muslims all over the world that will not eat pork in accordance with their religious traditions. They believe pork is unclean, and who are we to tell them different?
It’s the same problem that the early Christians had to face. See, the Jews were still Jews, accepting Jesus as the Messiah didn’t take that away from them. For them, eating pork was wrong. And, the Gentiles kinda liked bacon. But, as people from each group came to follow Christ, their different cultures began to clash. Both groups were Christian. But, these two groups had different ideas about what that meant. In his letter to the Roman church, Paul tries to explain to them that what they eat isn’t as important as their faith in God. What’s important is that they honor each other and try to help each other grow in faith, to trust each other and to trust in God.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Lemon Porridge – Steel cut oats with hints of vanilla, honey and lemon
Banana Bran Muffins
Fairytale Pumpkin Muffins
Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins
Jian Bings – Chinese style crepe with eggs, green onion & a sweet & spicy sauce
Pancit – Filipino rice noodles with vegetables and chicken
Linguini Alfredo – classic or creamy
Linguini Arrabiatta – a spicy tomato based sauce with pine nuts and sultanas
Spaghetti & Meatballs
Cavatappi with Pesto
Mac & Cheese with or without mushrooms
Chicken & Rice Bowls
Mole Naranja – a rich sauce of citrus & cinnamon
Adobo – a Filipino classic with soy sauce, lemon, bay leaf and garlic
Tomato Dill Sauce – a Filipino twist on sweet & sour
Apple Curry – the house blend of curry spices, slow simmered in caramelized onions, apples and coconut milk
Chuck’s Killer Chili
Roasted Root Vegetable – seasonal root vegetables served on a bed of crisp greens
Brown Rice – a deliciously nutty combination of brown rice, parsley, mint and tomatoes
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Oatmeal Raisin Cookies