Christ Cannot be Caged

Then the LORD said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey….” (Exodus 3:7-8a)

Here in Cincinnati, God is observing the misery of God’s people, particularly those who suffer for others’ gain. God bears this suffering as He brings His sons and daughters into freedom. God will not rest until all Her children know they are loved, beyond measure, and that earth’s treasures are theirs.

After hearing that God was calling us to “name the spiritual condition of the world,” I wrote a blog post called “Becoming a Wilderness People.” In that post, I said:

I believe Friends are called to listen spiritually to those who are the most destitute in this country, primarily American Indians but also African Americans and other people who are marginalized and/or living in poverty, and to witness to the presence of the Holy Spirit within and among them. Then, through holding in the Light and reflecting upon what we see and hear, we will discern the spiritual condition of the world. Also, periodically, I believe we are to gather with each other, so that we might share what is revealed to us and together name the world’s condition. Finally, through speaking and writing about our experiences and insights, we will reveal the Truth to the Powers (see Colossians 1:16) so that they might find kinship with those who have been marginalized, thus breaking down the internal barriers that sustain the external forms of domination.

Since then, I have discerned that God is urging me, through and along with my Meeting, to set up a means through which we can live out this leading. I believe we are being called to create a mechanism through which we can befriend the people who have been harmed by the criminal justice system. God is encouraging us to see the criminal justice system for what it is and to create an alternative, a restorative justice system. Through the development of a restorative justice program, we will be enabled to listen to the people who have been harmed by the criminal justice system and to witness to what God is doing for them.

Currently, our criminal justice system ignores victims, discourages offenders, leaves families feeling powerless, and alienates the communities it intends to serve. It relies on argument, deceit, manipulation, and punishment to accomplish its ends. It’s a principality that cannot engender justice or propagate peace, as justice associates with truth, not deceit and manipulation, and peace is a state that arises through mercy rather than punishment.

God, through Christ, is redeeming this system that’s riddled with holes and tottering on stilts. He’s already put Christ in place as its cornerstone. We are being asked to come stand with Christ as He rebuilds it. May we find our place there and sing….

I will sing to the Lord, since he is highly exalted;
The Horses and Horsemen has he thrown down in the sea.
Of the Lord is my Power and Praise,
and of him is Preservation to me:
this is my God, and I will make him a Habitation;
the God of my Father, and I will extol him. (Exodus 15:1-2, NRSV)

Have you observed how God is leading you and/or your meeting to participate in this leading to “name the spiritual condition of the world?” If so, please post a comment.

Also, please pray for us as we attempt to follow our Guide.

Manna for Future Generations

According to my New Oxford Annotated Bible, the word manna is derived from the Hebrew man hu. “Man hu?” was the question that the Hebrew people asked when they saw flaky white stuff laying around them, all over the ground. “What is it?” they asked. I believe the answer was man na. “It is what it is.”

This question and answer reminds me of the dialog between Moses and God when Moses asks God what he should say when the people ask for the name of the God who reportedly is going to save them. God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” (Exodus 3:13)

In both of these situation, the answer is a restatement of the question. What is it? It is what it is. Who are you? I am who I am.

Later, after God has been provided water and food for the people in the wilderness, we learn that God has commanded that an omer of manna be saved in a jar. (An omer is about eight cups or a half gallon.)

Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, in order that they may see the food with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” (Exodus 16:32)

The manna is being stored so future generations will trust in this God who has recently rescued and provided for them. Like a good leader, Moses does what he’s told; he tells Aaron to do what God asks. And Aaron, like a good priest, does what he’s told. He puts the manna in a jar and puts the jar in a sacred place.

And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord, to be kept through out your generations.” As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the covenant, for safekeeping. (Exodus 16:33-34)

Then the story fast forwards. The Bible tells us that the Israelites made it, by living on manna, to the Promised Land.

The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan. (Exodus 16:35)

As contemporary people who are attempting to follow this God, a God whose primary occupation is to rescue the oppressed, this story provides us with sustenance for our journey. It suggests that God knows we can’t just believe what we’re told. We’re too fickle for that. We need evidence for ourselves.

At first, I thought that stories of early Friends was today’s manna. Our knowledge of their words and actions help us to know what it is like when God enters into history. The documents that they left behind demonstrate that God is not only an eternal presence but also lives and acts in time, through the lives of the faithful.

But, like the Israelites who learned about God through their ancestors’ stories, we need to have evidence for ourselves. The stories of early Friends are not enough. We need to see and feel manna. We need to personally experience God’s rescue and on-going guidance.

We don’t have physical jars of manna, but we have this story. This story urges us to enter into the tabernacle and stand in the power of the covenant, believing that God means for us to be God’s special people. Via our hearts, we will plunge a hand into that jar full of manna and physically experience God’s mercy and power. Later, when we leave the tent (although we will probably need to return many times), we will see God’s provision all around… manna as far as our eyes can see.

Who is this God? This God Is. This God is Being Yearning For Us, a God who comes to rescue us from non-Being and non-Yearning, from non-Fullness-of-Life. May we embrace the yoke that Jesus holds out to us. By joining in Christ’s on-going redemption of the world, we join God where God is and participate in God’s action in time.

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This post is fifth in a series. This series explores how we might leave Egypt –the American Empire and travel to the Promised Land—the Beloved Community of All Peoples where peace and plenty prevail. (The previous posts include Becoming a Wilderness People, The God of our Fathers, Water in the Wilderness, and Wafers made with Honey.)

Japanese Bowls

It’s my understanding that long ago in Japan, cracks in valuable bowls were repaired with gold. The gold was soft enough to mold into each crevasse along the crack, and the bowl could again hold liquids. The original shape of the bowl was retained, but the shining lines of gold stood out, creating a new persona – one that was unique and valuable.

I had the privilege of spending eighteen months with a man who embodied these principals. He’d been a brilliant engineer, but now was well into a form of dementia that included Parkinson’s disease along with cognitive deficits. It was progressive and untreatable.

His doctor had recommended regular exercise, and he loved swimming. His wife was doing all the care for him, so I volunteered to take him once a week to the pool at the Y. By the time I first met him, he’d lost a sense of what his body was doing and where he was in space. I’d help him change clothes and then sat in a chair at the deep end of the pool while he swam.

Once in a while he’d wander into an adjoining swim lane and get in someone else’s way. I’d guide him back to his lane. For the most part, I simply sat and watched. When he wanted to rest, he’d hang onto the end of the pool and we’d talk. We generally stayed for a little over an hour.

For the first six months, I saw few changes in him. We both came to look forward to our time together. He was usually happy and perhaps because he’d been so intelligent, he retained the ability to carry on a conversation. I then began to see small changes such as not being able to figure out how to turn on the shower and having trouble with door latches. While swimming, he kicked his legs more and more feebly. One arm became less active, and then both.

I’d had a lot of practice caring for children whose health was fragile. In my career as a school Occupational Therapist, on average I attended the funeral of one of my current or former students each year. I’d been forced to face the question, “How emotionally close do I want to get to this child, knowing that they may die?” I decided that I would love them as completely as I could – even though the more I loved them, the more I’d miss them when they were gone. If I kept my distance I’d still lose them, but would also have lost the joy of deeply caring for someone.

Here I was with an adult, watching for months as he slowly lost function. Would I pull away to protect myself, or cherish our relationship? Aware of what I was deciding, I reveled in our time together.

Sitting by the side of that pool, hearing stories I’d heard many times before, I was at peace. I knew that both he and I were where we were supposed to be, doing what we were supposed to do. Several times in that eighteen months, I found that the two of us had entered heaven. I was filled with bliss and at one with the rightness of the world. The life guard and other swimmers were unaware, but I knew where we were.

We had come to care deeply about each other and were helping each other. We were in sync with God’s purpose and thus I could glimpse heaven while still on earth. Looking back, I believe it was love and compassion that opened the door.

I have a CD by Peter Mayer titled Heaven Below. It includes a song about Japanese bowls and made me aware of how precious my swimming partner’s needs were. Yes, his disease was terrible. Yes, life isn’t fair. Yes, his loss of function was a travesty (in terms of life on this earth). Yet, his disabilities made me love him more.
Back when he was healthy and extremely busy, I’m sure we would have had little to do with each other. His interests and abilities were too different from mine. Now, we could spend these hours at the pool connecting with each other – and God.

I absorbed a lesson more deeply while I watched as God loved this man. It’s typical to think that we must be at our best before we can approach God. Yet, it is often when we are broken that we are most open. When things are going well, I can believe that I’m in control. I don’t need any help and don’t need to change anything about myself. Everything’s great.

And then along comes illness, failure, pain, loss, grief. Maybe I’ve also messed up and done something poorly – or done something I shouldn’t have. Now I can see that I’m not in control and that I very much need to make some changes.

Such is the time that we turn to God. If I could choose someone to speak with, it would be people who are broken, abused, addicted or convicted. I’d share with them that God NEVER moves away from us. We can turn away from God, but God will never turn away from us. We don’t have to be perfect – we don’t even have to be at our best – for God to love us.

Humans cannot be worthy of God’s love. We’re way too flawed and limited. Fortunately, we don’t have to be worthy. We only have to be willing.

God loves us, period. Just as we are. Even after we’ve failed for the umpteenth time. Especially when we’re incapable, falling apart, dying.

Our swimming sessions ended when it became too difficult for him to keep his head above the water. He died weeks later. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think fondly of him and our time together.
Some who knew I was spending an afternoon a week with him thought I was making a big sacrifice. I knew better. I was, for those hours, living as God intended.