upper room daily devotions

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dorothee Soelle on Christmas, Peace, and Fear

My sermon last week was about the conflict of peace and fear. In short, I preached about the angel's pastoral words to Mary - "Do not fear" - and that without them she might not have travelled to see Elizabeth and set herself on a course to give birth to peace in the world. For more reflections on this, see my older post Advent 4C - Mary, Fear and Peace, and Wendell Berry. It seems that this theme resonates for me right now. As I was reading today in "Watch for the Light," probably the best Advent book I've run across in eons, I stumbled upon an essay by Dorothee Soelle about fear, peace, and Christmas.

Without understanding this imperium [roman] in its economic and ecological power of death, we also cannot see the light of Christmas shine. Living in the pretended social market economy, we do not even seem to need this light!

Whoever wants to proclaim something about this light has to free the stifled longing of people. An interpretation of the Bible that takes seriously concrete, everyday human cares and does not make light of the dying of children from hunger and neglect is helpful in this regard. By showing up the incomparable power of violence in our world today, it deepens our yearning for true peace.

Our text (Luke 2:15-20)refers to the praxis of transmission and proclamation. The frightened shepherds become God's messengers. They organize, make haste, find others, and speak with them. Do we not all want to become shepherds and catch sight of the angel? I think so. Without the perspective of the poor, we see nothing, not even an angel. When we approach the poor, our values and goals change. The child appears in many other children. Mary also seeks sanctuary among us. Because the angels sing, the shepherds rise, leave their fear behind, and set out for Bethlehem, wherever it is situated these days.

"Do we not all want to become shepherds and catch sight of the angel?" and "Because the angels sing, the shepherds rise, leave their fears behind, and set out for Bethlehem, wherever it is situated these days." Powerful Christmas message!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the Summit in Copenhagen

Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the Climate Summit in Copenhagen with a brief word from United Methodist Women

Advent 4C - Mary, Fear and Peace, and Wendell Berry

As I think about Sunday, too many topics roll around in my mind. It will be December 20, and we could focus on a "blue Christmas" or a "longest night" theme. We could focus on the talks in Copenhagen and how, as it seems now, they have disappointed our hopes that leaders would actually lead and offer us a vision for the future that contains hope. The texts invite me into thoughts of joy and peace, of women and community, and of anticipation and uncertainty. And somehow, in my mind, all of these are related. All of my thoughts bring me back to the angel's proclamation to Mary, "Do not fear."

It seems that fear has gripped the world. Fear, in my opinion, is the biggest obstacle to peace. Fear drives the greed that keeps us from caring for the earth or lifting the lowly to high places. It is fear that overwhelms the lonely on the longest night. Fear is the engine of war. But I don't want this Sunday to be about fear, do I? My problem is how to craft a service that doesn't wade too deeply into fear. At least I think so. And I need to discover how to usher those assembled in worship on Sunday morning into a celebration of peace without disregarding the force of fear at work in the texts and in the world today.

I read a good article about Mary in Celebration Publications from January of this year. The article is called "Mary's Magnificat: a song of shalom," and author Irene Nowell takes issue with the traditional idea that the Magnificat is a song of "reversal." Rather, she thinks it is a song of "mutuality." I like this. She uses examples of women's work taking place in pairs - mutuality. But it is her focus on God's justice as one of mutuality and not of reversal that is most interesting. She writes, "[W]hat is subversive is not just that the powerful are brought down, but that the lowly are lifted up. The Magnificat proclaims a new world order in which people meet on the same level...Mary's song can only be good news if its message is not 'reversal' but mutuality. If [one] proclaims simply that the oppressors will become the oppressed, then there is no hope for us." And she goes on to talk about the role of fear that obstructs mutuality - God's justice, if you will - and keeps it at bay.

As I ponder Sunday's sermon and I struggle to find balance in the message that I want to bring, I think of Wendell Berry's poem "The Peace of Wild Things." It is a reminder that in the struggle against that which threatens to overwhelm, a good respite is needed. Mary went to Elizabeth, after all. Berry goes where he always does - into God's beautiful natural world. And this is what he writes:

"The Peace of Wild Things
-Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of the wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

TONIGHT - GREG MORTENSON at Seattle Pacific University

Greg Mortenson, author of "Three Cups of Tea" and, more recently, "Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan" will be speaking TONIGHT at Seattle Pacific University at 7:00 PM at Royal Brougham Pavilion, Seattle Pacific University 3414 Third Avenue WSeattle, Washington 98119.

I know this post is short notice, but if you are in Seattle, it's worth it to make your way to SPU for the talk.

Advent Poem - "Candlemas" by Denise Levertov

Today is a mild and gray rainy day in Seattle. Many people think it's like this every day, but it isn't. When the sun shines, I have never seen any place more beautiful than the Pacific Northwest. Really. But today, we live in a stereotype. Wet roads. Slow drivers. Lots of traffic. And an oppressive darkness threatens to rob us of the slivers of gray that passes for light.

Entering the church, I looked up and saw even our bright rainbow banners struggling against the steel of the sky and the naked trees on the corner. I thought of Denise Levertov's poem "Candlemas," and it helped brighten the world up just a little.

-Denise Levertov

With certitude
Simeon opened
ancient arms
to infant light.
before the cross, the tomb
and the new life,
he knew
new life.
What depth
of faith he drew on,
turning illumined
towards deep light.
As the dark presses in and the days get even shorter, I hope I "turn illumined towards deep night."

This poem can be found in Denise Levertov's book "Breathing the Water."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

About "Just War" and "Just Peace"

Ever since the president accepted his Nobel Peace Prize today, commentators have been going crazy discussing it. In it, President Obama laid out a very standard argument for "just war" and attendant "just peace."

He did not, as commentators continue to argue, "robustly" defend war or present himself as a "warrior president," at least in my opinion. By this, I mean that he did not present an argument for war per se. Rather, facing a world with aggression already in it and aggressors active in it, President Obama is turning to a very specific argument about when and how to fight back and what resolution looks like. He relied upon descriptions of just war from both international law and his own faith tradition.

In both international law and in theology, just war theory maintains that wars can only be fought under specific conditions.

In international law, the one declaring war, i.e. the head of state must be able to substantiate the six following conditions:

Jus ad bellum
1. A just cause
2. Right intention
3. That s/he has the proper authority to declare war and make a public declaration of it
4. That it is a last resort
5. There is a probability of success
6. Proportionality

Once these have been met, certain rules must be followed while engaging in war for it to remain just - jus in bello. This includes:

1. Obeying international laws on weapons prohibitions
2. Using discrimination and allowing non-combatant immunity - i.e. only kill other soldiers or those who intend to harm you
3. Proportionality
4. Benevolent quarantine of prisoners
5. No Means Mala in Se, which means there can be no means used to wage war that are "evil in and of themselves," e.g. rape.
6. No reprisals.

And last, there must be a just termination to the war.

Jus post bellum
1. Proportionality and Publicity
2. Rights Vindication
3. Discrimination
4. Punishment #1 - Leaders should be prosecuted for violating rights.
5. Punishment #2 - Soldiers should be prosecuted for violating rights.
6. Compensation
7. Rehabilitation

This theory of just war originated with the League of Nations, but just war and just peace are concepts with ancient histories, even if they, as concepts, were not fleshed out to such an extent as this more recent incarnation of the just war theory.

President Obama looked not only to international law, but to his own faith tradition to inform his understanding of both just war and just peace. His understanding of both just war and just peace echo biblical justice and are rooted in Christian history. Saint Augustine wrote about just war as did many other theologians since him.

And yet, just war continues to be debated.Can there ever be such a thing as a just war? For more:

Just War Theory from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
St. Augustine on war from "Summa
A pacifist on just war theory.
on just war.
The Red Cross on just war.
The president's acceptance speech.

Jacob and Esau: Heaven and Earth and the Climate Change Summit

In a video diary from his journey from Israel to Copenhagen, Rabbi Michael Kagan speaks about climate change and humankind's responsibility for balance within creation. In his first entry he teaches from the Bible using the images of Esau and Jacob. Jacob and Esau represent Heaven and Earth; Jacob, loved by his mother is ethereal - heaven. Esau, loved by his father, is a hunter - earth. Both are needed for harmony, wholeness, completeness. In his dream, Jacob sees a ladder stretching from Earth to Heaven. According to Rabbi Kagan, we are the ladder. If the ladder is broken, Heaven and Earth are disconnected and all of creation is thrown out of balance. We are the ladder. We must not break our connection to the spiritual or to the earthly. We are needed to hold this great creation together.

Odyssey Networks is presenting videos of all kinds from the Climate Change Summit. Check them out.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Churches to Ring their Bells for Climate Change - December 13

"Churches will chime in for environmental stewardship by sounding their bells or other instruments 350 times at 3 p.m. on Sunday. The 350 chimes represent the parts per million that many scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere," says an article from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

I live in the Pacific Northwest of the US. It is the most beautiful place on Earth. Mountains, plateaus, valleys, desert, whales, salmon, bears, huge evergreens, fruit trees, tulips, wheat, brooks and rivers everywhere, cougars, moose, elk, otters, seals, and sea lions - life is abundant here. It is a blessing to see the sun paint the sky every hue imaginable as it rises and sets. Everyday offers a new breathtaking scene. But, when I look at God's miraculous, wondrous, powerful world and I see the negative impacts that humankind leaves upon it, my heart breaks. Climate Change is something the authors of the Bible could never have foreseen. The ability for human beings to change the climate of the Earth? For us to kill reefs, create dead zones in the water, make it increasingly difficult for ice to form on the poles, to cut down whole forests? It was unforeseeable and unthinkable.

Today it is observable, but it must become thinkable. I believe that our congregations, as the arms and legs of Christ in the world - the great healer, the redeemer, the prophet, God in sandals - it is our Christian obligation to care for God's creation. Congregations need to start thinking about the planet and all of its inhabitants - all God's creatures, every one - and to take clear and bold steps to call for public policy that values this holy and living organism called Earth. We need to start talking about Climate Change and how we might become a force for healing and wholeness - Shalom. We have the ability. We have the tools necessary. We have everything we need to heal this Earth and all that makes her so wondrous. We are the stewards of God's creation - the creation upon which God's holy eyes looked and delighted, into which God breathed life pronounced it "good."

If your church has a bell tower, ring your bells this Sunday at 3 PM. If you don't have a bell tower, find some other way to "chime in" 350 times to show the world that Christians care, are informed, and are ready to do our part not only for the healing of the nations, but for the healing of the Earth itself.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Faith at the Summit-Daily Video Highlights from the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen

Odyssey Networks is posting daily videos from faith leaders at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Thus far videos include a preview with thoughts from Sister Joan Chittister, Rabbi Michael Kagan, and Sraddhalu Ranade. Videos include words from the Archbishop of Canterbury. You can subscribe to the broadcasts or log online to view them.

Earth care is a spiritual and religious issue. Check out Faith At the Summit for emerging details and more videos.

Advent Thought - Dylan Thomas

For Advent, I re-read Dylan Thomas' "A Child's Christmas in Wales" and two excerpts stand out for me this year.

From the beginning of the book:

"All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged, fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find."

And I ask myself, when I plunge my hands into the unknown, what do I find?

From the end of the book:

"I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept."

Good words for Advent, a perfect time to speak words into the close and holy darkness.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

What Do I Expect?

"Expectation -- anxious, collective and operative expectation of an end of the world, that is to say, of an issue for the world -- that is perhaps the supreme Christian function and the most distinctive characteristic of our religion.

Historically speaking, that expectation has never ceased to guide the progress of our faith like a torch...We persist in saying that we keep vigil in expectation of the Master. But in reality we should have to admit, if we were sincere, that we no longer expect anything.The flame must be revived at all costs. At all costs we must renew in ourselves the desire and the hope for the great coming. But where are we to look for the source of this rejuvenation? From the perception of a more intimate connection between the victory of Christ and the outcome of the work which our human effort here below is seeking to construct."
--Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

This quote from Teilhard de Chardin challenges me. For what do I hope? What do I expect? Do I expect anything - anything real and significant from God and for God's manifestation in the world? Moreover, what cost am I wiling to pay for this hope - this desire - to become real?

Like most people, I suppose, I am more bound up by fear than by expectation, by comfort than in a hope for change, by the status quo than deep transformation. Perhaps the real miracle isn't in our hoping, expecting, waiting, or preparing. Perhaps the real miracle is that God tries again and again year in and year out by coming with new light into the world whether we are prepared or not. Maybe I'll really try expecting it this year.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

An Advent Hope

The approaching climate talks in Copenhagen are on my mind, and so this quote from Horatius Bonar seems appropriate,

"Come, and make all things new,
Build upon this ruined earth;
Restore our faded paradise,
Creation's second birth!"

A good hope for Advent, I think.

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