Open My Eyes by Lauren Neal

Posted in Uncategorized on October 28, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

open eyesAfter some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’ Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

—Acts 15:36-41

In 1895, shortly before her tragic death caused by a runaway horse and buggy, Clara Scott wrote the words:

Silently now I wait for thee,

ready, my God, thy will to see.

Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!

The hymn is called “Open My Eyes, That I May See,” and this morning, almost 120 years later, I awoke with this song in my head.  I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that God works in mysterious ways, and that’s certainly true.  But, sometimes God also works in ways so blatantly obvious that we would be daft to not see what God’s doing.  And yet, we often still miss it. 

Sometimes when God works in obvious ways, we’re thrilled and grateful.  When a loved one is sick, we pray for health, and they recover, we praise God for his miracle.  But what about when God works in ways that aren’t so “good,” at least from our perspective?  What about when the healing we pray for comes through death?  What about when we pray for a relationship only to see it end?  Is God still working?  Of course he is, but sometimes we just don’t see what God sees. 

In Acts 15:36-41, Paul and Barnabas have a disagreement, and they part ways.  By going in separate directions, they are able exponentially to multiply the effectiveness of their ministry, but the way it happened was likely painful for all involved.  Why didn’t God just convince them to go their separate ways amicably?  It often seems that we have to do God’s will the hard way, but the point to remember is that regardless of how it is accomplished, God will get his way.

Clara Scott’s hymn reminds us that sometimes all we can really do is to wait for God and try to understand his will.  College is a time of a lot of uncertainty.  You’ll wonder if you’ve chosen the right major, the right school, whether you should even be in college at all, not to mention all of the increasingly complex relationships you are developing.  No one person has answers for you, but God does.  And sometimes our struggles are meant to be overcome, and sometimes they are God’s way of changing our direction.  Let your prayer be for God to open your eyes so that you may see and understand his will for your life.

Pressing Reset

Posted in Uncategorized on October 20, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

ResetIn the six-hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. The rain fell on the earth for forty days and forty nights. 
—Genesis 7: 11-12

When I was growing up, I have vivid memories of summer hours spent sitting around my friend’s bedroom tethered to gray box.  His Nintendo and accompanying milk crate of jumbled game cartages filled our teenage-world with a virtual second dimension populated with endless car races and digitized Italian plumbers. One thing that always intrigued me about this virtual world that filled our summer days was the ever-present possibility of a new beginning when our artificial world failed us.  There, on the front of the Nintendo, was an enduring sign of hope, the key to new possibilities.  My friend’s game console had a reset button.  With one press, the TV screen would flicker, the game would reload, and what had gone wrong with our virtual lives before would reset, giving us a second chance and the prospect of a better outcome than our (virtual) life in its previous iteration. 

That charcoal plastic button with its red block letter always pops into my head when I read the above passage from the Noah story in the book of Genesis.  Clearly, the world as God imagined it was not going the way God had initially expected.  God needed to press the reset button on the creation project, and the Noah story is deliberately crafted to make this apparent. 

In the initial creation story, the preexisting water of life is all that there is.  Then, God presses upward and downward on the water, creating a dome or firmament above and another one below.  The one above creates space for the sky, holding back the (heavenly) waters.  The one below creates space for the land, holding back the waters of the seas and underground aquifers.  So, when God decides to press reset on create in chapter six, we read a great reversal of the movement recorded at creation.  Windows in the domes open, allowing the waters of creation to rush back in, a rushing that is a washing, a cleaning, a remaking, a resetting of creation so that God might start again. 

Any effort to read more into the story seems a disservice to the story’s elegant re-creative reversal.  The story does what is means to do:  In both grand and subtle ways, telling the persisting narrative of the faith that we all need the chance to hit reset.  The story’s simplicity is its profundity.  The story reminds us to take an account, to be willing to start over, and to know that in such a rebooting we are in very good, holy company. 

When needed, may we each find the wisdom and the courage to start again all the while willing to keep playing.

Have a great week and see you along the way.

“A New Start” by Bernard Shaw

I have wiped the slate clean, 
No more reminders from the past.
Memories of what I have been, 
Have vanished at long last.
I look forward to my future new, 
Where all is territory strange.
Soon I will be among the few, 
That plans their life at long range.
I see my life laid out at my feet, 
New friends shall rally at my call.
They will be the first I will greet, 
At this my welcoming ball.
Soon all memories will depart, 
Of a past left well behind.
I will get off to a new start, 
With the best of mankind. 

Through the Sea and Across the Desert Lies the Promised Land by Lauren Neal

Posted in Uncategorized on October 13, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

But Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” But he said, “O my Lord, please send someone else.” Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, “What of your brother Aaron, the Levite? I know that he can speak fluently; even now he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do. He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him. Take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.”

–Exodus 4:10-17

wonkaWhen God appears to Moses in the burning bush, God outlines for Moses the miraculous things that await the Israelites: that they will be freed from their enslavement to the Egyptians and that they will be brought by God to the land of Canaan, a land “flowing with milk and honey.”  But what is Moses’ response?  He says to God that the people won’t believe him, that they won’t even listen to what he has to say.  If you know the rest of the story, you know that Moses was actually right about this, at least to an extent.  The people continually complain and doubt the ability of God to provide for them once they are out wandering in the desert.

The Israelites refusal to listen to God’s promises is not surprising.  How often do we, ourselves, fall short in this regard?  As individuals?  As communities of faith?  We know that God promises us many things because we read about them in Scripture, but God also never says that it’s going to be easy.  I think that’s where we tend to get caught up.

Our society is built on convenience.  We expect things to come easily and quickly.  But as the Israelites learn, or at least should have learned, God’s best promises don’t come easy.  In the immortal word of Willy Wonka: “Nihil desperandum, across the desert lies the promised land,” which he says to Mrs. Gloop as her gluttonous son, Augustus, gets sucked up a tube, presumably to be turned into chocolate.  (If you’ve seen the movie, you know that all the kids are fine, Willy Wonka says so, and we can trust him…right?)

And isn’t that the ultimate truth of Christianity? That in the end, all God’s children are going to be fine, but it might be uncomfortable in the meantime.  When God asked Moses to lead the people out of Egypt and to the Promised Land, Moses probably knew that it would be hard.  He definitely knew that the people would be particularly difficult and whiny, but God doesn’t let him off the hook.  Instead, God tells Moses that his brother Aaron will help him speak to the people:

“You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do…and take in your hands this staff, with which you shall do the signs.”

Notice that God gives Moses the ability to get the job done, but not by himself.  God gives him Aaron as an assistant and also promises to provide them with the words and acts they will need to lead the people.  The journey is still far from perfect, and the final lesson of the story is that those who left Egypt never actually make into the Promised Land themselves.  Because of their lack of faith in the God who had freed them from slavery, the generation that left with Moses is barred from entering Canaan.

Sometimes, we, like the Israelites, won’t see the success of our efforts.  When we follow the path that God has for us, we may doubt that we can reach the people God wants us to reach, but God will give us the ability.  We may doubt that efforts will be worth it, because we may never see the results.  But if God asks you to do something, you can bet there’s a reason.


Posted in Uncategorized on October 5, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

placidThe following is a digest of “The Tyranny of Choice” in Sabbath:  Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller.  I have chosen to summarize Muller’s text in light of this week’s impending “fall break.”  My prayer is that some portion of it is a “break,” if not from work at least from routine, for all of us.

Suppose that a warrior forgot that he was already wearing his pearl on his forehead, and sought for it somewhere else; he might search through the whole world without finding it.  But if someone simply pointed it out to him, the warrior would immediately realize that the pearl had been there all the time.

–Huang Po

Sometimes it is necessary to stop one thing before another thing can begin.  The traditional thirty-nine prohibitions against working on the Jewish Sabbath gave birth to what one scholar calls “the most precious, inestimable pearl” of Sabbath tranquility.  Similarly, most of the Ten Commandments begin with “Thou shalt not.”  These prohibitions against stealing, lying, murdering, and the like, if practiced with a fullness of heart, set us free to turn our energies to other things more precious—to honesty, fidelity, generosity, and love.

But progress promises us the endless expansion of choice; we chafe at any restriction to our capacity to generate options, and we revolt against any concept of prohibition.  We equate choice with freedom, but they are not the same.  If we exercise our choice to covet or to steal or to live without rest, we will soon feel trapped and unhappy.  We equate choice with nourishment, but a dozen different soft drinks, potato chips, and candy bars provide no vitamin C, iron, protein, beta carotene—or any significant nutrition at all.  Regardless of how many choices we pile one upon the other, it is still a big, fat, empty meal. 

Freedom of choice can be as painful as it is precious.  We want to be able to choose whatever career, spouse, or neighborhood we wish, but how do we decide, what should we look for, should we go to school now or later, have children now or later, stay home with the children and rick getting passed over by more aggressive colleagues, or push a career now and hope that day care is a nurturing option?  How do we decide which partner we love, whether to change our neighborhood or political party, or start exploring new spiritual traditions?

Freedom of choice can suffocate us; we drown in a sea of options.  With so much else we could have chosen, how do we ever know we have done the right thing?

The Sabbath is a patch of ground secured by a tiny fence, when we withdraw from the endless choices afforded us and listen, uncover what is ultimately important, remember what is quietly sacred.  Sabbath restrictions on work and activity actually create a space of great freedom; without these self-imposed restrictions, we may never be truly free. 

(Over the coming week) choose one pleasurable activity that is easily done and takes little time.  Leaf through a magazine and tear out a picture that you find appealing; put it somewhere you will see it, and notice how you respond to it throughout the day.  Write a short poem about nothing of any importance.  Putt a new flower in a cup by your bed.  Take a walk around the block.  Sing a song you know from beginning to end.  Do something simple and playful like this every day.  Take a crayon and make some simple drawing of your bedroom.  Let the power of simple act of creativity stop you, slow your pace, interrupt your speed.  Notice how willing you are to be stopped.  Notice how it feels when you are.






Water’s Clock

Posted in Uncategorized on September 29, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

on the beachSqueezing in the last part of our annual family vacation this past weekend, I spent recent days dodging foaming water and temperate breezes at the sea’s edge, each cresting wave’s rhythmic arrival marking time’s passage from summer to autumn.  The drive home through long valleys of harvested corn fields and mountain passes kissed by fall’s first colors etched ever deeper the lines in my mind’s impression of the season’s change.  Without exception, such transitions prompt—for me—introspection.  In the spirit of this (new) season, I offer these verses from Wendell Berry, novelist, essayist, poet, and fellow reflective thinker.  Enjoy his thoughts and fall’s welcomed advent.

Have a great week and see you along the way.

“Like the Water”  

by Wendell Berry

Like the water
of a deep stream,
love is always too much.
We did not make it.
Though we drink till we burst,
we cannot have it all,
or want it all.
In its abundance
it survives our thirst.

In the evening we come down to the shore
to drink our fill,
and sleep,
while it flows
through the regions of the dark.
It does not hold us,
except we keep returning to its rich waters

We enter,
willing to die,
into the commonwealth of its joy.


Theology, Twenty Feet Up

Posted in Uncategorized on September 22, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’

hang in there 2—Luke 10.27

OK, I am going to go out on a limb . . . ever so tentatively and out just a little ways.  I am on this limb for three reasons.  First, I am addressing what some might consider a rather sensitive issue, i.e., the relationship between faith and science.  Second, I am hoping to do so in these very limited pages of reflection.  Third, my thoughts here are prompted by reflex as much as by reflection, reacting to a recent movie trailer I saw, a trailer for the movie A Matter of Faith.  In other words, I am responding not to the movie itself, since I have not seen the movie.  Yet, I am taking the trailer at its word on the subject matter it covers and the purported and predictable means by which it appears to address that subject.  While potentially accurate in its portrayal of a debate that might actually occur on a university campus between conflicting world views, the premise upon which the movie rests has at its heart a false assumption of a presumed necessary conflict, i.e., the Bible and faith on one side verses scientific data and reason on the other.

While undeniably representative of ideas circulating in our world today, the film’s premises are theologically and philosophically shaky, at best, and almost certainly unfaithful for the Christian committed to Jesus’ admonition of a mindful-faith as recalled in Luke’s gospel, above.  Ultimately, it seems that this film perpetuates the false dichotomy between faith and science, advancing a kind of religion that is anti-intellectual and serves only to bolster neo-atheism’s caricaturizing and dismissal of all religion.  Such an anemic position discourages a kind of faith that demands rigorous intellectual investigation, the kind of rigorous religious investigation properly endemic to a liberal arts college of the church.  More than that, such a premise, as assumed in the film, concedes the necessary presence of a kind of rational explanation for how things are to philosophical ideas that rely on an understanding of the world that is fundamentally detached from the divine.  In other words, truth—narrowly defined—is discovered through observable facts. This philosophical presupposition looks for data to offer ultimate claims, forcing the Christian apologist to turn the scriptures into texts to be data-mined rather than a poetic telling of God’s enduring work to shape a people who love and live in the world as God does.  Said another way, the religious in the film have already lost the argument because they agreed to play by a set of rules that undermines the very fundamental claims they really want to affirm.

Let me (briefly) explain.

Alice Ogden Bellis and Terry Hufford in their text on the relationship between science and scripture labor to determine exactly what scientific research is attempting to do and what it is not attempting to do.  Parsing scientific claims from other claims, Bellis and Hufford hope to dispel any myths as to what scientific research says and what it never labors to purport.  Accordingly, they maintain that science is always probabilistic (Bellis and Hufford, 8).  That is to say, science refrains from making absolute truth claims about anything.  All scientific statements are statements that have been tested over time and have not, as yet, been disproven.  Bellis and Hufford maintain that—contra religious dogmatism—science is not concerned with truth but with probability (Bellis and Hufford, 20).  Bellis and Hufford, also, advance a second characteristic of science:  it is about empirical observation.  Science observes the natural world, attempting to identify patterns, connections, and the functions of natural phenomena.  Science, rarely, is purely speculative (Bellis and Hufford, 8).

Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse emphasize a similar point in their work on science and the church.  Following this initial agreement, Jones and Yarhouse diverge from Bellis and Hufford.  Unlike Bellis and Hufford, Jones and Yarhouse argue that science—challenging its given purview—does occasionally attempt to make truth claims (Jones and Yarhouse, 16).  In Jones and Yarhouse’s estimation, if both science and theology seek to make absolute truth claims, then an inevitable, possibly intractable, tension arises.  Jones and Yarhouse assume such a tension might realistically be resolved if both scientists and theologians understand what they are both actually endeavoring to do.  Jones and Yarhouse offer four possible postures to be assumed by the church and science, each differently suited to address this potential tension.

First, they consider perspectivalism.  Perspectivalism is the idea that science and theology are attempting to describe the same thing from different perspectives.  Science asks how something works and theology asks why.  Science is about the physical and theology is about the metaphysical. The two perspectives, while complementary, are mutually exclusive, not influencing the other (Jones and Yarhouse, 14).   Second, imperialism maintains that science and theology are competitors for the allegiance of their adherents.  As one advances, the other retreats (Jones and Yarhouse, 14).   (If it is not obvious, this is the premise assumed by the film’s producers.)  Third, they present the notion of postmodern relativism.  Postmodern relativism dismisses universal truth claims in favor of narrated, particularized realities.  Postmodern relativism questions our epistemological interpretative models, including both science and theology.  As such, both science and theology are open to reinterpretation (Jones and Yarhouse, 15).  Fourth, critical realism argues for a real and certain interpretation of an ultimate reality, but a reality that is interpreted conditionally through our hermeneutical biases.  This compromise theory attempts to incorporate the disparate acute angles of approach assumed by perspectivalism with the nuancing of postmodern relativism.  Here, science and theology are mutually informative.  And, in Jones’ and Yarhouse’s estimation, critical realism allows us to make absolute claims without sounding imperialistic (Jones and Yarhouse, 15-16).  While laudable, such a posture seems difficult given the preponderance of culturally conditioned conclusions that determine our claims to what is reality and what is absolute.  Nevertheless, their fourth model seems most useful for our thoughts, here.

The film assumes as position of imperialism as response, possibly rightly, to perceived imperialisms all around them.  However, as I have hoped to demonstrate above, imperialism is only one option, does not seem to be the most laudable one, nor the one option that takes into account the beautiful complexity of knowing and believing.  What would seem more useful would not be to attack or defend but to listen and share.

So, here, I sit, some distance from the ground and out on a limb wanting to make a potentially helpful yet risky claim, all the while not wanting to fall.  Mainly, I want us to use the vantage gained by sitting out on this limb to surveying our mental landscape, noticing the complex contours of our lives and our overlapping, shared world, filled with multiple intersections and blessed diversions.  While up here, may we resist the temptation to make definitive, debatable claims and be more willing first to be inspired by the view.

Have a great week and see you along the way.

One Weird Washing by Lauren Neal

Posted in Uncategorized on September 15, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took foot washinghis place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

—Luke 7:36-50

So Jesus goes to dinner, and a woman wanders in and begins to wash his feet with her tears and her hair.  This passage is particularly strange to our modern minds.  Our conceptions of propriety and personal space are offended by the thought of a person coming to a dinner table and washing another’s feet with their tears and hair.  But, this is exactly what happens in this passage from Luke’s Gospel.  And, you know what?  This passage was likely just as offensive to the original audience, not to mention the Pharisee in whose home and at whose table the event occurs.  For a strange woman to barge into the house of a Pharisee, for her to interrupt his dinner by engaging in peculiar and intimate actions would have seemed inappropriate even then.

We don’t know anything about the woman, other than the fact that she was of some ill-repute.  The Pharisee challenges Jesus by saying that if he were really a prophet he would know what sort of woman she was, implying that if he knew how much of a sinner she was, he would never let her near him.  We, of course, know something that the Pharisee didn’t know: we know that Jesus was more than a prophet; he was and is the Son of God.  We also know without a doubt that he knew what kind of woman she was and that this is precisely what draws her to Jesus.

Jesus then turns the table and says to the Pharisee: “Do you see this woman?  I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair” (v 45).  Next he connects her actions to her love, saying that her great love grants her great forgiveness, “but he who is forgiven little, loves little” (v 47).  Now Jesus is the one doing the implying. He looks at the woman and tells her that her sins are forgiven, and notice that he doesn’t say anything of the sort to the Pharisee.

This passage is weird and even a little off-putting.  You can imagine a person barging in on a private dinner only to cry over someone’s feet and wipe them with her hair, and if that happened, the host, like the Pharisee, would probably be offended.  But Jesus takes no offense to her.  Even in her sinful state, Jesus welcomes her humility and her act of service; he does not send her away.  Isn’t that beautiful?  The only person in the story in any position to judge the woman is Jesus.  The Pharisee judged her, but he had no right to. Jesus is God and had every right to judge her, but just as he chooses to die for all of our sins, Jesus also chooses to love us in spite of those sins.  In the woman we see the perfect example of how to respond to that love…to love in return.  To love Jesus, and to respond to him in service even to the point of seeming a bit weird!


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