October Reflections

Photo of road to Mulberry Hill

Mulberry Hill

As I was walking this morning on my favorite path, I felt like it is fall of the year at last. It is a time for renewal and also a time for memories. As I passed near the place which used to be called Mulberry Hill, I slowed and so wished I could get through the padlocked gate to climb the incline leading up to the place where my mother’s family home stood. It’s where she and my father met. Her family hadn’t lived there long, but she had heard of Charley Blackburn –- a confirmed bachelor. It was rumored that he had left a trail of broken hearts behind him. One summer day, he came strolling down the road with friends with whom my mother was familiar. They climbed the hill and greeted Mary. She noticed the tall rather sullen man seated beside her friends on the front porch hadn’t spoken. He was introduced, but merely nodded.“Charley, Mary has a piano. Go play us a tune.” He declined but Mother said he was afraid to. With that, he got up and with the others following, walked into the living room, sat down at her piano and began to play an old tune, “My Darling Nellie Gray.” It was a very familiar fiddle tune usually played at a fast danceable pace. Surprisingly, he began it slowly and began to sing. Mary was astonished. She realized he was so different from the rollicking crowd she went to dances with.

“I’m going to marry that man,” she thought. And she did. In late September that year. If I could climb that hill this many years later, I’d carefully look around at that deserted area, no house there now, and try hard to find some small piece of stone or timber that had once formed the foundation, or an old jelly jar which perhaps had graced the breakfast table.

Such are the ruminations the fall of the year. I finished my walk glad that now, in the late fall of my life, I live this close to Mulberry Hill.

as a little child…

As a little child….

This past Sunday was Children’s Sabbath at our church.  Consequently, this week I’ve been thinking of Jesus’ words concerning children and wishing I could have been preaching on the subject somewhere Sunday.  So I’ll preach to you!  (I am aware that actual preaching is an event that grows out of the connection between the preachER and the preachED TO….so this is really an outline.)

     People were bringing babies to Jesus so that he would bless them.  When the disciples saw them, they scolded them.  Then Jesus called them to him and said, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.  I assure you that whoever does not welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.  (CEB)

What is it about a child that Jesus points to?
     **The classic image of a child is that of the powerless, without capacity to reward or repay.
The little one is utterly at the wishes or whims of its care giver.  As I think over my list      of friends, acquaintances, former parishioners, I am reminded to question my own motives with even those whom I hold closest.  Do I shower more attention on those who can benefit me?  Rev. Larry James in Dallas once said in a workshop that we will be judged on how we treat people who cannot help us in any way.
     **A child is vulnerable.  We mature out of vulnerability to varying levels.  We learn to be so cagey.  Nobody can put anything over on us.  In fact, that’s close to the essence of “coolness.”  Much as I like to be considered cool,  trying to live honestly with who I am challenges my coolness at times.  I have to be willing to be criticized when I am embracing an important principle or am asserting something about being me that is honest.  I have to risk…being vulnerable.
A child is vulnerable to what adults may or may not want to invest in them.  It seems to always be difficult to get sufficient volunteers to teach the classes of small children in the church.  They don’t know to thank us, they recognize us for our contributions before others nor praise us.  Mike Gilchrist told about his first experiences in church.  As a preteen, he began walking up the street to a church where he knew noone.  He sat alone in worship every Sunday and checked off items in the bulletin as they transpired.  One Sunday a well-dressed older woman sat by him, looked into his pimply face and said “Hi.” From then on, he got to feeling comfortable in her presence and, with her encouragement, he eventually joined that church….and became a terrific minister.  
     **A child is loyal.  Even when it’s not in his/her best interests.  A parent can so often get away with abusing a child because the child is so loyal and will actually help in the cover-up of mistreatment.  

“Being as a child” perhaps refers to the capacity to trust fully.  When busyness, or lack of caring leads to alienating our child, or anyone’s child, we deprive ourselves of the best, least self-interested friend we’ll ever have.

When the church alienates the poor, the powerless, the broken, the handicapped, it loses so much and never knows what it missed.  Apparently, receiving them is receiving Jesus. 

The God Who Died

What in the world is God really like? “God is love” is one of the most quoted sentences in Christian literature. Yet, look in the Christian Bible: I Kings 2:23-24 suggests, to modern ears, a horrible picture of God:

He (Elisha) went up to Bethel. And while he was going upon the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him saying, “Go away, you baldhead!” “Go away, you baldhead!” When he turned around and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. (NRSV)

 Great scot! What a peevish God. And that’s to say nothing about the entire book of Joshua where in the name of the Lord entire villages are killed, including all men and women, young and old, and all the animals.   There is such a primitive understanding of the Lord who values the silver, bronze and gold vessels more than the lives of the Israelites themselves. Of course, they were very primitive people. They understood their God like other peoples about them understood their gods…jealous, angry, vengeful, and demanding great kow-towing before symbolic items representing the deity.

 These primitive people looked forward to a messiah who would liberate them from being in bondage to the various stronger conquering nations…the expectation would be that this fire-breathing guy would blow these pagans away…give them what they deserve.   (Sounds sort of like modern-day hell-fire threats, doesn’t it?)

 The trouble starts for modern-day Christians when our belief system incorporates and assigns to God those same primitive characteristics.

Did God have to have Jesus slain?

Do humans deserve hell?

Why was Jesus crucified?

 What are we actually saying when we say Jesus died for our sins? That God demands blood sacrifice in order to be pacified?There’s that peevish God again. I’ve heard it called the fresh meat theory. That God demands that somebody’s gonna die for being unfaithful.

 We must look at Jesus to discover a more accurate picture of God. Why? In the ancient Hebrew scriptures, in the main we are reading primitive thinking about God…attributing actions to God that are more human in nature…jealous, angry, vengeful actions.   However, there are different ideas of God presented, such as the elegant second Isaiah, e.g., Isaiah 55:8-9:


     For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (NRSV)

 We may infer from that passage that the nature of the deity is not like our nature. When we look at Jesus, we remember him telling us that there is no end to forgiveness of the transgressor… seventy times seven.

He was infinitely kind, regardful of children, women, strangers, the marginalized….totally not human standards.

 In Elie Weisel’s Night, he tells of an eight-year-old being hanged for stealing a pair of gloves in the icy weather. Someone behind the men being forced to watch said “where is God now?” Another answered “He is hanging there.” That God suffers with us is a different kind of Godliness. A deity that suffers death with us and for us is truly remarkable.

Is a God like this going to announce at some point that there is an end to forgiveness and send you to burn forever? Rather, wouldn’t this loving God be happy to welcome all?

 My belief is that God was revealed to us in the man Jesus, the Jesus who died because of our sins. He revealed the God who loves humankind so that he died at our hands…and because he was deity, he survived death and so may we survive death.