Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Dry Bones and the Breath of Life - Lectionary Reflection for Lent 5A (Ezekiel)

Ezekiel 37:1-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
37 The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” 
So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 
11 Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

                The Babylonian exile was a tragic, and yet fruitful event in the life of the people of Israel. It was tragic, because the nation was torn apart. Yet, the exile also gave Judah an opportunity to rediscover its identity as a people. Much of what we know as the Old Testament emerged in the context of the exile. While, it was a challenging time for the people of Judah, who found it difficult to live in hope of a new and better day.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Rebuilding the Foundations (John & Walter Brueggemann) -- Review

REBUILDING THE FOUNDATIONS: Social Relationships in Ancient Scripture and Contemporary Culture. By John Brueggemann and Walter Brueggemann. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017. Xii + 211 pages.

                The Bible is an ancient book that several billion people look to for guidance on all manner of concerns, spiritual and otherwise. There is much distance separating the ancient world and the contemporary world, which has led many to cast aside the Bible as a collection of outmoded and irrelevant stories from another era. To read the Bible as anything other than literature, might be akin to watching Leave It to Beaver for guidance on family matters. Perhaps it would be helpful to experience a conversation between two people who have expertise in matters biblical on the one hand and contemporary on the other. That is just what this book, Rebuilding the Foundations, attempts to do.

The authors of the book are a father/son duo. The father in this case is biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, who is well known in my circles not only as a biblical scholar but as a prophetic figure. He has a knack for connecting ancient and contemporary worlds, bridging the perceived gap between eras, bringing modern culture under the lens of the biblical narrative. He certainly believes that the Bible has something worth hearing today. His partner in this conversation is his son, John, who is a sociologist by trade, teaching sociology at Skidmore College.  This combination makes for a most interesting and thought-provoking book.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Don’t Judge by Appearances - Sermon for Lent 4A

1 Samuel 16:1-13

You’ve heard it said: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” There is great truth in this. I have first hand experience, because one of the reviewers of my first book, which was a revision of my dissertation, did just that. He made disparaging remarks about the book’s cover, and said next to nothing about its contents. Now, I will admit that the book’s cover is a bit odd, but I had nothing to do with the cover design. This lead me to think that he judged the book by the cover, and never read a page of what lay inside. 

It’s easy to judge people based on their appearance. We do it all the time. But when we judge by appearances, we often get things wrong. I once took a man whom I knew fairly well to the ER. He looked dirty and disheveled, and was dressed in the blue overalls a car mechanic might wear. The ER staff looked at him and asked if he was homeless. I told them no. In fact, he probably had more money than all of us in the room. That’s just the way he lived. On the  other hand, there was a homeless person who would come to the church for help, and he always wore a white shirt and a tie. Appearances can be deceiving.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Religion and Human Rights

·     Tuesday evening I had the privilege of being one of three speakers at a Niagara Foundation sponsored Abrahamic Dinner.  This event was held at Rochester College, and brought together members of the Islamic, Jewish, and Christian communities -- to promote dialog and understanding. Each of us, a Rabbi, an Imam, a Christian pastor, was asked to speak to the ways in which our faith traditions understand human rights, and whether this overlaps with or differs from secular understandings. We were asked to speak from the perspective of our own faith tradition, which is difficult when Christianity's 2 billion adherents are divided into thousands of denominations and sects. Nonetheless, I did my best!  As for my partners, the Rabbi went first, and I didn't find much if anything to disagree with. In fact, he set me up nicely! As for the Imam, I learned a lot about the flexibility of Islamic law, which allows for support of human rights (more so perhaps than secular American law).

Since this is an important conversation, I decided to share some of what I said. Below you will find my answer to the first question, which dealt with my traditions codes of human rights and relationship to secular codes.  Before I share below, I want to add that I agree completely with the Rabbi's statement that the Jewish tradition, and the Christian tradition following it, speaks not of rights but obligations.  That said, I invite you to consider my response:

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Humanities Endangered -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

On the budget chopping block are the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. They make up a minuscule part of the budget, but seem easy pickings for budget cutters. After all, what "results" can be measured from the humanities? In fact, what are the humanities? Don't we need to invest in STEM, which leads to good jobs? Let me question differently: does history matter? Does literature matter? These are the humanities. The funds from this endowment doesn't just fund projects by elitist academics. It funds programs at the local historical society that help students understand their community better. Martin Marty is one who understands this question better than most, and I appreciate his word for the week, and share it with you, that you might take up the cause. That is, if you think that telling our stories is just as important as building a few bombs!

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Editor's note: Sightings will be off this Thursday for the University's spring interim. See you next week!
Humanities Endangered
By MARTIN E. MARTY   March 20, 2017
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with historian and filmmaker Ken Burns, whose 10-part, 18-hour documentary series The Vietnam Warwhich will air on PBS in Septemberwas funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities | Photo Credit: U.S. Department of State
In and after the present chaos, should our republic survive as a republic, wounded but responsible citizens will need to assess what they lost and what they might recover. So many humane causes will beckon for attention. The arts and humanities may have a lower priority when it comes to the Union’s constitutional commitment to promoting the general welfare—relative to higher priorities like care for the aged, the ill, the poor, the displaced—but they deserve a glance in this time of crisis. In the proposed national budget they would be demolished. Sightings, however, has stayed alert to them. We know more about them and their place than we do about many other causes.