A Message to Bob Dylan

The story in Deuteronomy 9 has always intrigued me. While Moses is on the Mountain receiving the commandments, the Israelites create a golden calf to worship. God tells Moses that the Israelites are stubborn and threatens to destroy them. He goes so far as to tell Moses that he will create a new nation out of Moses. Moses, in a stunning act of humility, repents for his people and asks God to fulfill the promise to Israel.

This was part of my Lenten reading today, so I thought I’d memorialize my thoughts a bit. In full disclosure, some of the ideas come from Bob Dylan’s song, “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

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While Moses was on the mountain thinking about the government Aaron was in the basement mixing up the medicine. We’ve always had those distractions—golden calves and fifths of gin. We are forever poised on the edge of some great blasphemy, a reckless abandonment of our irrational but tangible belief in the supremacy of our creator.

Aaron took the people’s loot, and face full of black soot he smelted out that little golden god. Yahweh looked down, saw his people worshiping their art. The spark of creativity given them was misused; they had bastardized that part of God’s image given them. People have this notion that God is dead, even when they can see him etching commandments into the side of the mountain.

Moses could have watched them melt with the graven image. He could have said the word and Yahweh would have turned the people into cinders along with that calf and a new nation would have risen from the ashes. Mosesites has a nice ring to it. Instead, Moses moved into the midst of the orgy, became a human shield against the wrath of God. He ground it all up—the commandments, the calf, their revelry—and he made the people drink it. Slowly. The bitterness of gold and stone doesn’t make a very good cocktail. All these years later, we still haven’t figured that out.

Moses bowed for forty days, repented for the people. He asked God to renege on the promise of the Mosesites, to keep the Israelite promise. Maybe it was an act of humility. Maybe Moses knew his descendants wouldn’t turn out any better. In the end, frailty is a human certainty. In the end, we all need saving from our own idolotry.

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

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A Community Garden

“Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace that we are allowed to live in community with Christian bretheren.”

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

On Saturday we all knelt, thankful in the dirt. I dug holes with a hand trowel as Lilly and Isaac followed behind me, dropping cabbage tricots into the ground. Lilly’s dark brown skin glistened in the sun; the African-American transplant from the Napa Valley offered small talk to my son, a six-year old who has known little of this earth save for Arkansas. Isaac told her we were planting this garden for the community, that Christians serve that way. Lilly smiled. “I know,” she said.

Faith is simple to Isaac.

I didn’t know Lilly from Eve, but she seemed like a good woman. She had the appearance of a hard worker, a hard life liver. Her history may have been as straight as an Arkansas row or as crooked as a California vine. I’m not sure. But in her small-talk I could hear hard-won desperation—the desire to be called good.

The two worked like brother and sister—one world-wise and weather beaten, the other naive and unworn. From time to time they giggled, but mostly they just dirtied their hands together. I watched them, both unsure exactly how deep to plant, how much soil was needed to cover the roots, whether or not to give a drink to freshly planted cabbage. We were all unskilled laborers, but laborers nonetheless.

Isaac knelt, placing a runt plant into a freshly dug hole. A leaf snapped as he covered the root-ball with burnt-brown earth. “Oh no, Daddy,” he said, paralyzed as if wondering whether he had stolen life from the runt. “It’s okay,” I said, pinching the leaf at the base of the stem. “Things heal.”

Lilly paused, mustering up deliberation. And with the soul of a Mississippi choir woman, she slowly lulled, “m-hmm.”

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/20983719 w=400&h=225]

The Farm…Community, Reflections and the Church from Cobblestone Project on Vimeo.

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Gomer Exposed

When he came to her rescue, it was not done delicately.  She was in the back of the parlor where the lewd work was done. She was naked in the dim light.  The Johns gawked and ogled, lined up on the far side of the room by the back door.  This was her place of private performance.

Floodlights streamed through the windows, neon sparked overhead illuminating it all.  The Johns? They disappeared like the dark in a halogen bulb and she was left standing bare naked. Shamed and exposed. 

The parlor was shut down, police tape strung across the entrance and a sign placed over the door—Closed; Place of Prostitution.  Adding insult to the injury, he hired out the graffiti artist on the corner to paint “Whore’s Palace” on the street-facing wall.  The signs were placed to shame the Johns, as much as anything.  The neighborhood knew the men who went in and out of her parlor.

 And for all of this exposed shame, her sullied reputation, she was forever grateful all these years later.  Private dancing pays the bills, sure.  Maybe it’s sexy when you’re young. 

But ain’t no John ever coming to your rescue.

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 Mike issued a bit of a challenge. “Jot some thoughts on Hosea 2,” he said.  As I read it I was struck by two observations:

1)      I quickly identify with Hosea, not Gomer (Lord, forgive me);

2)      and, 2) verses 9-13 are hard core. 

Yes, I said it. Hard core.

There is nothing gentle about the way in which this metaphor plays out.  Before her restoration, Gomer’s life is reduced to ashes.  The tables turn as her nakedness becomes the source of her shame instead of the source of her profit (v. 9-10).  Her economies are burned (v. 11-12).   She is publically punished (v. 13) (my lands, she’s arguably the most famous prostitute in the bible). 

If I’m Gomer, do I love this kind of rescue?  It is certainly something short of the knight in shining armor, white horse, and all of that.

I think verses 14-23 make all that exposition worth it, but I will let you mull that over today.  I’ll let you muse about that in your own journals.  Because that’s the personal part of all of our stories.  And I don’t want to mess with that.  

Thanks for stopping by.  You people are some of the good ones.

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Lent Reflections – Ash Wednesday

“How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Who’s sin is covered!” —Psalm 32:1

Today is a day of ashes, a day to remember that we were dust and to dust we shall return.  In that, we reflect upon the ultimate ends of our nature, the temporal nature of our desires.  How sin so easily entangles.

But we, the celebrants of Ash Wednesday, also find joy in the beginning of Christ’s mission.  We reflect on his march to the cross, his death, burial, and resurrection.  In this process, he made us heirs, gave us platinum souls, wove eternal cashmere coverings for our naked shame.  So as we struggle to put aside the lusts of the flesh, to embrace the different nature we have been given, we revel:

“O Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord,
Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving,
Let us shout joyfully to Him with Psalms.”
–Psalm 95:1-2

 

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These reflections come from the daily Psalm readings for Lent. See Psalms 95, 32, and 143.

For others writing on Lent today (in their own unique ways), see John Blase, and Mike Rusch.

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Lent Reflections – Fat Tuesday

From dust you came.

They will dance in the streets today, celebrating all things human, raising glasses and shirts for beads and plastic trinkets. They will sway to street jazz, the quintets reminding the masses that no, they are not Saints, and the streets are too packed for marching in. They will love their clarinets and debauchery. Tomorrow there will be regret in New Orleans, but today is Mardi Gras, the pre-fast gorge.

We who live in a quieter humanity—the Midwest to be exact—aren’t so different. Lent is coming so we fill up on that which we will put asunder, the things from which we will fast. Coffee, ice cream, beer—they are all on the lists of my family and friends. Today, we will participate in our own celebration of humanity. We’ll make one last ditch effort to avoid contemplating death, burial, and resurrection. The quiet whispers of tomorrow’s Ash Wednesday silenced.

To dust you shall return.

What if today were an intentional celebration? What if we recall the truth about the lusts of our flesh, the trinkets of our transgressions? How they seem like signs of life, but in reality they are mere gifts in the midst of it. How those gifts ultimately turn on us, leaving us head-ached, over-weight, and limping. How the limp points us ultimately to the need for redemption in Christ, the need to die that we might rise again.

So today, as we scoop our last bowls of Blue Bell, or pour extra tall glasses of coffee and beer, let’s strike up the band and remember our need for redemption. Let’s remember the death that ultimately brings life.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BoLQ7cP79c&w=480&h=390]

 

Lent is coming. Amen.

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