Poem – every bad thing

Every bad thing God gives me
is my medicine, not my poison.
Each is carefully titrated, dosed
just for me, at that moment.

But they taste bad, have
unpleasant side effects
so I sometimes refuse,
sticking my tongue out.

So God gives it to me again
later, in a different form
so maybe I won’t recognize it
but this time
it is stronger,
because I’m sicker.

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Poem – Who is your God?

“You shall have no other gods before me.”

Sure, you worship God,
but what else
do you give power to?

Who has power over you
so that you feel
your life is not your own?
Who demands
too much
of your time?
Who are you afraid
to say
“No”
to?

Your boss,
your job,
your family,
even your
religious tradition?

Perhaps you worry about
your health
or how you are going
to pay your bills?

Every time you give your energy
to something or someone else
and think that it or he or she
controls you,
you have made it into your God.

Perhaps you have made yourself
into a god?
Perhaps you feel that you are
in control
of everything,
that your willpower,
your education,
your strength
will ensure
you will never
lack.

Is your to-do list
bigger
than your prayer list?

Who is your God?
There can only be one.
Pick wisely.

God was in this place.

Genesis 28:10-22 (HCSB)
10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11 He reached a certain place and spent the night there because the sun had set. He took one of the stones from the place, put it there at his head, and lay down in that place. 12 And he dreamed: A stairway was set on the ground with its top reaching heaven, and God’s angels were going up and down on it. 13 Yahweh was standing there beside him, saying, “I am Yahweh, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your offspring the land that you are now sleeping on. 14 Your offspring will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out toward the west, the east, the north, and the south. All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 Look, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! This is none other than the house of God. This is the gate of heaven.” 18 Early in the morning Jacob took the stone that was near his head and set it up as a marker. He poured oil on top of it 19 and named the place Bethel, though previously the city was named Luz. 20 Then Jacob made a vow: “If God will be with me and watch over me on this journey, if He provides me with food to eat and clothing to wear, 21 and if I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God. 22 This stone that I have set up as a marker will be God’s house, and I will give to You a tenth of all that You give me.”

According to Rabbi Lawrence Kushner in his book “God Was in This Place & I, i Did Not Know: Finding Self, Spirituality and Ultimate Meaning”, the quote from Jacob in verse 16 is more accurately translated as “God was in this place and I, I did not know.” Note that the word “I” is used twice. “God was in this place and I” is said, then “I did not know.”

Also note that the angels were going up and down – not down and up. This is in verse 12. They are already here on earth, going up to heaven. They aren’t just up there, coming down to us. They are here, with us. God came down to be with Jacob and stood next to him.

God is here, with us. God sends messengers to be with us, intermediaries. They are already here, we just can’t see it.

Perhaps what Jacob was saying was that God was here with me, all along. I was unaware of it.

So Jacob (not yet named Israel) set up a rock – an altar. Because he was altered. His perception was changed. He wanted to remember – this place is special. God was here. Here was where I woke up.

Yet it became A place, rather than an idea that God is with you. Jewish tradition says that same place was where Abraham was called to sacrifice Isaac, many years before. It also says that it became the site to the Holy of Holies in the Holy Temple, many years later. It became a fixed place – not an idea. God’s presence was there, and only there, not everywhere. This is a very limiting and dangerous idea.

Let us see what Jesus said thousands of years later – This is when he calls Philip to be his disciple. Note at the end what he says to Nathanael, Philip’s friend.

John 1:43-51 (HCSB)
43 The next day He decided to leave for Galilee. Jesus found Philip and told him, “Follow Me!” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law (and so did the prophets): Jesus the son of Joseph, from Nazareth!” 46 “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael asked him. “Come and see,” Philip answered. 47 Then Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him and said about him, “Here is a true Israelite; no deceit is in him.” 48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you,” Jesus answered. 49 “Rabbi,” Nathanael replied, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus responded to him, “Do you believe only because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” 51 Then He said, “I assure you: You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Note that Jesus says in verse 51 that the angels will be “ascending and descending” – going up and down, exactly the same as Jacob. Jesus knew the scriptures well, and he too noted that God’s messengers weren’t just coming down to us. They are already here with us.

God’s presence is already here, with us, right now. Don’t set up an altar. Here isn’t the place. Everywhere is the place.

Children, God, and community.

We need to remember that we aren’t God. We need to remember that everything we have comes from God. And we need to remember that God wants to help us – that we can’t do everything on our own.

When we are sick we have to rely on others to help us get well. We need folks to take us to the doctor, to get us food, to feed us. Then we rely on doctors and nurses to care for us. Sometimes we end up in nursing homes and we rely on people to get us in and out of bed or to wipe our butts when we need to go to the bathroom.

The poet John Donne tells us that no man is an island. When we think we are, that we can do it all on our own, we fail. We do better when we unite and work together.

Children are like that. They are a reminder from God in this way. One person alone has a very hard time taking care of children. It can certainly be done, but it is easier with two. I think there is a lot of wisdom in the Asian concept of multi-generations living together. My Laotian neighbors all live together. An Indian friend tells me that when she moves back to India she’ll be living in her in-laws house. This is good – it saves money. It shares resources – people can share food, time and energy.

Children are from God. We can think that we created them – but we didn’t. We just have sex, and sometimes a child is created. We didn’t do that. It is amazing. It is a miracle. This being, this other person, just happens.

And then, it is very hard to raise this child (We are told it takes a village.) There is day care, mother’s day out. I remember how it was when I worked at the Choo-Choo and parents would say to their child “Don’t hit your sister” or “Keep your hands in your pockets” (as a positive version of “Don’t touch!”) and the child ignored it. But when I said it, it had the force of law – because a whole different person said it. Kids tend to ignore what their parents say – but when a stranger says it – the same it, the same rule, it must be true.

(Originally worked on 12-4-12, edited 4-14-15. I’m still not sure this is fully worked out. I think there are some good ideas in here, but it is more a sketch than a drawing. It was titled “God gives us things so that we have to turn back to God.” But I don’t think it lives up to that.)

Why believe in God?

I had a friend who I decided was God blind. Like color blind but for God. He couldn’t see any reason to believe in God. This blew my mind. I’ve always known of God.

The time when I was a baby in the crib, and I knew. I just knew.
The rescuing by an angel when I was flying too high on the swings.
The answers to questions. The feeling of being held, of being safe.

It is like being a fish and not believing in water.

Some people are color blind.
My dad couldn’t see purple. We were in the car together and he saw another car. He asked what color it was. That made no sense to me. How could you not see this? It is such a simple question. But he had an inability to see reds and greens. I’d forgotten, and to be honest I’d never really understood. How can I understand something so basic as an inability to see color?

Perhaps it is the same with God.

We have Buddhist neighbors. The mom was sick with kidney disease and it was really worrying the son. He cried while he told me how concerned he was for her. I know a little about Buddhism but couldn’t remember if praying was part of it. I asked him if he could pray for his Mom. No, he said. So I did. God took mercy on her and she is better. It has been three years now. She’s on dialysis, but alive and happy and still working in her garden. Her spirits are better.

I don’t pray with the idea that God is my waiter. God doesn’t give me everything I ask for. I ask and I receive whatever comes, or doesn’t come. I pray because I know there is someone on the other end of the line who is listening and who cares. This is the most important part.

Sometimes I think of God as standing at the top of a pit I’ve fallen in. He isn’t in sight, but if I call to him, he can point out a handhold that I can’t see from my angle. Sometimes I pray to remind God of how small we are – that the big storm we are in is bigger to us, and we are so small.

This applies to thunderstorms and tornadoes as well as life in general.

God listens. That is why I believe in God. Not as an abstract thing, but as a real, living entity, a force, a power, that is active and present.

The Burning Bush

Let’s look at the story of Moses and the burning bush.

Exodus 3:1-10

Now Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the back of the wilderness, and came to the mountain of God, unto Horeb. 2 And the angel of Jehovah appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, I will turn aside now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. 4 And when Jehovah saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. 5 And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. 6 Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. 7 And Jehovah said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people that are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; 8 and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Amorite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite. 9 And now, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: moreover I have seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.
(American Standard Version)

Notice that Moses was simply walking along. This amazing sight just happened, unexpectedly. Notice that God only started speaking to Moses when he turned aside to look at it. From that encounter, Moses is called to lead Israel out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom.

How many burning bushes are in your life? How many places where God is are you ignoring? We have to stop and slow down and take time to notice where God is breaking through into this world. We have to make space and time for God, otherwise we’ll miss our call. Is God in the sound of the siren of the firetruck racing by? Is God in the cry of the small child wanting to be held? Is God the still small voice in the storm? God is in all of that and much more. There are many amazing things small and large that happen all around us all the time. It is only when we turn aside and give attention to them that God will then speak to us.

God doesn’t always appear to us as an angel. Sometimes God comes in dreams. Sometimes God appears as three strangers such as happened with Abraham in Genesis 18.

We have to slow down and treat everyone as if they might be an angel in disguise. In Greece, they always make sure to have sweets available because they don’t know if the person who shows up at their door is God. I’m not saying that everyone is holy. But I am saying that everyone has the possibility of having God within them. And I’m saying that our world would be a nicer place if we treated every single person with that level of love and attention.

God is always willing to reach to us and talk to us. We just have to stop and take the time to notice. Imagine what would’ve happened if Moses had not taken the time to stop and slow down. The Israelites would still be stuck in slavery. God called Moses from the burning bush to set people free. It was only when he turned aside that God spoke. He could have kept on walking. How many times do we keep on walking?

How many other releases from slavery are we missing out on because we don’t believe that we are being called by God? Notice that God didn’t free the Israelites on his own. He required Moses. He required Moses’ full participation. God uses all of us like that.

Is God calling you? Do you think you’re not special enough? Moses wasn’t special. He was an average person at an average time and in an average place before God called him. He became special because he said Yes to God. It was only after he said Yes and he started working with God that he became special.

You’re being called right now from the burning bush. Stop. Turn aside. Pay attention. God is calling you to free people from the slavery of guilt and shame and from playing small. God is calling you from within the slavery of fear and doubt and addictions. God is calling you.

Say Yes.

Just like Moses, you can do it, with God’s help.

Together, you can lead people out of pain and into life.

In God we trust

This is been a crazy time, just like when everything broke a few years ago. In 2008 everything broke at our house. Everything that was really expensive broke. The water heater broke, then the battery died in my car, and then the air conditioning broke. I thought that was it. Then the roof needed to be replaced. Everything had to be replaced. We had to sell a lot of things and go without. We cut out cable TV and got rid of the home phone. I sold my car and got a cheaper one. And then we had to get a second mortgage on the house.

I didn’t have anybody who could help me. I couldn’t call on my parents and my relatives were of no help. But somehow we made it through. And we learned how to take care of ourselves. It’s nice not having to rely on other people especially when money is concerned. That can ruin friendships and strain families.

Now is a very similar time. My car had to be paid off a few months sooner than I planned. And then there was an unexpected repair expense on it. Sometimes the check engine light is something simple. And sometimes it is something that costs a lot of money. This was one of the latter times. And now the washing machine has broken. That was another three hundred dollars.

I’m thinking of the serenity prayer – that if it is something I can control, I should. If it isn’t something I can control – trust that God has got it under control.

Because all of this was out of my hands, I trust that God is behind all of this. But it is still one of those times where I don’t want to have to trust. Since we are refinancing the house we will have a little extra money in our account very soon. And since the cars are paid off we will have a little more. But we don’t have it yet.

I was looking forward to saving up that money, or even using it on a home repair project. There are a number of projects that have had to wait because we haven’t had the money to do them. Sure, I’ve had some money saved up, but savings is really for emergencies.

We certainly have had our fair share of emergencies recently.

It feels like I never am able to save up extra money for us – that a windfall will happen but then an unexpected expense will happen. We always seem to stay even. I’m grateful for that, but I’d like to not cut it so tight.

Jesus tells us to not worry about anything – about our clothing or our food or where we live. He points to the lilies-of-the-valley. But then he also tells a story about the handmaidens who were waiting. The ones who have oil in their lamps and have their wicks trimmed are the ones who succeed.

He also tells the story about the talents. There are three people who were given money and they have to take good care of it. They have to be good stewards. If they don’t do anything they fail and they get cast out.

So are we supposed to worry or not? Are we supposed to exert ourselves or not? This doesn’t make any sense. Surely we have to take care of ourselves and look out for ourselves, but we’re also supposed to trust. How much is our responsibility and how much is God’s responsibility?

God tells us that God’s ways are not our ways. Why am I trying to make any of this make sense? It won’t add up, because I can’t see things the way God sees them.

So meanwhile, I’ll pray through everything and feel it out – do this, or not?

The prophet Isaiah says –
21 And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. (Isaiah 30:21 RSV)

No matter where we go, God is there with us.