Jesus Got Into My Head and Got Me Out

When the only sound you ever hear is the sound of your own voice, life is pretty self-oriented. It’s hard to get out of your own head. That’s the only place where you really feel at home; the only place where you are fully understood. At least that’s the way it used to be for me.

I used to hear many other sounds. I remember the sounds my mother and father used to make. They called me by name: Ephraim. I learned how to speak. They told me that I was a bright boy. I used to believe them.

Then there was the day of the rock slide out on the edge of town. I was only five years old. One of the big rocks hit my head as I was running away, and they told me I was knocked out for more than a day. After that, the only sound I could hear was the sound of my own speaking. I couldn’t really hear the sound of my speaking – just the vibrations that my speaking made inside my head. They sounded something like words used to sound to me. That’s the only way I was able to speak at all, but I suspect that I may have not sounded as good as I used to.

Funny how for those first 5 years of my life I talked and listened, listened and talked, and never paid any attention to how it all worked. For the next 20 years, I was never unaware of how speaking and hearing worked, or, better put, failed to work.

They told me when I was a small child that my name, Ephraim, means “fruitful.” I used to wonder what kind of fruit my life would bear. After I lost my hearing, I began to realize that like a barren fig tree, no one was going to want me. I just had nothing to offer. I had nothing that anyone wanted, because they didn’t know how to get it out of me.

Oh, I was fine to work. I was a hard worker, a good worker, a careful worker. But it was hard for me to receive directions of what work was to be done, and how it was to be done. So, other than the most basic working tasks, like a donkey could do, I wasn’t much use.

I cursed the day I lost my hearing. I cursed the day I lost my living.

Something about deaf people seems to just make other people angry. They feel like that if they yell loud enough I can somehow hear them. But yelling just makes their face distorted; I can’t hear them any better. And the effort seems to always make them angry. Blind people are given sympathy. People who have lost a hand or foot are given consideration. Deaf people are just shunned, because we are too frustrating, even though we look “normal.”

Then, one day I met Jonathan. [Meet Jonathan in earlier blog, “An Unexpected Encounter with Jesus.”] He came to town as a stranger one day. He seemed to gather a crowd of people wherever he went. He would talk about something and people would gather to listen. I could not hear what he said. But I was drawn to the crowds, nonetheless, because I had never seen anyone who was not a soldier or a ruler get people to come to him and listen to him. I wished I could know what he was talking about, for his stories seemed to make other people feel good.

On the second day Jonathan noticed me, standing there on the edge of the group which had gathered. He bent down and spoke quietly to someone, while never taking his eyes off me. He bent down, because he was such a big man. Then he came up to me and put a finger up to his lips, as though to silence me from talking. That made me smile. Then he put his big hands over his ears, as though he could not hear me. That made me laugh. Then he, too, laughed and gave me a big hug, like a lion would hold a cub: gently, but strongly.

He invited me to come to his home – or, at least, to the place where he was staying. I learned later that he did not have a home, but that he just wandered about from town to town in our Decapolis, telling his stories. But I get ahead of myself.

We had dinner together. He and I spoke and heard one another by making hand signs. He must have known deaf people before, because he seemed to be very comfortable in communicating like this. He signaled that he wanted me to come back to see him again on the next day – about the time the sun was highest in the sky. I nodded my assent.

The next day I met Jonathan in the center of town. He was standing in a crowd listening, much like people had stood in a crowd listening to him the day before. They were all listening to a short man, at least who seemed short compared to Jonathan. Jonathan saw me and motioned for me to come over. Then as I was walking toward him, he stepped forward into the center of the circle and leaned down to talk into the ear of the man who had been speaking.

They both smiled. Jonathan got down on one knee in front of the other man and again motioned me to come forward. The other man smiled, and put his hand on my shoulder. The this other man guided me out of the center of the circle, away from the crowd, his hand still on my shoulder.

He turned and looked straight at me. It looked to me like he said my name, “Ephraim.” I assumed Jonathan had given him my name. They told me later that this was not what he said. But I answered him, “Yes, my lord.” And then he put both hands on my shoulders and looked straight into my eyes and said that word again. This time I could see he said something other than my name. I don’t know what. But, after just a second or two, I realized that there was something new going on all around me. I could hear the crowd.

I could HEAR the crowd. The sound of their speaking was so very, very loud. I turned and looked at them. They were all looking at the man and at me and talking excitedly.

And then I turned my head back to stare at the man, who had said something I couldn’t hear, but after which I could hear everything. This time he DID say my name: “Ephraim, go bear fruit, but don’t tell anyone what just happened.” At least that’s what I think he said. There was so much noise pouring into my ears now, I had a hard time separating all of the sounds.

I said, “Thank you. Please tell me your name.”

He said, “Jesus.” And then he turned and was gone. He and Jonathan walked away from me.

I never saw him again, not Jesus anyway. But Jonathan and I have spent our time together ever since that day. We travel together, all around the Decapolis and beyond, telling people about Jesus, and how he changed both of our lives. I think that what we have done has indeed borne fruit, for there are many who have heard our stories and have gone to find out more about this wonderful man who said my name, and opened my life.

 

Jesus Cures a Deaf Man (Mark 7:31-37)

 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

 

(c) 2013 0218

When Did THAT Happen?

Read Mark 3:1-6  

Aside from my circumcision, I don’t suppose there are too many changes in my body that I remember exactly when they happened. Like many things in life, we might remember when we first noticed the change, but not when the change itself happened.

Like my withered hand. I can no longer type. One hand works, but the other one just won’t respond. I used to be good at typing. No secretary ever had job security based merely on typing skills, for I always was a better typist. It was a matter of pride.

It came on slowly; I can’t even tell you when it began. Typing along and I looked up and saw the spell check color underlining splayed out across the document like some sort of “modern art.”  It eventually occurred to me that the mistakes were all the fault of my left hand.

I looked at it. Nothing at first. But, over time, I noticed that when I laid the left hand down on top of the right one, I could see the right one sticking out — the left hand was smaller.

It got worse over time. Smaller, smaller. And, I swear, the skin seemed to shrivel up, like you see the peeling on an orange that has stayed in the fruit basket too long. You don’t realize when that peel first began to shrivel, but there it was. Oranges are one thing; hands are quite another. I usually throw the orange away and go get another.

I began to fear that the same would happen to my hand; I would have to throw it away. No! It may be shriveled up, and it may not work like it used to, but it’s been part of me for my whole life. It’s been a good hand! Even when things lose their usefulness, you don’t just throw them away – fruit maybe, but not people’s body parts.

And it’s MY body part. Other people may feel differently. They may decide that if I can’t carry my share of the load – or if I’m too unpleasant to look at – then maybe I should be thrown away. It’s not THEIR body part. Some people only care about productivity. Just look at how they treat older folks who can’t keep up, at women who need to take time off to have the babies their men impregnated them to carry.

I just have to work harder, produce more, make myself indispensable.

It didn’t work. Hard as I tried, I could not keep up.

Hard as I tried, I couldn’t hide the deformity. People tried (mostly) to not stare, but I kept catching them – looking from one hand to the other, wondering what I had done to bring this condition on myself.

Hard as I tried, I could not help the fact that I did not feel like a man – not a whole man – not a man with full worth.

And then, one day in the synagogue, I met Jesus. Yes, there’s another time when I remember exactly when my body changed. When I met Jesus.

I just never could figure out why his healing me would make some of those people so angry. What was more important to them: my hand or their teaching? I bet it would have been different if it had been THEIR hand and not merely MINE.

 

(c) 2013 0215

THE WOMAN WITH COSTLY OINTMENT another unexpected encounter with Jesus

Expectancy Living – the name of this blog, points to a way of living, contrasted to Living in ExpectaTION. (See “About” on blog home page.)

Expectancy Living – is also a lifestyle regularly visited by surprise missed by many, because of the blinders of expectaTION.

Surprises were part of the joy and mystery of Midrash, in the Jewish tradition. Midrash looks at familiar scripture with the head cocked a few degrees to the side.

Two weeks ago, I blogged a midrash about the Gerasene demoniac, who had been infected with a legion of demons. (“Midrash” is also defined in the January 14, 2013 “Unexpected Encounter with Jesus”)

There are quite a few “unnamed characters” in Mark’s Gospel, whose anonymity keeps them out of the annals of historical research. But, they were not two dimensional characters. They were real flesh and blood people, with hopes, dreams and fears, just like you and I have. The ones about whom I will share a midrash in this blog are (a) unnamed, (b) identified as a singular person (i.e. not one of a pair, like on the road to Emmaus), and (c) are usually, but not necessarily, one of the socially marginalized people.

Midrash provides insight into their being, and, maybe, into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Here’s another midrashic Unexpected Encounter with Jesus – the Woman with Costly Ointment (Mark 14:3-9):

“Mary,” called her mother, Miriam. “Are you ready?”

“Yes, mother. But please let me help. I know that I can do it. I just know that I can.”

Miriam was torn. She so wanted to make a good impression on Him. At the same time she also wanted to encourage her fifteen year old daughter. Young Mary was afflicted, in the way of teenage girls who are delayed in their development. To put it plainly, she was a Klutz – you know: clumsy. So often she would trip or spill or drop.

So what to do – make sure that it was done right and make a good impression — or give Mary a chance, and show confidence in her – help her self-image? After all, Mary was the one who had told her about Him coming.

“OK, Mary. You may do it. But please be careful.”

Mary and Miriam arrived just in time to see Him come for the dinner. They stood back for awhile and watched to see what would happen. Finally, Miriam handed Mary the container. It was an expensive alabaster jar, and it held the finest of ointments – not anything that they could afford now, but it had been handed down to Miriam by her mother, who had gotten it from her mother – back in the days when the family’s resources were not so meager.

“Just go up and pour some out on His feet to anoint them. Thank Him. And then come back to me.”

Mary did as she was told. She was so excited. And then – just as she got up close to Him, her toe caught on something, and – once again – she tripped. The alabaster jar slipped from her hands and fell right by His feet, shattering into pieces – with ALL of the ointment pouring out – not just enough to anoint His feet, but enough to anoint everyone’s feet in the room, if it hadn’t all spilled out on Him.

Mary heard her mother gasp. Oh, no! She had messed it up. Before she could do a thing, she felt the hot tears welling up in her eyes, spilling down her cheeks, and now dripping into the ointment on His feet.

“Oh, I’m such a klutz! I can’t do anything right,” was all she could think.

Things were happening all in a whirl now. The other men at the table got up and came over to see what was the commotion. She heard her mother coming up behind her to rescue her. She was frozen in her spot, not knowing what to do.

And then she looked at Him. She looked right into His eyes. And everything slowed down. Nobody was speeding toward her anymore.

That moment of when she looked into His eyes – it was just a moment – was enough to last her a lifetime. He didn’t say anything to her; He didn’t have to. His eyes said everything. They said: “You are so beautiful. I know what you intended. I am so grateful. I love you.”

And then, without even thinking twice, she knew what to do. She fell to her knees and began to do what she had come to do; she began to anoint his feet with the costly anointment. There was so much there.

She had no cloth, so, without even thinking, she began to rub the ointment into his feet with her hair. Her tears mingled with the ointment, but no longer were they tears of shame. She was crying big tears of joy. Her very worst moment had been transformed and He treated her like she was special, like she was beautiful. Oh glory!

The slow motion of the moment ended. The men continued to come over and made a big fuss about what happened. But Mary didn’t even hear what was being said. Her mother, Miriam did. Miriam had seen what happened when Mary’s eyes met His. And she stopped coming forward to rescue her daughter. It was no longer necessary.

But she heard (and later told Mary) what was said. The men had made such a fuss, and He had turned it around on them, saying that what Mary had done was such a beautiful thing. He had said that people would always remember what happened in that moment, and would tell about it whenever they told the story about Him.

She told Mary what He had said. But Mary didn’t need to hear that. She knew that He thought she was beautiful, not a klutz. He had told her that with her eyes. She didn’t know if anybody would ever remember or tell about what happened. All she knew was that she would never forget, nor ever be the same.  

 

((c) 2013 0128

Duty or Commitment — What Difference Does It Make?

“Duty and Commitment”
“Wishing and Hoping”
“Expectations and Expectancy”
“Happiness and Joy”
The distinctions between these pairs can be, and sometimes is, profound. Since Advent they have taken me to significant changes in my life view. (Future blog material??) Today, let me share about the “Duty and Commitment” dichotomy.
Up front, let’s be clear: quibbling over which definition applies correctly to which word will produce more heat than light. A more en-light-ening discussion assumes the definitional application in order to focus on the concepts in play.
To that end, I define “DUTY” as an obligation imposed on someone by an outside force, be it law, social custom, parental tapes that continue to play on a loop in the mind of the adult conceived by the child, etc.
“COMMITMENT” is an obligation self-imposed or undertaken by someone, freely and by choice. This does not mean that the commitment is not suggested, directed, or modeled by an outside source.
The language used in our Holy Communion liturgy: “Free us for joyful obedience” seems to me a movement from “DUTY” to “COMMITMENT.”
I know that there are some people for whom DUTY is a sacred concept. I also understand that this is largely a generational issue.
I also know that there are some people for whom DUTY is anathema. What that person does is largely controlled by what they feel in the moment will most likely lead to their own happiness. I also understand that this is largely a generational issue.
When we only do that which feels good in the moment, then our god is ourself. When we only do that which duty compels, then our god is one who is to be appeased.
A god which needs to be appeased – whether by our compliance with duties or by the proper offer of sacrifice – is a god separate and apart from us.
A god which needs to be appeased – whether by our compliance with duties or by the proper offer of sacrifice – is not a god in whose image we are made, but instead a god we are trying to impress enough to become acceptable.
A god which needs to be appeased – whether by our compliance with duties or by the proper offer of sacrifice – is a god which I have a hard time picturing as something that loves me. It seems more like something that makes loving me dependent upon my conduct or my belief system.
My parents did not love me like that. I was lucky enough to learn unconditional love in my upbringing. And I remember hearing Jesus say that the goodness of our earthly parents’ love will pale in comparison to how God loves us. (Matthe 7:9-11)
However, in their unconditional love for me, my parents also instilled in me principles for good living that they learned from Jesus. I have tried to instill these Jesus principles in my children and in the flock entrusted to me. But they were taught me (and I have tried to teach them) as commitments – the keeping of which are consistent with how good, abundant, and eternal life looks like in God’s Kingdom (on earth as in heaven.) These commitments seem to me to be prescriptions, as opposed to rules to be obeyed (or else.)
If I follow these prescriptions as dutiful compliance to rules they do not seem like the freely chosen commitments I make.
I don’t claim to have it all figured out.
I understand that different folks have come into relationship with God in different ways. Perhaps, part of my “issue” is that many of the people who live their life under duty [to appease a god who is satisfied only by a select few who get it right]
• seem pinched,
• seem less generous,
• seem less loving
• seem less joyful, and
• seem to be less in love with God than they appear to be Eeyore-istically devoted to trying to get it right and to be good enough, and who seem to salve that constant inferiority by looking for other folks that they can believe are less lovable by comparison.

I know that [almost] no one sees themselves as I described in the last paragraph and set of bullets. Few of us ever see ourselves as people who think differently see us.
I don’t claim to have it all figured out, and I’m still growing in my relationship with the One Who said that He is the Truth, the Way, and the Life.
I would love to hear your responses. How do you wrestle with this (if you do)?

(c) 2013 0123

An Unexpected Encounter with Jesus

“The Hebrew term Midrash (Hebrew: מדרש; plural midrashim, “story” from “to investigate” or “study”) also ‘Interpretation’ or ‘Exposition’ is a homiletic method of biblical exegesis. …
“Midrash is a way of interpreting biblical stories that goes beyond simple distillation of religious, legal, or moral teachings. It fills in many gaps left in the biblical narrative regarding events and personalities that are only hinted at.” (From http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midrash)

I have begun to do some of my Bible reading “by ear” (as I do 90% of my other reading these days.) As I walked Rooney and listened to Luke, it occurred to me that most of my Bible reading anymore is in Sunday-morning-size-pieces.
Reading straight through made me realize how very sketchy are the stories. Many feel like they are thrown together to give a flimsy framework for “sayings” and “teachings” of Jesus. So much of scene and character and plot depth are lacking.
Meditation or midrash seems absolutely necessary in order to enter into relationship with Jesus through the scripture. Platitudes, doctrines, and rules are easily mined, but relationship seems to require more.
So, I have written below a first attempt at serious midrashing of Gospel. The story that seemed to scream out for more detail was Jesus and the Gerasene demoniac, in Luke 8, particularly when I look at that tease in verse 35:

“Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.” (Luke 8:35)

I see Jesus and Legion sitting in verse 35, and laughing as the demons ran into the pigs, the property of the swine herders, who cared more for them than they had for Legion.
The pigs oinked and squealed. The swine herders went nuts over the chaos. Chaos — all that had been inside the man they called “Legion” — was released into the herd. The chaos gone from him gave him the singular focus to laugh with Jesus, hold out his finger for Jesus to pull, and then say to Jesus, “Whoops! There goes one last demon.”
And the two of them laughed and laughed at Legion’s middle school humor.
“Oh my! I haven’t laughed this hard in I don’t know how long,” said Legion, whose real name was Jonathan.
“I can’t remember how long it’s been for me, either,” said Jesus.
“Uh-oh,” Jonathan said next. “Here come the town folks. Their faces looked pinched. I don’t think they’re coming to give you the keys to the town, Jesus.”
“Demon possessed pigs have more fun than these folks, it looks like,” said Jesus. “But, not to worry. I’ve dealt with their type before. Let’s try to look serious.”
After He said that, Jesus then politely listened to their spokesman tell about the economic damage He had done both to the pig population and to the freak show ticket sales, and then to the man’s polemic about some people who always upset the applecart, and on and on. Finally Jesus stood up. Jonathan followed His lead.
Jesus said, “Sir, let me see your hand.” Taken off guard, the man held out his hand. Jesus pulled the man’s index finger. Then Jesus and Jonathan broke out laughing, turned their backs on, and walked away from, the stunned, irate crowd with their speechless and embarrassed spokesperson, who had also given up one of his own demons.

(c) 2013 0114

How we get there will determine where we end up

“How we get there will determine where we end up”. That is the repeated mantra of Richard Rohr in his book, “THINGS HIDDEN: Scripture as Spirituality.”
In stating her expectations of clergy, Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball told us that the magi did not show up in Bethlehem to study Jesus, but to worship and praise Him. We clergy are called upon to spend much time “studying Jesus” in preparation for our work. But, she reminded us, we need to spend time gazing upon Him, praising and worshiping Him, as well.
Holy Communion is a gift from God about which Christians tend to have many different ideas about meaning, interpretation, correct liturgy, etc. And yet, we are able to receive and celebrate Holy Communion together without agreeing with one another on any of those things – and to be blessed in that sharing.
If all we do to encounter Jesus is to study Him, then we ought not be surprised when our only relationship with God is cerebral.
If our only relationship with God is cerebral, then we ought not be surprised when we aren’t able to trust God in those situations we can’t figure out.
If there is no room for mystery, that is entered through contemplation, then faith and relationship aren’t much deeper than a pile of books and syllogisms.
If all we can do is share in words and mental constructs, then what becomes of Jesus’ admonition to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength? A four cylinder car does not run well, when only one of the cylinders is being used.
A relationship in which contemplation is practiced allows those in that relationship to sit quietly in one another’s presence and to be powerfully enriched without a single word being spoken. Indeed no single word is sufficient to express those moments.
But the color orange is often present.

(c) 2013 0108

New Year’s Resolutions

This is my first attempt at blogging. I do so with hesitation. My fears are multiple: (1) Not being authentic; (2) Being a narcissistic navel gazer; (3) Being irrelevant.
Were these also some of my fears of becoming a preacher, back in the day?
Don’t hesitate, reader, to [reply and] keep me on track; call me if you think I’m faking, if you think I’m too self-oriented and not addressing some important “other-folks” concerns, and/or if you think I’m just babbling.

FIRST BLOG / FIRST DAY OF NEW YEAR:

My Resolutions: D + L + E + P

DISCIPLINE personally & professionally. Physically. Spiritually. Emotionally. Relationally. Keep priorities. Don’t allow others to shape them. Do less in order to do it better. Do not allow stuff (tasks, roles, activities, others’ expectations) define me.
All of that requires acceptance of my worth from my Baptismal Name AND from keeping DISCIPLINE.

LOVING Do things out of love more than to try to achieve goals or expectations.
This kind of motivation keeps me focused on priorities and leads to much less disappointment. Loving actions have their own reward; they do not depend on reciprocity.

EXPECTANCY not expectations As I have come to better understand this distinction (through reading, praying, meditating, teaching & preaching) I’m more ready to claim it as a Rule of Life.
I believe that it takes me more out of the cyclical trap of circumstantially defined life. It also frees me from being disappointed in self and others.
I believe this will also enhance my relationships, particularly my interior relationship with the Triune God.
I believe that this will expose me to all kinds of exciting surprises from God.

PEACE I believe that Jesus’ peace (not circumstantially based, as the world gives) is more likely to be known from practicing D + L + E .
I also believe that PEACEFUL PRESENCE is a critical part of my pastoral leadership responsibility .
But such peace cannot be self-created. Personal discipline is important, but primarily in order for my lifestyle to enhance the L + E gifting from God.
Peaceful Presence Pastoral Leadership does not need to “have it my way” in the life of the church.
Abba Romanos understood this kind of leadership when his monks asked him on his deathbed, “How ought we conduct ourselves?” He responded, “I do not think I have ever told one of you to do something without having first made the decision not to get angry if you chose not to do it. And so we have lived in peace all our days.”

(c) 2013 0101