The Breath That Keeps Blowing

The Breath That Keeps Blowing

Even in the dark,
even in the starless night of winter,
the breath of God blows across the land.

Blowing across the surface,
of the earth, of the waters, and into all life,
the One who is love connects us one to another.

In that breath,
is the creating force,
and the hope of resurrection.

In that breath of Spirit,
we all exist.

In that creating, loving breath,
we are one living entity:
human, animal, plant, and rock.

In that creating, loving, resurrecting breath,
I find the peace and essential wholeness of all that is.

God in the Trees

God in the Trees

When I create something — a blog post, a video, or even just a doodle while talking on the telephone — it is a reflection of me. It isn’t me. It doesn’t define me. The creation does, however, reflect something of my essence. My soul is a part of the words I write. My feelings are reflected in the photos I take. Who I am is revealed in the conversations I have with others.

God created humanity in God’s own image,
in the divine image God created them,
male and female God created them. Genesis 1:27 CEB (Read in context.)

I interpret the image of God reflected within creation in much the same way. God is reflected in the natural desire human beings have to be connected to one another. God is also reflected in our need for solitude.  God is revealed in the exuberant joy my dog expresses upon my return home. (Think about the father’s reaction to his prodigal son’s return in the parable Jesus tells in the gospels. Read it here.) Even the common housefly that nags us can tell us something of the nature of the divine.

The Creator, the One I call God, can be seen in nature. This is why hiking is a spiritual experience for me and so many others. It is why a rainbow or sunset often causes us to gasp. It is also why the declining time children spend outdoors is so problematic. To be in the handiwork of the Creator is to be within the loving realm of God.

A recent tweet.
A recent tweet.

Desperately Seeking Community

Desperately Seeking Community
Photo from http://www.etsy.com/listing/119259733/vintage-bicentennial-1976-1977-missouri
A Missouri license plate, circa 1976. Photo from http://www.etsy.com/listing/119259733/vintage-bicentennial-1976-1977-missouri

I had to work on the bicentennial of our country. Along with two others who lived the same 40 miles away from the Six Flags over Mid-America, I car pooled to work. A chivalrous seventeen-year-old, I squeezed into the backseat of a Chevy Vega on July 4, 1976. (Those of a certain age will know that this was no small task for a two-year-old let alone a teenage boy.)

I was discouraged that day; I spent it selling watered-down orange juice in cheap plastic orange shaped containers when I really wanted to be celebrating my country’s two-hundredth birthday. Instead I spent it earning $1.90 an hour (less than minimum wage) because I was a seasonal worker.

Nonetheless, I still believed in my country and was glad to have a summer job. Growing up during Vietnam and the Watergate era, I wasn’t naive but I believed in the progression of the dream. Deep down, people are good, all people. (I still perceive this deep within my essence.)

I am not as idealistic as I was three plus decades later. I’ve witnessed things I thought would never happen.This is true both on a personal and national level. I‘ve had to explain unjust war to my children more than once. My trust in the electoral process  — with some caveats — was shattered by the 2000 debacle. 

I’ve seen improvement in race relations only to see a significant and sometimes racially-motivated backlash to the election of a bi-racial president. I’ve seen a minority of people so afraid of our rapidly changing world they draw their circles of inclusion tighter and tighter. This has been true in politics and within the faith I claim.

A Condon Fourth (2013). Photo by Tim Graves
A Condon Fourth (2013). Photo by Tim Graves See more photos on Flickr.

I began pastoring a small United Church of Christ in an eastern Oregon town of less than 700 this year. I quickly began to hear murmurings in town about the big Fourth of July celebration. A little cynical and not much of a flag-waver, I was curious about what this big day would hold. There was an all-community breakfast and dinner in the newly-restored town park. The parade was followed by a soap box derby and tricycle races on Main Street.

Though there were plenty of flags and some of the outfits my congregants wore blinded me with their stars and stripes, this was not about waving the flag. The Fourth was not about blind-obedience to a particular political perspective or even to the United States. No one denied we have our differences in our small town.

Despite those differences, we share something. We share the place we live. We are dependent on one another in our isolated community. We smile at one another (and sometime sneer or are cold to one another) but we all crave community. We need each other. While I lack my exuberant patriotism of 1976, I’ll wave a flag for a town that comes together for a red, white, and blue spectacle each July. I’ll wave a flag for those who in this era of division and vitriol, seek to be a community.

May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. Genesis 28:3 NRSV (Read in context.)

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Philippians 2:4 NRSV (Read in context.)

Reflecting Waters

Reflecting Waters

Upside down, sideways, and not quite right, reflecting waters offer us a perspective that can illumine or appear to skew reality. I confess a fascination with the interplay between light, water, and surroundings.

When the waters are still, reflections can magnify natural beauty.

The east end of Mosier is reflected in still waters. Photo by Tim Graves.
The east end of Mosier, Oregon  is reflected in still waters. Photo by Tim Graves.
Clouds are mirrored in the blue waters near Coyote Wall in Washington state. Photo by Tim Graves
Clouds are mirrored in the blue waters near Coyote Wall in Washington state. Photo by Tim Graves

Sometimes reflections create an unexpected beauty in the utilitarian.

The grain elevator in Condon, Oregon is a grey concrete structure. These tanks have bright plastic tubes where many elevators have cold, steel. An unexpected puddle on the grey gravel creates an unexpected beauty in the common and utilitarian. Photo by Tim Graves
The grain elevator in Condon, Oregon is a grey concrete structure. These tanks have bright tubes where many elevators have cold, steel. An unexpected puddle on the grey gravel creates an unexpected beauty in the common and utilitarian. Photo by Tim Graves

Still waters and fog, water in the air, can reflect light creating an otherworldly aura around the common mechanical process of electric lighting.

BNSF Reflection
The not quite-still Columbia River reflects the lights of a BNSF train as it travels along the Columbia River in the early morning fog near Mosier, Oregon and Bingen, Washington. Photo by Tim Graves

Mirrors covered in algae do not reflect sunlight clearly. What passersby might otherwise characterize as slime, reveals a kaleidoscopic aesthetic when spaces between the algae reflect nearby vegetation.

Beneath a freeway overpass, waters rise in the winter months. When the spring sunshine emerges reflections battle with algae in Rock Creek Park in Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

Moving waters on sand create a flickering and changing image of the immovable. With each wave, the sturdy dances on the sands.

Haystack Reflection

Reflections do more than simulate. They expand and enhance. Their echoing imagery hint at the deeper essence, the divinity within, that we would not perceive looking directly at that which is reflected. The soul of creation, what I call the Imago Dei (image of God) can be glimpsed in reflections. Maybe that is why I am so fascinated by them.

Sabbath Moods

Sabbath Moods

As my level of fatigue increases, my positivity decreases. When I am tired I self-judge harshly, my self-esteem goes down, and I am less tolerant of imperfections in others. This is particularly true of the fatigue that comes from of a lack of adequate sleep. That is, hard work and fatigue from physical exertion do not have as strong an impact on my mood if I’m getting proper sleep.

Photo by Tim Graves
Photo by Tim Graves

God, as experienced by our ancient kindred of the faith, desires us to have periodic rest so that we can regenerate not only our bodies but our spirits.

God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work of creation. Genesis 2:3 CEB

Work can be done for six days, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of special rest, a holy occasion. You must not do any work on it; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the Lord. Leviticus 23:3 CEB

We need sleep and rest so that we can be the people we are created to be. This may be the greatest sin of our twenty-first century western lifestyle in which we are always connected. We don’t get the rest and sleep that we need to be kind to one another and ourselves.

Though it is not the whole answer, I wonder if the rampant polarization and evils that we see in our world might be lessened if we took better care of ourselves. I wonder if we were all better rested, we might be more tolerant and loving.

God of the Sabbath: We confess our always-on lifestyles contradict your will for us. May we trust you that six days is enough. May we take better care of ourselves, keeping sabbath rest sacred. Amen.

A Christian Case for Marriage Equality

Many Christian arguments against marriage equality are rooted in flawed — even heretical — assumptions. Though perceived as hateful, these Christians often claim that they “hate the sin but love the sinner.” It is this very statement that indicates the reliance on the heresy of dualism. Our Christian hesitancy to talk about sexuality within churches is also victim to this flaw.

The Heresy of Dualism

Heavily influenced by Greek thought, Christianity developed a strong sense of the goodness of the spirit and the sinfulness of the body. One group of early Christians, the Gnostics, even thought that Jesus did not really inhabit a human body. The divine could not be divine within the profane human body. By the end of the second century, this hatred of the body was declared outside of the Christian faith. Yet, it persists in the mindset of many twenty-first century Christians.pull quote

In Christian thought, human beings are created as Imago Dei, or in the image of God. “Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” (Genesis 1: 26a NRSV). Human beings are spiritual. Human beings are physical. Human flesh is inherently of God. Our self-perceived physical imperfections and our sexuality are the image of God. In our sexual expression within covenantal, loving relationships human beings are Imago Dei. In sexuality, we mirror God.

Yet, an attitude toward our bodies as profane has permeated Christianity throughout the centuries. The Puritans are an American example of groups who have taken this heretical dualism to the level of self-hatred. Modern churches are also places where the belief that sexuality (the body) is so profane that we don’t even talk about it. In the church, we have allowed a culture of titillation to define human sexuality.

The Sin of the Church: Dehumanizing Non-Heterosexuals

Within this context churches and individual Christians weigh in on the morality of homosexuality. When many hear the word heterosexual, “hetero” stands out. When they hear homosexual, “sexual” stands out. For too long we have viewed heterosexuals as whole human beings while viewing homosexuals as only about sex. The common heresy of flesh as evil further dehumanizes our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

In the dehumanizing of and refusal to accept homosexuals as Imago Dei, we allow fanatics to spew words of hatred and violence. In our refusal to accept our lesbian and gay sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, fathers, and mothers as made fully in the image of God, we commit sin. This is the great sin of too many contemporary churches.

Dualistic Thinking in Arguing Against Homosexuality

The argument that one can love the sinner while hating the sin when applied to homosexuality is dualist thinking. The separation of orientation from practice regarding homosexuality leads to a separation of the spiritual from the physical. My heterosexuality is intertwined with my spirituality, with my sense of who I am as a child of God. In the words of theologian Christopher Morse, “The way God makes us in creation, including our sexuality, is [n]ever a cruelty joke. . . .No gift of God’s grace is to be held in dishonor.”

When Christians let go of the dualism, we are no longer afraid to view the gift of human sexuality along its created continuum of homosexual and heterosexual orientation. We are free to let go of our fear of the body as less than “of God.” We are free to accept that each human being is uniquely gifted by God with a physical way of expressing love with another human being.

pull quote2The first testament is littered with examples of God’s loyalty and compassion within covenant to God’s people. In Judges 10, after years of idol worship, the Israelites seek God’s help when under threat from the Ammonites. God is rightfully angry with their newfound faith: “Go and cry to the gods whom you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress” (Judges 10:14 NRSV). Despite rightful frustration, God “could no longer bear to see Israel suffer” (Judges 10: 16b NRSV). God responds in compassion and honors covenant. It is this covenantal relationship that serves as a model for our human relationships, including our sexual relationships. When we express our sexuality–homosexual or heterosexual–within the covenantal relationship of marriage we are living more fully into the image of God.

God’s model of covenantal fidelity has been institutionalized by both the church and secular culture. Though not guaranteeing faithfulness, marriage supports stable, covenantal fidelity in American culture. By rejecting same-sex marriage we are denying homosexuals a tool that supports loving covenants. Americans have a duty to defend equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians. Doing so is consistent with our highest American ideals. We each will benefit from the stabilizing influence on our society.

Followers of Jesus have a moral imperative to advocate for marriage equality. Embracing the wholeness of body and spirit in the Imago Dei, Christian faith is rooted in covenantal fidelity and the love-ethic of Jesus Christ. Supporting marriage equality is fully and wholly consistent with the Christian faith and lifestyle.

In the Lenten Wilderness

The nagging, oh, the nags that I experience. My internal nag — I call him Nagging Nate — has been lurking in my

psyche for some time now. He won’t shut up.

“You’re getting behind!”

“You need a creative outlet!”

“You’ll lose followers on your blog!”

Nagging Nate didn’t accept my feeble attempts at excuses. Neither my serious sickness or my son’s wedding in January would shut him up. He didn’t accept my February excuses either: a call to a new church and moving. Nope, Nagging Nate is not one to shut up.

And, so, I appealed to a higher authority. I appealed my case to God. Perhaps a bit presumptuous for such a small matter but as the Apostle Paul writes, “Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks.” (Philippians 4:6 CEB Read in context.)

In prayer and meditation, I was reminded that not only have my creative energies been focused on life transitions, my illness did slow me down. In the metaphor of creation, God did not create everything in a day. Neither am I  expected to create blogs, sermons, newsletter articles, and a home simultaneously.

In the Lenten Wilderness. Photo by Tim Graves
In the Lenten Wilderness. Photo by Tim Graves

I’m also not expected to forego rest. Not only did God rest from God’s work at creation but Sabbath time is considered essential to human and divine well-being throughout the biblical narratives. Sabbath is about trusting God’s abundance. Sabbath is about maintaining a relationship with the One. It is also about self-care and kindness to self.

And so in this Lenten season as we strive to add practices that help us to grow spiritually, I am adding rebuking Nagging Nate to my repertoire with the full realization that he will be back.

After finishing every temptation, the devil departed from him until the next opportunity.

Luke 4:13 CEB Read in context.

Tears

Tears

Breetel and IsaacTears can be many things. They can be a cleansing liquid that washes away the pain. Tears can be like baptismal waters that renew and refocus our souls. They can indicate deep sadness or profound joy.

For me, tears are often a sign of Divine presence. They flow when the One breaks into my awareness. Tears are “of G-d.” I well up when I intuit the presence of the extravagant love that binds us together as one human family.

Yesterday, the day of my son’s wedding, was one of those holy times when G-d’s tears flowed like a waterfall. The One who is within us, between us, and surrounds us was palpable as two families united to celebrate the love between a rabbi’s daughter and the son of two ministers. It is an unlikely and likely story.

Unlikely because too many Christians have learned the false doctrine that G-d’s love is limited to those who profess Jesus as savior and turned love into hatred. Unlikely because a people who have endured millennia of persecution, including genocide, must be cautious of those who are not one of their own.

Likely because the Divine never breaks covenant and never gives up on us. G-d’s love broke through yesterday. G-d’s extravagant desire for us to be the one human family we were created to be, lured two souls together.

And when the One lured two souls together, two families celebrated together. Not only did two young people covenant to journey together in love, two families began the journey of accepting, getting to know, and growing to love one another.

In the presence of the One, our tears of joy, a palpable sign of the Divine, flowed together reminding each of us that G-d’s extravagant love is for all of us.

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