Thursday, March 15, 2018

Written on the Heart: Of Incarnation, Thermodynamics and Quantum Theory

God and the Leidenfrost Effect

We are fast approaching Holy Week. The memory of Jesus' last week on earth before his death and resurrection is about to revive in us the memory of just how great, how singular the life of the Christ, Jesus is as we remind ourselves not only of God's great love for us, but also to extent that God is willing to go to in order to secure our salvation and the renewal of creation itself. Jesus' death and resurrection is more than just a final, one and done moment of rescue. It is also the fulfillment of an expression of God's love for creation, and its named stewards. It is our remembering that God's desire for us is so great that God chooses to do more than just come near....God is become us, fully and completely, in order that there be no separation any more. Time, space, even death, are no longer barriers to our relating to God. They are the gateway, the portal, to a greater life in God through Christ's resurrection.

But not quite yet....we still have some essential steps to take toward awareness of that grace poured out so freely and with such abandon over us.

You see, since creation itself, God has loved us with an abandon that has led to effort after effort on God's part to restore a separation between us and the divine. Covenant after covenant has been made with human beings and peoples, from Adam to Noah, from Abraham to Jacob, from Joseph to Moses, from Saul to David...on and on. God's promise to bring the steadfastness of the Almighty near to humankind, and our summons to fidelity to God in those covenants, have always just missed the mark on the human side. We lacked the steadfastness to maintain proximity to the holy.

I was struggling to find a way to envision that tension when on social media a friend posted a video of the Leidenfrost effect. This quirk in thermodynamics and physics demonstrates how the transfer of heat from one substance to another, in this case from a metallic source to a drop of water, can show how things can be near and yet remain apparently unchanged.

You have at some point checked how hot a skillet is by dripping a few drops of water on it. Up to a point, when the liquid hits the hot pan, it sizzles and turns to vapor. However, as the heat moves above 200 degrees Celsius, that drop of water winds up suspended on a small pocket of vapor. The liquid appears to float above the hot surface. Two things are near, and whereas one should be altering the other...the water should turn to steam because of the transfer of heat...what is observable is that the water remains unchanged. It is effected, but not altered.

Covenant after covenant, God has sought the renewal of union and communion with humanity. Covenant after covenant has failed to foster a durable and sustainable renewal of humanity. God, in the prophecies of Jeremiah, has tired of exterior covenants. The time has come for something else:
Jeremiah 31:31-34The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
Exterior effect does not do the trick. God will now break down the barrier between humankind and God now by making covenant something that is written by God on each individual's heart. The knowledge and love of God will be portioned equally and utterly to the extent that God is able to effect us whilst still allowing free will and for the autonomy of creation. Everyone will know God, intimately.

Yet, like quantum mechanics, while God is able to effect change in the observed, the beloved, that state of grace also proves unstable. We can't manage and keep that connection. There is still a distance, a difference between the being of God and the knowing of humankind. We are not close enough yet. Like the water and the hot plate....we are close enough to know we are bound to God. We just can't let go of our way of being enough to find transformation, union and true communion. God is still God. We are still human.

Something needs to be done.

That is the true beauty and grace of the eternally, one and done moment of Christ's life, death and resurrection. God no longer is attempting to effect creation from a place apart. God now enters into creation, becoming a part of it in order to share fully in the experience of being mortal, being bound by space and time. At the same time, God is transforming and renewing creation. No longer observer, God is participating. In that, we are transformed-each of us in our own era-as agents of that state of being. We are actors in that drama, and as well our actions and the testimony of our lives are now bound part and parcel into the ongoing redemptive desire of God.

One and done now becomes the fulfillment, the completion, of a desire on God's part to be reunited with a creation that is also free to choose that reunion.

What is now on our collective, human heart are not the scribed words of an attempt at covenant. Our hearts are now transformed by the love of Christ. When is Holy Week? It was just over two thousand years ago. When is Holy Week? It starts in just over a week, again. When is Holy Week? Always, if we are willing to embrace a God in Christ Jesus who chose to love us so much as to become us, to the end that none now should die, but have everlasting life.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Lent-Week Five: Following, immediately

Following, Immediately

Weekly Questions:

One of the most powerful words in the Gospel of Mark is the word “immediately.” The word, in Biblical Greek, implies an action taken without hesitation, with clear-eyed intent and with purpose. What, in your life, prompts you to take immediate action? What blocks exist in and around you that might hinder your willingness and/or ability to follow Jesus “immediately?”

The Weekly Gathering:

Collect for V Lent:

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Gospel:

John 12:20-33
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

  • Open your gathering with the appropriate Daily Office for the hour of the day
  • Hold silent prayer for 3-5 minutes
  • One person reads the Collect for the Week, and then all pause to reflect on the prayer (2-3 minutes)
  • Another person reads the lesson for the evening
  • After a short period of quiet meditation (3-5 minutes), all recite the Lord’s Prayer and then discuss:
    • The word for this session is “immediate.” It is a powerful word in our culture that usually fosters a sense of urgency, or impatience. In the Gospel of Mark, it gives a sense of energy and vitality to the story. How have you found your life challenged by the immediate demands of the world? Are you ready to “immediately” follow Jesus?
  • Close your time together with the next Daily Office liturgy


Of a "Round Tuit," and When Immediately Means More Than Just "Now"

I am a born procrastinator. It's true. I say that not only in recognition of my nature as a human being. I was also born almost a fortnight after I was due to arrive in this world. My mother jokes that I must have had a library in there, and was in the middle of a good book, and thus couldn't be bothered. Whatever the reason, and the people who put up with loving me can attest to this: I am always late, and I am always behind. I don't know why I am so attracted to the idea that anything worth doing is worth putting off until later, but I am. I am sure that some day, I will get around to finding out why that is the case.

Perhaps that is why, in the midst of that deficit in my character (and frankly the root of the sinfulness of my self, I must confess), that I am so attracted to the Gospel of Mark and its emphasis on the world "immediately." The Greek word for that concept of immediacy in English is EUQUS. The word itself conveys not only a sense of immediacy as we know it: It also implies a narrative, eventual and logical outcome resulting from a given moment. It is something that leads the story on, and link events in such a way that there is no separation between cause and effect. 

When Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John from their nets, and they follow immediately it says as much about the "rightness" of the effect of the invitation as it does about the brevity of their compliance. The Gospel of Mark uses the word often, more often than other New Testament texts; so much so that when one reads it through, you can feel the winds of narrative immediacy pressing on your back and the under toe of the story's power pulling you forward.

Well and good when we are reading a good story. That is something we call a "page turner." It keeps us up all night reading and we can't bear to put it down. It connects us to something that we have to see through to the end. We laud that in story. Some even welcome it their work and life when an immediate "whatever" must be undertaken.

The test comes when that summons to immediacy either faces down our (MY) procrastinatory tendencies, or when that imperative arrives at a moment we experience as moving across the grain of what we intend.

For procrastinators, it means doing today what we had intended to set apart for tomorrow. It means bucking up and buckling down on THAT task, on THE chore. It means facing into our own stuff, our own tendencies and then getting on with whatever the thing was that we wanted to avoid in the first place. 

For others, though, it means facing confrontation with someone whose intention, whose demands, whose agenda might differ from yours. It might mean a difference in the way you expect things to work out, or in the order in which things are going to be done. 

Pushing off immediacy, then can inhabit a wide spectrum of responses. It can be my procrastinatory nature. It can be disruptive...if you are a person who, while in the midst of ticking things of your list of immediate tasks are confronted by someone who wants something else and is willing with jump YOUR queue to get it. Their immediacy trumps yours.

In the parish I served right out of seminary, the main office of the church had a hidden, little testament to a previous pastor who had a habit of pushing his immediacy on everyone and anyone else who came into his orbit. Epoxied on to the brick wall, just beside where his desk was at the time, was a small, round, ceramic disc. Raised letters proclaimed "TUIT." It was indelibly there, immovable and unshakable as the steadfastness of God. The only way to remove it would be to chisel it out of its place, thus marring and damaging the red bricks beneath it. I was told he epoxied it to the wall, because he had one that he kept as a paperweight that kept getting stolen from his desk.

Why? Because whenever he asked for anything, and anyone balked at it by saying that they would at some point "get around to it," he would show them his "round tuit" and say that he already had one. Supposedly, that removed all barriers to him having his will obeyed and his way secured.

No. He was not my supervisor.

The thing is, when I ponder what it means to follow Jesus, immediately, I realize that I have a lot to work through on my way to being able to respond to that invitation, well, immediately. Not only to get over my own tendency to procrastinate, but also because I have a lot to overcome in order to make my acceptance of Jesus' summons the logical outcome of his action. 

Immediate response is a willingness to connect cause to effect. Jesus calls me and I respond. Of course. Immediate response is also an acceptance that I need to get up and go, now...and not later. There is no sense, nor logic in delay. There is also no imposing of my own agenda on the shape that calling will take. Jesus promises the fishermen that they will become fishers of people. That means letting go of the nets that were their trade and craft, and immediately taking up, and on, a whole new state of being. To become more of who they were to be as disciples and eventually apostles, they had to engage that state of "immediately" that means both NOW and CONNECTED.

The rest falls away.

Immediate is more than just getting a round tuit. It is more than being willing to stop procrastinating. It is an openness to letting God be the one who sets the tempo to the dance, and to let God lead, as we resolve to learn the steps. It means embracing the present moment as the one moment we get to connect to the God, in Christ, who is with us and who leads us into immediate connection with a world full of people, of beings, whose salvation is eminent in our agenda and imminent in our intent.

Chisel away the "round tuits" in your life. They are of no use to a God whose love and whose call to us arrives with such immediate grace.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

At the Crossroads of Mercy and Grace

Living on the Crossroads

I grew up with a mother with a terrible sense of direction. Truly, even that previous dentence understates the intensity of that as it impacted our lives as a family.We had little money for "store-bought' activities and fun when my sister and I were very young, and a regular activity was to go on trips with mom in the car. We loved exploring. Mom, as a teacher of teachers who loved to teach, would stop at every historic marker, every landmark, in order to ensure that no story and no bit of local history went unexplored. That part of those journeys was always a blessing and I look back with deep fondness on the formation of curiosity about how places matter that mom gave us.

She also gifted my sister and I with powerful sense of direction. Lacking maps and predating GPS, she and I invariably wound up being an navigator for mom when the inevitable moment would come when we would play the game "Let's get home from here."

The first thing mom would admit that while we might not know the way home, we were definitely NOT LOST. Why? Because....and we would sing this out in chorus with her: "We aren't lost because we are RIGHT HERE!"

Wherever "here" was, there we were.

We learned how to find north by the direction of the sun, or by the moss on trees. We learned how to follow watercourses downstream. We learned how to choose roads that would lead into town, as opposed to away, by the quality of pavement. We learned to imagine a "bird's eye view" of our location in order to imagine a map that had our waypoints marked on it. We learned how to count landmarks, and retrace steps.

Mom's lack of a sense of direction taught us how to find our way.

All well and good when you are driving through a terrestrial landscape. Better, when you have a parent like ours, a mom who even when lost would keep her head and her calm while teaching her children something she did not to navigate. We were blessed to the point that later in life when my wife and I had time to take Sunday drives and wanders, I would drive until we were well and truly lost...and we would then have fun finding our way back to familiar precincts and then home again. You learn an awful lt when you are willing, and able, to get truly and profoundly lost. You learn even more about how important finding your way home when the path becomes clear not because you never left it, but for the very reason that you found your way back to it.
You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-- by grace you have been saved-- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God-- not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:1-10
Do you remember how it felt, the last time you were lost?

That is not uually a good feeling at all. It might cause a sense of panic. You might be in an environment that feels threatening or just plain wrong. You might be in the midst of relatioships that have lost their sense of being safe and sure. You might be bound up with behaviors and choices that only seem to take you farther and further away from health and well-being. You might simply be lost in the certainties you had been able to trust only moments ago.

Now, everything seems to be under, well being,

I look back on those trips with my mother and give thanks, because those memories inform me now. When I am willing to remember that she equipped us with tools to navigate being physically lost, I am reminded of how God in Christ has given us tools to navigate being spiritually lost. By God's grace, we are bound to a Jesus who promises to be with us, even to the end of the age. We are elevated with him to a height and perspective that gives us a broad awareness that ALL things and ALL beings are bound together in the healing of creation and in its restoration to union and communion with its creator.

You cannot be lost, not forever, because God is with you in that lost-ness. Here and now, God is with you. Forgiving and restoring, God is with you. Healing and reconciling, God is with you. 

Your part, as was the part my sister and I were trained into by my mother, is to join the chorus of the lost: "We aren't lost, because we are RIGHT HERE...with God."

We are always right here, at the corner of Mercy and Grace, with a loving God. Even in the darkest, deepest depths of loss, sin, certainty, confusion or conflict....God is with us.

When we embrace that grace and mercy, then we can begin to navigate our way to the places God is calling us.

Because others are lost, and we are now their way-finders. We who were lost ar now the ones who will be guides.