Monthly Archives: July 2016

Interview, Renovation, Vacation

 

Interview

This Sunday I’ll be doing an interview/dialogue sermon with Rev. Lane Campbell.  Lane is a young white woman who is co-leader of the Columbus chapter of SURJ – Showing Up for Racial Justice.  This is the group that helped organize the public action Mark, Austin, and Adam spoke of last Sunday.  SURJ is also hosting a training/teaching/skill building event this Saturday and Sunday, hosted at First UU.  Lane is one of the pastors at First UU, and comes at this work from a faith perspective.  I’m looking forward to the dialogue, and glad to be the one asking rather than answering the questions.

Renovations

This Sunday is also our last time worshipping in our building before renovations begin on the front of the sanctuary and the kitchen.  The project is on track to begin this coming Monday and will go into the first days of September.  The opening song in Hymnal a Worship Book (HWB) presents a theology of place with these words: “What is this place where we are meeting?  Only a house, the earth its floor, walls and a roof, sheltering people, windows for light, an open door.  Yet it becomes a body that lives when we are gathered here, and know our God is near.”  Anabaptists have always emphasized that the church is the people and not the building, so while our building undergoes some changes in order to better serve people, we’ll keep being church.  Please give attention to the announcements (bulletin insert and email) about what will be the same and different during renovations.

Vacation

Also starting Monday, our family is taking a two week vacation…  This is a coincidence as we’ve had it on the calendar for a while and renovations were originally scheduled for May.  The first week we’ll be at a family cabin on Lake Michigan, then we’ll be in Columbus, likely making some day trips around the area.  I’ve found that it’s hard to take 2-4 day vacations with pastoring, but the larger block of time will enable me to unplug.  I’m not sure how much extra sleep one gets on a vacation with three children, but it will be good to enjoy unhurried and open days together.

 

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Meat in Leviticus

 

This afternoon I was re-reading Leviticus 19, the chapter that contains the commandment at the crux of the Parable of the Good Samaritan: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  However, after back-pedaling into Leviticus 17, I got wrapped up in the proper slaughtering of animals.  After consulting Jacob Milgrom’s Leviticus commentary on the matter, I learned some things that I either hadn’t heard before or hadn’t remembered.

Milgrom believes that the Israelite dietary laws were not about esoteric religious observance, or ancient health codes, but about ethics and values.  Specifically, after presenting the first humans as vegetarian (Genesis 1:29), the Hebrew Scriptures concede, through the Divine covenant with Noah after the flood, that humans will kill and eat animals (Genesis 9:2-4).  OK, I knew that.  But then Milgrom writes that “the Bible’s method of taming the killer instinct in humans is none other than its system of dietary laws” (p. 103).

The Torah does this by 1) severely restricting the kinds of animals that can be eaten  2) requiring that the slaughter be done with skill (reducing or eliminating pain in the animal) and piety 3) requiring that the blood be drained from the animal since, as Leviticus frequently repeats, the life is in the blood.  Milgrom: “Humans have a right to nourishment, not to the life of others.  Hence the blood, which is the symbol of life, must be drained and returned to the universe, to God”(p. 103).

In Leviticus 17, an animal killed from the flock for meat must be brought before a priest at the altar before it goes to the family table.  Animals, like humans, have a nefish (Hebrew for soul or life-force).  And so the person who has killed the animal has become guilty of bloodshed (Lev 17:4).  The guilt is cleared, expiated, covered in the offering of the blood of the animal back to YHWH.  This completes the loop of the nefish, life force, returning it to its Source.  The life/nefish/blood of the animal is returned to the Creator at the altar, and the family is now permitted to take the meat home to eat.

This law was written at a time when there were many such altars throughout the land of Israel, before consolidation in the Jerusalem temple, so it was accessible to all Israelites.  Eating meat was to be associated with reverence and gratitude and an acknowledgement that the nefish of all creatures cannot be possessed by the human but must be returned to God.  Failing to eat meat through this ritual process endangered one of being cut off from Israel (Lev. 17:9).  In other words, there was no such thing as “common” slaughter.  It was all “sacred.”

In the passage it is not that God requires animal blood to forgive human sin.  No, the shedding of animal blood itself is what incurs the guilt, and offering the life/blood back to God enables one’s killing instincts to be tamed, the human to become more holy, and the flow of Creation to continue despite the violent act.

That was my Leviticus detour this afternoon.  Now back to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” which apparently is not entirely unrelated to ethical treatment of animals and a reverence for life.

 

Probing for answers

One of the bright spots in what’s deemed ‘news’ these days is the Juno probe.  NASA  launched it back in August of 2011 and it is just now making its way to Jupiter.  Long trip.  It will spend the next 20 months orbiting Jupiter 37 times, collecting all kinds of data about the largest, and oldest, planet in our solar system.  One of the hopes of the mission is to provide clues into our own planet’s formation 4 billion years ago.  HERE is the Juno mission website that has some fun and educational videos fit for adults and kids.

Juno image

The first imaged sent back from Juno, just today, including three moons of Jupiter.

Meanwhile, there’s all manner of struggle and strife happening on our pale blue dot.  We are trapped in cycles of violence and stalemate.  But we are also extending our consciousness outward, probing for answers.  What I love about the Juno probe is how it embodies our quest to understand, a posture of openness to that which IS.  We’re willing to go to great lengths and expense to explore.  We want to know about our neighbors.  We want to know ourselves.  We want to know how we came to be and how that might impact who we are becoming.

We are doing an impressive job probing outer space, but a less than stellar job probing inner space.  What are the origins of our desires and ambitions, our grievances and hurt?  How deep down and far back must we go in order to better understand a way forward?  How much time and effort are we willing to invest in exploring the inner life?

This month we are focusing our worship services on the Parable of the Good Samaritan where the question “Who is my neighbor?” is front and center.  Our species is currently getting to know our planetary neighbor far away, eager for what we will learn about it and ourselves.  A commitment to the spiritual life is one of looking both outward and inward, willing to listen that which IS, holding a posture of openness.  What we learn about ourselves has direct impact on our neighbor.  What we learn about our neighbor has direct impact on us.

 

 

Places with messages

 

Last week I served as camp pastor at Camp Friedenswald in southern Michigan.  Eve and Lily attended as campers and Abbie and Ila and I got to enjoy the “Peaceful Woods” and join in the action.  It was a lot of work – ten sermons in one week – but also provided a beautiful change of scenery.  Friedenswald is filled with natural beauty and lovely people.

Although the story didn’t come up during the week, one of the scriptures that came to mind multiple times was the story of Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28.  In that story Jacob is on a journey away from home and comes to a place where he rests for the night, using a rock as a pillow.  As he sleeps he dreams of a ladder bridging the heavens and the earth, with angels (which can also be translated as “messengers”) ascending and descending between the divine and human realms.  Jacob wakes up and declares “Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it.”  He sets up his rock-pillow as a pillar of remembrance and renames the place “Beth-el,” which means “The house of God.”

It had been a long time since I’d spent a week at a church camp, but last week reminded me that there are indeed places that carry a sense of specialness.  Places not just for getting away from the buzz of life, but places where we are propelled to truly experience Life.  Places where we more easily encounter the transcendence and beauty of the sacred, where the veil between the heavens and the earth grows thin, and we are better able to hear and receive messages that speak to our souls. The pillar we set up in that place can serve as a reference point throughout life, a solid thing, where Reality revealed itself to us in a deeper and livelier way.

I consider Friedenswald one of these places and am hopeful that the children of our congregation are able to have a formative place like this that they return to.  And not just children.  I’m hopeful we are each given several Beth-els throughout life, which show us that there are messengers all about, ready to teach and guide us along the journey.