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Trial Notes:09-03/2017

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Are you an “SBNR” ?  I recently read a book about folks who self-identify as “spiritual but not religious.”  As fewer people profess an affiliation with a particular worshipping community, this category is growing in surveys. Some say that’s because the church has disappointed them in some way.  But what does it mean – what does it look like – to be an SBNR?  How are these folks living out their spirituality? 

Today’s scripture gives us a clue.  In Exodus, we read the wonderful story of Moses, who was shepherding sheep near Mt. Horeb – the “mountain of God.”  There, he had a “spiritual experience.”  An angel appeared in a flame out of a bush, but the bush never burned up.  Moses was intrigued! 

When Moses stopped to look, God spoke to him by name:  “Moses! Moses! … Come no closer!  Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 

Moses encountered God – a being or power infinitely greater than he was. It would change his perspective, and the course of his life – forever. I think that’s what SBNRs, and also we religious folk, are longing for.  We may look for it in different places, but it is the same longing for connection, for meaning, for transcendence.  I prefer to seek that encounter with God (or whatever one calls God) through a community with a tradition from which to learn.  Others believe that just nature, or friends, or family, or art are sufficient for discovering God and experiencing that uplift and larger perspective.  What do you think?  Where do you experience the divine?  Are you an SBNR, or a person who longs to make the journey with a community of like-minded friends and neighbors?  JBM  


Trail Notes 08/20/2017

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Welcoming Strangers

“Jesus sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God…” (Hymn 686)

Welcoming strangers (and making them friends) is at the heart of our Christian life.  It is also a measure of our Christian community.  How well do we welcome and include new persons, especially when they are not just like us?  The events of Charlottesville remind us how important this is…and what the world looks like when we have not learned this lesson.  The ugliness there shows us how far we have to go. 

In today’s scriptures, Joseph finally reveals his true identity to his brothers who have fled a famine, and invites them to take refuge in Egypt, where there is food.  He and his brothers find forgiveness and a new sense of family. 

The Gospel story is a tough one!  Jesus at first rejects the Canaanite woman who comes humbly seeking healing for her daughter.  We are startled by his harsh, racist words – calling the woman a dog.  This kind of tribalism was the norm in Jesus’ world.  Fortunately, we see Jesus break out of it, and see the woman as a human being – in fact, a woman of great faith.   

One of the differences between Christianity and our mother faith of Judaism is that Christian identity is not tied to ethnic or national identity, nor to a particular place or land.  This has allowed our faith in Christ to spread throughout the world, and adapt to many cultures.  But human nature seems to love our tribes – identifying ourselves with a group that is distinct from others.  Wanting to belong is not a bad thing, but much evil has sprung from the need to set ourselves apart and denigrate other groups.  This is the evil of white supremacism.

Christians must guard against denigrating or disrespecting any other communities, and repent of our participation in hateful world views.  When I heard a Charlottesville white supremacist lament, “They are pulling up southern culture, white culture, Christian culture by the roots…,” I realized how dangerous this thinking is.  As we follow the Way of Christ, we must never let that Way be co-opted by those who seek to use Christianity as a weapon against others.  JBM



Trail Notes: 08/27/2017

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The Path to Enslavement

“Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph….”

Time has passed since the amazing story of Joseph rising to power in Egypt, and then welcoming his father Jacob and all his brothers to come and settle there.  They have prospered, Jacob has died, and finally Joseph dies (at the age of 110!).   The Israelite family was prolific and multiplied, so that Egypt was full of them. 

That’s when a new king, or pharaoh, arose over Egypt, who did not know (remember) Joseph.  And that meant trouble.  When we forget our history, we easily lapse into bad habits, fear, and even hatred.  When the new pharaoh forgot what Joseph had done for Egypt, his fear of the growing Hebrew population took over.  That led to the enslavement of the Hebrews in Egypt. 

Among our cardinal precepts as Christians is the simple commandment that we love one another – that we see each other has human beings, that we know each other as persons and not objects, that we respect each other’s dignity and right to coexist.  When we begin to forget – when we cease to “know” each other, we are in grave danger of falling into the abyss of fear and hatred.  This is what we have seen in recent white supremacist actions.  This is the path to oppression and enslavement of our fellow human beings – whether it be Egyptians enslaving Hebrews, Americans enslaving African Americans, or Nazis enslaving Jews and other “lesser” races.  Nothing could be further from the teaching of Jesus.  JBM


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