Wednesday, February 20, 2008

123 Book Tag

I saw this on Will Deuel's blog.

Here are the rules:

1 - Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. (Just grab one, no cheating!)
2 - Find Page 123.
3 - Find the first 5 sentences.
4 - Post the next 3 sentences.
5 - Tag 5 people, who will post theirs in the comment section.

Here is mine:

“One might suggest that the Star Wars movies are designed for children, and that portraying the notion that war is hell would be too gruesome and emotionally distrubing for a young age group. But this defense fails for the simple reason that, unless it is shown to be morally questionable (and that, presumably, is something most children could relate to on some level), violence is rendered part of the everyday, ‘natural’ fabric of existence - at the very least, not a bad thing, and, at most, the (only) path to redemption.”

(I’m only including two sentences because there are so many dependent clauses involved! So complicated!)

And so I am TAGGING:
1 - Brad
2 - Adam
3 - Justin (welcome to the blogosphere, JZ)
4 - Erika
5 - Anyone else who wants to!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ignatian Examen - It is Called a Discipline for a Reason

"Recall that you are in the presence of God."

This is the first line of the Examen prayer that I am using this Lent as a spritual discipline. (In fact, I'm inviting the whole congregation to participate.) The Examen is a structured time of prayer and reflection with five or six specific steps to go through at the end of each day. It takes maybe 10 - 20 minutes, depending on how deep I go.

But having done it every night for the past couple of weeks, I have realized a pretty cool thing. During the day, in the "heat of the moment" as it were, I just have to say that first line, "Recall that you are in the presence of God," and suddenly there is clarity and breathing space in a way that there wasn't before.

When something happens that is upsetting, "Recall that you are in the presence of God" calms me down so that I can respond more appropriately.

When my to-do list threatens to overwhelm, "Recall that you are in the presence of God" helps me prioritize my day, moment by moment.

When my latent perfectionism freezes me into unmotivated hebetude, "Recall that you are in the presence of God" liberates me to fail gloriously without fear.

And so forth.

I think that's one of the reasons that a spiritual practice needs to be a "discipline" - so that it becomes ingrained, habitual, so much a part of me that just thinking the first line allows me to sense a bit of what I sense when I do the full thing each evening. To borrow from our Buddhist friends, I am able to get into a state of mindfulness very quickly. Just uttering the first line calms me down, heightens my awareness of the present presence of God, and gives me room to breathe.

It's the same thing with music, too. The first couple licks of "You Got to Funkafize" by Tower of Power are all I need to hear for me to get taken to another place. When I hear the opening of U2's "Sunday, Bloody Sunday," I'm awakened immediately. The thunderous opening of the Dies Irae movement in Verdi's "Requiem" catapult me to a different dimension instantly. It's because I am so intimately familiar with these pieces that just hearing one small part of them elicits my response to the whole.

So it is with a spiritual discipline. With the repetition comes familiarity, and a more immediate access to the fullness of the practice. All of which, of course, is intended to draw us ever closer to God, and to becoming the people God desires that we become.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Do Not Oppress the Alien

There has been a very long and in-depth conversation going on at Locusts & Honey about immigration policy. Click here to read through the comments.

John prompted the conversation by asking "to whom the OT refers to as 'foreigners'" in the several passages that instruct God's people in how to treat them. John wonders, are the foreigners/aliens people in Israel "legally" or are they "undocumented" or perhaps the Bible is referring to all foreigners, regardless of legal status.

Good question, and obviously (judging from the comment thread) an evocative one.

What if, though, the reference to "foreigners" is not so nuanced as we might try to make it? What if the Bible is just talking about non-Jews in general? The Jewish people were chosen by God to be a nation or a people. That "chosen people" status permeates the entire Hebrew Bible. To try to make the term refer to our contemporary idea of immigrants may be a stretch, historically speaking. The national identity of the Jews is tied to the land, to be sure, but physical national boundaries were shifty things back then, and even more so the Jewish national identity is about their relationship with God.

So what if those Hebrew Bible references to the foreigner or the alien are describing how people who have a relationship with God should treat people who do not have a relationship with God? Or perhaps how people of one particular religious tradition treat those of another, especially how those of the predominant tradition treat those in the minority?

Or what if it is all of the above? What if it is a broader, more sweeping instruction than we can imagine? What if a Scriptural listing of alien, foreigner, widow, and orphan calls us to notice any and all who are marginalized by the predominant system, whatever it may be, and then to act justly on their behalf? Then the question becomes not "What country are you from?" but rather "How are you being hurt by the predominant system?"

And then, applying that to the contemporary discussion of immigration reform, it calls people to notice how others are being hurt by the U.S. system of immigration. How families may be separated. How bureaucracy drags the process into inordinantly long times. How unbelievably expensive it is. How predators abuse people by inflating the cost of their services which promise help navigating the unwieldy system. How depending upon which official is considering your case on any given day, you might be approved or denied, seemingly at random. How following one office's instructions to the letter doesn't necessarily meet another office's expectations, which can mean either flat-out denial of your request or shuffling it into someone's inbox somewhere until they are able to dig it out and consider it, at which point they may just refer you to another office somewhere to start over again. And so forth.

For me, the immigration issue is not about language or culture or national laws being broken. For me, immigration reform is all about changing the way a predominant system oppresses, marginalizes, and dehumanizes people.

I am hopeful to hear your thoughts, as we continue an important conversation.