The Flood, Easter and Anger Managment

In scripture, one idea that returns over and over is that of “covenant.” The myth is like so: God punishes humanity for its sin, sees what he has done, and promises never to punish humanity ever again, and makes a covenant with all life. The symbol of that covenant is the rainbow.

Although I’m sure we all breath a sigh of relief that God has made such a promise to protect all life, I still find the story a little disturbing. I find destroying an entire civilization a bit… a little extreme, perhaps over the top, and – if I may say so – a little psychotic. And then He wants to apologize?

It is as if that we’re being told, “Look God’s peaceful now. He used to be violent. Aren’t we glad he changed?” I am. Although there are times where I wonder if people (or God), really change. Should I be looking over my shoulder to see if God has it in for me? Isn’t God changeless?

So why is it that God gets really angry at his children? He threatens punishment, even though scripture also says he is, most of the time, slow to anger.

Let’s first admit that this anthropomorphic soldier God is useful to a point. It’s not absolutely useful, but it provides a little object for the imagination. We can be thankful that a former soldier God wants to become a peacemaker. I think of the great Indian King Ashoka, who after seeing the rivers of bodies and blood that he was responsible for, gave up all war and built his kingdom for the sake of peace and prosperity for all his people. We don’t need to end the story with God being a man on a chariot. God is fundamentally a peacemaker. It may seem, on our worst days, that God has it in for us. But our trust is that he wants us to thrive.

It might be that we had not learned from the story of Cain and Abel. They had competed for God’s attention. God chose a favorite. And Abel was killed. What does this say? Violence is a consequence of believing that we have to compete for God’s attention.

We don’t. There may be people who prosper more than we do, who seem to have the abundance of God’s blessings; but we are still expected to care for each other. It was a violent society that the scriptures say God wanted to cleanse.

To me our current financial mess (What’s next? Our Pensions?), looks a lot like a world-wide deluge. Might our civilization crumble if credit disappears? Our promises in the future, based upon the immaterial photons of light, the LED screens that represented the great wealth we thought we had, now gone.

The cash we thought was there was a ghost. We built castles with it; we asked it to fund our universities; we even played poker with it and took its money. And now, it has vanished, and the pundits hope that the ghosts will once again return.

But there is one road to salvation – and that is trust. The rainbow that the scriptures tell us that God gave is the Lord saying, “trust me.” If you think trust makes no sense, you would be absolutely right. There are few good reasons to trust: nobody wants to open their books; they won’t take risks to hire; they won’t expand. People do not trust each other’s accounting; they withdraw and withold from each other. They’ve been burned, and they won’t get burned again. And with that the whole economy can come crushing down. They are justified in their suspicion, and with that, the flood begins, and we will all be drowning.

What happened during the flood? A violent world was destroyed, and replaced with a new differentiation of animals, a new tribal system that brought peace and order.

The scriptures, however, give some clues as to what this might mean. In Peter “a few, that is eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you.” We have all been touched by the flood, but through this, we are brought up and out and another stage of peace will come before us.

We are reminded that trusting one another means we are responsible for each other; that we invest in each other; that we empower one another. And it makes little sense – our instinct is to flee, to demand our own needs get satisfied first, to wait for others to save us.

There is a brighter future on the horizon, that will come out of being baptized in the current disaster. We might not see it now. but as the deluge begins, it is our trust in each other, that web of relationships that God has invited us into, that will lift us up and sustain us in these coming days. Peter indicates that even the righteous, the ark itself, was baptized by the flood. But this was just a prelude for what we will see.

Moving the Furniture

What does our furniture say about us?

I’ve got a garage full of furniture that my brother and I inherited after my parents deceased. In the rectory is furniture that has been donated or loaned to me over the last ten years. It doesn’t all match, but after a while it becomes more familiar. Perhaps my furniture says I have different sorts of s(h)elves.

Or that I’m just too lazy to throw any of it away.

The furniture we love the most is that which lasts. We associate memories with furniture thats been around a long time. Such timeless furniture is also the most expensive, and sometimes requires the care of talented artisans. It is even more ecologically responsible.

Most of us have probably bought furniture that is beautiful but doesn’t last very long, like at Ikea – good enough, of course. And I remember in college taking some cinderblocks and boards and thinking I had some very elegant bookshelves.

Of course, there are times when when we have to move furniture around. Although moving furniture is exhausting, it can completely alter the sense of a room. Moving a desk, a trash can, a bed can change the way we work. I have a garbage basket next to the mail box so I can throw away bills I don’t want to receive. I have my desk next to my library. I have a little island in the middle of the kitchen. Furniture in the right place changes the way we move and think. Puting a TV in the bedroom makes it our bedroom companion. Putting one in the dining room does the same. Personally, I think it’s best to have only one, and put it in the den. Not that I’m judging others who do things differently.

A little more than a year ago we moved the furniture in the church. We did this in part because the nature of the spirit is one that should bring people closer together and see the image of God in people who are different: old, young, black, white, male, female, bearded, and limping. To name a few. Having to see each other makes us aware of the many dimensions God is reflected.

There is a style of having furniture called “feng shui.” I’m not a proponent of this style of arranging furniture, but it does point to the fact that arranging furniture is important, and it reflects a sense of our own humanity and sense of the sacred.

There is a small irruption to thinking about furniture too much, and that is because our Israelite forebears were very much pilgrims. Perhaps this means we are not to be so concerned with furniture: we’re reminded that God is not an idol – a piece of furniture – but actually works in our lives when we have arranged spaces for Him to express His life.

Have you ever been in a place that is too crowded? A closet, a room with just too much furniture? A space that doesn’t allow for movement? The word “salvation” comes from a concept of opening up space: and perhaps this is what we are trying to do now: move the furniture so that we have space. Space to love, space to play, space to touch the God that seeks to move in our lives.

So when you see the furniture moved in our sacred space, ponder what it feels like. And perhaps it is useful to consider what your space says about who you are, what you value, and how you work. If you’re stuck in your mind, in your work, or in your life, perhaps the simple answer is to move some furniture around and see what happens.

Which is exactly what we’re trying to do here. Just see what happens. Because that is what the church is for: making things happen.

All the Credit We Need

Remember when the market crashed in 2008?

You saw the images of traders. Some were about to cry. Others rubbing their forehead, trying to figure out their next step: the frustrated frown; the blank incredulous stare; the head on the desk, the graph of the market plunging downward, probably weeping, billions under his care suddenly vanished.

Where did it go? Did they ever even exist? All that light over the internet, symbols of great wealth and power, going dark, as the numbers rapidly decrease.

What to do? Governments are cutting rates; others are taking over banks. They are busycajoling people to share and stop hoarding, to get the big monetary institutions to trust each other again. But even governments themselves are having a hard time. Iceland, after 10 years of buying up parts of Europe, is back to fishing.

Mark Taylor, the theologian, uses the metaphor of poker to describe the desire to keep the markets trading. But the poker game has ended. We’re sitting around the table, deciding its time to go and cash in our chips, when the banker of the house says, I’ve got no money. Your chips are worthless. Perhaps we were just playing for fun (add wan smile and shrug).

The banker himself had invested a fair amount. He’d thought that when others bought into the game, they’d use real cash themselves. But some of us asked for credit as well when we anted up and we all agreed. Why not? We were doing it ourselves.

Most of us.

But now all the players are left stranded.

Nobody thought they’d want to end the game. They thought it would continue forever, until the end of time, or the King Returned. People would add money and our pots would just get bigger. Everyone could keep buying in.

Until just one person, or two, or three, decided they wanted to cash in.

Some will suggest that we have to continue playing: Give everyone a half-credit; redistribute the chips; Get some real money in the system. But everyone’s tired and nobody trusts the banker. Or each other.

Nobody realized that nobody had actually given the house any money.

I’m not an economist. I don’t have a crystal ball about the future. And I don’t think it’s all that helpful to offer a Panglossian veneer on the subject. People are hurting and scared and poorer. Bless them. Bless the investor, bless the banker, bless the retiree, the businessman, bless the homeowner.

At the very least, the light that was the virtual pool of wealth in cyberspace, has also revealed itself to connect every person in our commercial reality. So what are we to do with each other? Judgment? Of course. Mutual Aid? A few wishful chants of “never again?” Why not, if it makes us feel better.

I had begun writing this essay before seeing the Dow, exploring this idea of being the “master of the universe.” It’s what lots of traders thought of themselves as they were busy exchanging vast sums of money. Perhaps now comes the hard truth that we are not masters, even the most die-hard self-actualizing Rand worshipping libertarian. Once a master, now a servant.

I don’t have many suggestions. Buy low? If you’ve got money, then go ahead. Sell? Well, that’s what everyone else is doing. Invest in green infrastructure? It is tangible, but it won’t help the church endowment right now and that will have to wait until after the election that to have any impact. When you come to church, I’m not going to give you any stock tips. Except Berkshire Hathaway, and you’ve probably already figured that one out yourself.

But I do know this:

I hope that at the end of the day, if you’ve lost gobs of money trading, you have a sweetheart you can go home to who just doesn’t give a damn about the millions you’ve lost.

I also hope that your number isn’t published.

I hope that your children will run up to you and give you a big kiss on the cheek just because you exist and ask you to play catch or read them a story.

I hope to Jesus that when your best friend calls you, it won’t just be to ask you about the thousands of his you lost investing in Lehman brothers, but about how your holding up. I hope he forgives you and will accept your buying him an extra round a drinks.

(By the way, what in God’s name were you thinking? You could have done a little research on credit swaps. They were toxic.)

And for those of us who don’t have much invested, we’re going to have some people to help along the way. Our soup kitchen is going to get a bit more crowded, our thrift shop will get a bit more busy (although these last two quarters we’ve had record breaking receipts. Ka-Ching!), and there will be a few people selling their businesses, or being terminated from their jobs.

I hope that here, our treasure was never in the stock market to begin with.

It was right here. Our confidence was somewhere else.

In our small tendernesses; in our sharing of scripture and stories. It was right here when ten of us drank three bottles of wine celebrating the new altar we built ourselves.

It was right here when the thrift shop ladies, myself and Debbie had soup and salmon right in the middle of the sanctuary.

Let everyone else hoard their stashes of money. Here we share a little of our mutual gratitude. Let it be enough.

Its enough for us to love each other and pick up the shards of that remain from the broken spirits and hearts around us. Its enough to be the presence of God for those who’ve been only in the presence of mammon. It is enough to just be the jar that contains the spirit of hope and courage.

It’s not much. But it’s enough.

And in a world that always wants more perhaps that’s what’s we’re saying. We know what our treasure is. And it is enough. And we can still share it and spread it around a bit.

We’ve got a little love, and we’ve got a little faith, and that’s enough.

It’s all the credit we need.

Praise Him!