Interrupted by the Real World

This week has been utterly heart-breaking about the depths of the horrors that humans can inflict on humans.

Here are some Links:

Basic facts.

Thoughts and Prayers from the amazing Sarah Bessey whose words and heart always exceed mine.

True Hope. Let’s review what Jesus really stands for, who Jesus stands with (spoiler alert: not the privileged), and what Jesus would do.

Jesus has already paid the price for our sin and the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth is already at hand. But … Not-Yet. Not Yet, oh Lord, Not Yet. Come soon.

FTGOG

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Mark 3:20-35 in review

Last Sunday was when I performed Mark 3:20-35 as a lay reader. I don’t like the word performed by the way. Some storytellers are very dramatic and use their body as an actor might. There’s a fine line or discussion to be had about when storytelling turns into acting. My inclination is to stay on the storytelling side – use my hands, face, voice, and maybe an occasional minor prop (I used a stone one time), but I don’t move my feet and don’t “mime” things. I’m also limited by the microphone placement at my church. At least once I’ve used the “wired” mic, so I could move around however I wanted to but actually made me nervous. And once we were in the chapel and not the sanctuary so there was “just” my voice – that was great. I can put on quite a performance voice and I love the smaller space and being closer to the audience!

But what I am trying to write about is “how did it go”? What did I learn? I think it went very well but this sort of analysis is not my strength. I was caught off guard by how packed church was last week, my guess is over 200 people, because it was graduating high school senior day (among other things). As much as public speaking doesn’t give me the willies, that was perhaps the largest crowd that I have had, and that was a bit of a stretch to my comfort level!

I tried very hard with my face, with my voice, to display shock when Jesus says “Who are my mother and brothers?” Because (as I wrote) I think that shock is integral to the story. He isn’t being “sweet”. Jesus is going beyond “oh we’re all family here”. He is provoking his audience to feel a moment of fear: maybe this guy is nuts. We don’t like this image of Jesus as being provoking. It’s annoying when someone behaves like this. It’s scary. It’s uncomfortable. Isn’t Jesus a nice guy?

But I have no idea if I succeeded in giving the audience that moment. Or if it matters. In the end, each person in the audience hears what message they are meant to hear from God. That trust I have in the Holy Spirit is what gives me the audacity to do this!

The second reading was I Sam 8:4-22, where Samuel outlines to the people all the ways a King will be horrible. I did not blog about it because I couldn’t connect the dots to how it tied into the Mark passage. However that is the passage that my pastor focused on in his sermon, and he referred to a King as a “strong man”. That for me was when scripture shimmered.

“But no one can enter a strong man’s house

and plunder his property

without first tying up the strong man;

then indeed the house can be plundered.”

Once you give power to a King, how can you tie him up? How can anyone from the outside plunder a strong man’s property? Only from the changed and broken heart of a King, could real and lasting change come instead of (to coin a phrase) just a game of thrones. What is power anyway?

Pick a king carefully. And consider this guy who talks in parables and is deliberately provoking. What sort of “king” is he anyway?

FTGOG

 

Prepping for the Festival Gathering of NBS 2018

This year’s Festival Gathering of the Network of Biblical Storytellers is going to be at the beginning of August in Dayton, Ohio. There will be about 200 people, maybe more, and nearly all of them definitely extroverts. It is wonderful friendly warm welcoming bunch of people; a Venn diagram of pastors/church professionals + biblical scholars + professional storytellers/actors + a handful of “civilians” like me. It is 3-1/2 wonderful days of worship, keynote speaker diving deep into a topic and texts, and wonderful and varied breakout groups. It is place where you can say something like, “You know I’ve been thinking about the motif of fire in scripture and how it runs all through it, alternating between purifying and destructive.” And people will nod and discuss and add thoughts to your thought. It is pretty much my idea of heaven.

It is an excellent place to be a beginner and learn how to tell the story.

It is an excellent place to be not a beginner and keep on learning!

There is worship everyday and it is wonderful and out of the ordinary. The Keynote speaker speaks the first three days and has never ever been even slightly dull. The Keynote speaker is given the three themes of that year’s conference and they get to suss it all out and weave it together. There are workshops. There is story theater where you listen to folks tell longer-than-usual stories and just are amazed. There are breaks and exhibits and games and …. the very best thing is the Epic Tell. That is when a book or a large part of a book of the Bible is split up into sections and a bunch of storytellers who volunteer each have a piece and they go on one after another, maybe 30 people or so. It is hard to describe. For about 2 hours a section of scripture is performed. This year is 1 Kings 1-11. Hearing scripture out loud and hearing a huge continuous bit of it is an unique experience. You hear rhythms and themes and images repeat or stand out or interweave that you just would not hear reading in silence.

Every evening, sometimes going on quite late, is “Lighting the Fire” and that is when anyone can sign up for a “slot” that is no more than 8 minutes and tell a story. Any story. There are “jack” stories about impossible adventures and misadventures, there are sad/happy/wise stories, there are fables and folklore, there are scripture stories, there are true stories — anything at all. It is very special.

Besides the Epic Tell, this year’s “theme stories” are all about our hearts — God has or wants to write on hearts, turn our hearts of stone to hearts of love.

II Cor. 3: 1b-6

Jer. 31:31-34

Deut. 6:1-9

I think over the weeks before the Festival I’ll see if I get one or more by heart my ownself and blog about them.

My story part 16; when God spoke to me

About ten years or so after being baptized, I started a “prayer life.” Now, I’m still not actually very good prayer. But that year for Lent I decided to pray — or at least sit in silence and breath — for at least 10 mins a day and pray, right after dinner. This became a true and beautiful joy for me and the second after that Easter I never went back to it. Such it is to be human.

But one particular moment in those 40 days of 10 minutes of quiet stands out. Because I was pouring out my fear to God, that I wasn’t a good enough. That I didn’t know what I was being “called” to do. What feelings of failure swept over me!

Clear as a bell — very very clear — a Voice that was not my voice said:

“Do not be afraid, take care of your child, and have fun.”

Now you might be thinking that’s a pretty easy message from God. But you have to know that I am afraid of everything except public speaking and needles. Everything. Thunder. Dogs. Driving over bridges. Going outside. Being trapped inside. Everything! It’s never truly stopped me. I have always just sort of set my jaw and done what is needed. But the fear is always with me.

And may I ask, where does “taking care of your child” end? What is healthy limits and what is indulgence? What is creating food issues versus nutrition? What about pollution or this injust world we live in? What is the difference between “keeping your child completely safe” and “give your child roots and wings to fly”?

And fun? don’t even get me started. Fun!? Who has time for fun?! What sort of fun? (I eye the Ferris wheel suspiciously and keep an eye out for bees at the outdoor concerts.) Fun for me is reading. What does God mean “have fun”? How selfish is that, anyway?

I have been living into this message from God everyday since then, sometimes maybe even successfully. Less fear, more love. More time spent together and less teaching. More joy and less perfection.

And I cling to the mercy of grace, that all my failings might be forgiven.

FTGOG

Midrash for Mark 3:20-35

First family

After explaining to the disciples

And to the crowd

And even the scribes from Jerusalem

That his mother and brother and sisters where those

Who do the will of God

There is no doubt in my mind

that he did go outside the house

And smiled at his family,

Opened his arms wide,

And his littlest brother who was not yet thirteen

Ran into his arms and Jesus

Swung him around

As normal.

 

Which broke the tension, and his sisters

And other brothers scrambled to him.

Jesus had watched over them as a big brother does

Had held the family together after Joseph died

Had shown them love

Every day of their lives.

 

Mary was the last, the children stood aside

and he saw the sorrow in her eyes

He didn’t say anything

There was nothing to say

They both knew where the journey was going

And that it was necessary.

Mary touched his cheek gently and tilted her head

An apology for her fear.

Gently he embraced her

On her head she felt his breath,

Pressed her ear to his chest and heard

The beating of his heart.

Mark 3:20-35 and time for the footnotes and the word “demon”

In doing research on a passage that I am prepping to tell by heart — not this Sunday but next Sunday, yikes! — at some point I turn to the footnotes. It is always, being honest here, a boring thing to do that sometimes yields big returns. So let’s see what happens with Mark 3:20-35.

The first footnote calls this section “a controversy about exorcism and forgiveness is inserted into an episode about Jesus’ family”. Yes, I think I pulled on those threads pretty well already. It is interesting that Matthew 12:46-50 is nearly the same story of Jesus family, but without it being wrapped inside a story about Jesus having a demon. I think Mark’s version is much more effective or at least dramatic. Luke 8:19-21 is another very close version of the family story. All three synoptic gospels seem to make the same point: We followers of Jesus are “in the family”. The footnote in Luke says “Early Christian usage of this “fictive kinship” language was distinctive.”

See footnotes often cause more trouble. There’s a whole thesis or maybe a shelf on a library somewhere unpacking that tidy little statement. ha! For my purposes, it is safe to say that at that time and place — and perhaps still — who your blood relatives are puts you in your place. Jesus is not having that. He is adopting us. He (and by implication God) loves us like beloved family.

Feel free to jump in the comments if you want to pull on that string harder.

Skipping down in the footnotes, this one caught my eye: “The absence of Jesus’ father with “his mother and his brothers” is of disputed significance.”

Another shelf in the library perhaps! I remember a long-ago bible study where the  speaker said that it was at least logical to suppose that Jesus up to the death of Joseph obeyed Joseph and worked with him as a carpenter. The death of Joseph is what “freed” Jesus to begin his ministry — to obey his heavenly father after his obligation to his earthly father was complete. This is midrash as far as I know. But it also makes some sort of emotional sense to me. Joseph is not mentioned in stories of Jesus’ ministry; he must have died.

Now of course there are many footnotes leading to connections and info about demons and exorcisms. Remember when I started this I said to just roll with the word “demon”? Of course there may be demons. We in our spiffy modern world do well to just read the newspaper and realize evil is alive and well. So maybe demons. It sounds like something out of a horror movie and I hate horror movies and I’m not going further in that direction than saying: who am I to say that there are not demons?

But the footnotes do seem to agree that at that time and place this was how mental illness was described, and perhaps diseases such as epilepsy and so on. Does this change the story that much? “The doctors came from the Mayo Clinic with new treatments, saying he is just suffering from an imbalance in serotonin and some how that is causing him to say and do these healings of others. And Jesus called to them and spoke to them in questions saying, Look a serotonin imbalance is real, and what are its symptoms? To first diagnose a disease you must have a clear view of the symptoms. Depression cannot cure depression. Mania cannot cure mania. A misdiagnosis is a serious and harmful thing. ”

So that is why I just roll with the terminology of demons, it doesn’t really change the story, I think.

Jesus was sound in mind, and to think otherwise is at best a harmful misdiagnosis and at worst an eternal sin. That’s a pretty serious take away. Thank goodness he loves us like family! This story would be too scary otherwise!

FTGOG

My story and a miracle

In thinking about “my story of faith” I realize that I have not yet writen about my miracles, I think. Which is because in general they won’t sound like miracles to anyone else. I wonder if perhaps that is how miracles work, the real ones. You know it was unreal luck but saying it out loud it just sounds like “so what, that could have just happened or it was bound to happen”.

So here is the story of our second-biggest miracle, which is going to sound materialistic and silly and over-wrought. Oh well! That’s okay. Here’s my witness!

We were young. We had a baby. We needed a house. The baby and the cat needed a house. Seriously. We needed just a small house in a safe place with good schools. Don’t think big dreams of granite countertops or anything like that. Just a little house for the two us and our baby and a cat. And we found the perfect house. That we could afford. With good schools. With a park.

But we needed someone to buy our condo so that we could buy the house. And it had been months; no one was buying condos. We lowered the price and lowered again and no had bought.

So do we rent the condo and buy the house?

Do we keep waiting and hope we will find the perfect house again?

My husband and I are many things, but suitable to being landlords is really not one of them. And we do not like debt at all; the thought of two mortgages was terrifying. We prayed that night. We prayed and ended up saying, “God if our condo sells and we can still get this little house, that that is what we will do. If not we will trust you that another little house will be around.” We went to sleep that night absolutely not worried. It was in God’s hands. Suddenly we didn’t need the house. We needed — and had — peace of mind.

The next day — the very next day — we got an offer on our condo.

We got our little house.

 

Mark 3:20-35 practice and a surprise

Working on Mark 3:20-35 — to get it down by heart — has been a challenge because of the structure of the story and the repetition or almost-repetition of some of the words. But it continues to be fun to study and think about. You might be wondering how to get something memorized?

Well, in short, you just do it. You just get the words in your head. You just tell the story to yourself over and over; I do it in chunks. And I finally have all the chunks basically in my head and am working on being “word perfect” (or if I’m going to vary some of the words intentionally versus by mistake). And I’m not smooth yet. I spent about 20 or 30 minutes one morning at church, where it was less disruptive than home, and just practiced out loud, then checked the bible, then practiced, then checked, and etc. I practice out loud when I’m driving to work or driving home. I practice silently in my head when I’m falling asleep or in the shower. Basically to get the words inside, I swim in the words. I write the words down and look for connections.

The best connections seem to happen by surprise, which is what happened the morning I practiced at church. It was the first time I really had the space to let my voice power out. After all, my family doesn’t need to hear my loud performance voice.

In saying it out loud, I heard it. And this story seems to be: Is this guy Jesus, who has a mother and brothers and sisters, just delusional? Seriously, is he the Son of God or a prophet or … just someone who isn’t in his right mind? Someone who has a demon?

And the structure of the story — remember my post about that? That I didn’t know why Jesus’ family is mentioned, then we’re off sorting out the scribes, and then we are back to his family?

Well, I think it popped into my brain, at least one possible reason or feature of it. Because Jesus, in responding to the scribes, has proven pretty well that he is in control of himself, that he is clever, that he is calm, that he is not being controlled by a demon or by random impulses.

But then his family comes back and the crowd says, hey your Mother and brothers are outside. And verse 33 happens:

“And he said, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

And for a second — how long a second? — there must have been a sudden pause in the minds of the crowd sitting at his feet. Doesn’t this guy know who his mother and brothers are? Has this guy forgotten his family? Is this guy actually not in control of his mind?

Just a second, just for a second, did we all doubt? Did those sitting there doubt him at that moment, maybe even feel the cold breeze of fear?

And how completely beautiful that Jesus brings it home, to our hearts: we are his brothers, sisters, and mother, we who do the “will of God”, we who sit at his feet.

Jesus loves us that much, that we are in the family.

Imagine sitting at his feet, he’s been talking about the scriptures (I think) and then he sorts out those scribes from Jerusalem. Your guy here is on fire. You’ve got people’s knees in your back, and your knees are hitting people, and the air is maybe a bit ripe, even with the door open. You are thirsty and hungry but at the same time you are learning so much, and feeling so much hope: this guy is making God’s love seem real. And then that moment of doubt, of fear, that you’ve been tricked all along? And then he looks you in the eyes — you know it is you he is looking at — and he calls you his sister.

And you have never felt so safe and beloved.

Mark 3:20-35 and forgiveness

In trying to get this whole thing, Mark 3:20-35, into my heart so I can tell the story, I am saying the lines

“Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins
And all the blasphemies they utter”

with a bit of weariness. With a pause between “sins” and “and all”. But it changes in tone depending on which word you “punch” — try it yourself:

PEOPLE can be forgiven all their sins…
People CAN BE forgive all their sins….
People can be FORGIVEN all their sins…
People can be forgiven ALL their sins…
People can be forgiven all THEIR SINS….
This could be a prayer…..

Try it with a question mark in your voice.

Try it with an exclamation mark in your voice.

Try it with joy.

etc.

FTGOG

Mark 3:20-35 and the confusing part

The confusing part, of course, are the tiny “parables” — riddles really — that are in Mark 3:20-35, at least for me: Verses 24 through 28.

I’m not sure about this but I think here Jesus is saying: I’m perfectly rational. I make sense and can think. I’m reasonable and responsible for my actions. I’m teaching people and loving them and healing them with my actions; my actions are not destructive.

I’m still standing, says Jesus.

A Kingdom cannot be divided and stand.

A house cannot be divided and stand.

Even Satan cannot divide himself and stand.

Perhaps this is why blasphemy against the Holy Spirit – believing that the work of the Spirit is that of the demonic – is not forgivable, because that is to not see or not understand good and evil. Maybe? Once we humans understand good and evil, we were out of the Garden and into the world – the Garden could not stand against that knowledge, in a sense. So having that knowledge, that ability to know good and evil, means using it. Not mistaking those categories.

The only reason I have dragged in some of Genesis is because this passage is linked with Genesis in the lectionary. This world is a fallen world for whatever reason; the one thing we have now is understanding what is good and what is bad.

I’m sure there are other possibilities for “the sin against the holy spirit” and why it can never have forgiveness. This is, frankly, a couple very uncomfortable lines. Can’t God forgive anything? This just seems so wrong and harsh. Let’s go back to sheep.

To be fair, both the scribes and Jesus’ family are trying to understand what is good and what is bad – they are worried and maybe afraid. They just happen to not understand the category that Jesus is in as of yet. Their rules are maybe too formal. Maybe their logic is shaped by fear.

Jesus is responding to conflict essentially by saying “hey I’m still standing. I’m okay. This isn’t a demon.” Not with some a fierce superhero-ish display of power and might. Just by using his words.

FTGOG