Rabbi Akiva and His Questions

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Rabbi Akiva was walking home one night on the same path he always traveled, except that this night was incredibly foggy and he missed his usual turn off the path.

Soon he encounters a massive fortress.

At the gate the Rabbi hears the voice of a guard yelling to him from the wall, “Who are you and why are you here?”

Upon hearing those words, the Rabbi asks: “How much are you paid for your work?

“Two shekels a day,” the guard responded.

Rabbi Akiva then looks up at the guard and says, “I will pay you twice that if you follow me to my home and ask me those very same questions every single morning.”

Three Monks and One Sees

Benedicta Ward’s book has this story:

There were three friends, serious men, who became monks. One of them chose to make peace between men who were at odds, as it is written, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ (Matt. 5:9). The second chose to visit the sick. The third chose to go away to be quiet in solitude. Now the first, toiling among contentions, was not able to settle all quarrels and, overcome with weariness, he went to him who tended the sick, and found hims also failing in spirit and unable to carry out his purpose. So the two went away to see hims who had withdrawn into the desert, and they told him their troubles. They asked him to tell them how he himself had fared. He was silent for a while, and then poured water into a vessel and said, ‘Look at the water.’ and it was murky. After a little while he said again, ‘See now, how clear the water has become.’ As they looked into the water they saw their own faces, as in a mirror. They he said to them, ‘So it is with anyone who lives in a crowd; because of the turbulence, he does not see his sins: but when he has been quiet, above all in solitude, then he recognizes his own faults.’

Today there are two major camps in the UMC. One claims the importance of peacemaking (Conservatives) while others are claiming the importance of tending to the sick (Liberals). Both camps have a good and Biblical claim on their task, and both are making good on the call. However, we now find ourselves in a bind where both camps are failing in spirit and there is such a turbulence in the Church. Neither camp sees the value of being quiet and still. Both camps are righteous in their cause and pouring water out, baptizing the work they do. Neither camp can see, as they churn up water, that we are drowning.

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The flailing and hand waving and crying out all is in an effort to ensure we can all stay a float through these troubled waters. It is the wisdom of the third monk that we need. The one who elevates silence, stillness, patience. Of course we do not give any merit to such posturing as it is seen as irrelevant and useless (all the while forgetting that Nouwen cautions us to the temptation of relevancy and that prayer is being “useless”).

And so what is the local church and church leader to do? How can we harness the wisdom of the third monk? Perhaps we can at least recall Soren Kierkegaard, who said, “Faith is like floating in seventy thousand fathoms of water. If you struggle, if you tense up and thrash about, you will eventually sink. But if you relax and trust, you will float.”

Church leaders, there is nothing wrong with the wisdom of the third monk. There is nothing wrong with stillness, waiting and trusting. There is nothing wrong with not doing “something”. There is nothing wrong with trusting in the buoyancy of God.

Is that not our call?

Living My Future Self Now

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There are many self-help and self-improvement advocates out there lauding the ways we can live our best life now. I don’t know about any of that, but what I do know is that we can live our future selves right now. At least in one way - forgiveness.

Think back to when you were a child and made a mistake that you have some amount of shame or embarrassment about. Many times we look at that act and forgive ourselves because we were just “dumb kids” doing things we did not think through very well. We can be quick to forgive children because children often do not know any better.

As you think of that memory and extend kindness and forgiveness to your past self, take note. Because your future self will be as forgiving to your present self, in the same way that your present self is forgiving my past self.

When you were younger you might have even thought that your future self would forgive your actions/behavior. And so, forgiving your past self in the present means you are living you (previous) future self now.

All of this to say that your future self will be as forgiving to your present self as you are presently forgiving your past self. And so give yourself a break and know you can live your future self right now by forgiving present self.

Passage of Scripture

Christians talk about scripture passages or, in the singular, a passage of scripture. The emphasis is on the phrase is the word scripture. And understandably so. Scripture the first authority (not the only authority) that Christians use to make sense. There is wisdom in the scriptures that often remains hidden to us until we prayerfully engage and wrestle with it. But I do not have to extol the importance of scripture, but rather I wanted to highlight the other word: passage.

Scripture offers us different passages, different ways, different paths to see and understand the world. There is the prophetic passage. The pastoral passage. The priestly passage. There are more passages of scripture than we can list here to be certain. These different passages of scripture guide and lead us. Like other passages in our lives, scripture passages also have many things to see and notice that are just as important (sometimes more so) than the destination the passage takes us to.

Most people who read the Bible tend to journey such that a set of passages are more worn than others. This does not mean the other, less journeyed passages are unimportant, only that through discernment we attempt to find the well worn paths. Jesus preferred the passages of Isaiah and the Psalms over, say passages of Numbers or Nehemiah. We all have passages we walk and make clear for others to journey with us.

Some say that we are to take each section of the Bible with equal weight. I find this almost impossible to do. Even Jesus had his preferred passages. And so, if Jesus is our teacher and he says that we will do things greater than he (John 14:12-14), then is it possible that we too will have preferred passages of scripture?