Deut. T-Deut. T-Deut. Deut. Deuteronomy

Deut. T-Deut. T-Deut. Deut. Deuteronomy

Reflection on Deuteronomy?

Every couple of years my church asks me to write something for their Daily Devotions. When the request appeared in my inbox this year, it included the assignment list for the Advent writers. I sent a note to Pastor Rocky, “You get Mark and I get Deuteronomy?”

I’m not sure I have a favorite book in the Old Testament, but I am sure I have a least favorite—Deuteronomy. It has always seemed to me that this book is reserved for scholars; we lay people aren’t supposed to know its secrets.

Deuteronomy 18:15-18: The Lord your God will raise up a prophet like me from your community, from our fellow Israelites. He’s the one you must listen to. That’s exactly what you requested from the Lord your God at Horeb, on the day of the assembly, when you said, “I can’t listen to the Lord my God’s voice any more or look at this great fire any longer. I don’t want to die!” The Lord said to me: What they’ve said is right. I’ll raise up a prophet for them from among their fellow Israelites—one just like you. I’ll put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.

Reflection. There’s no secret in this passage. Moses tells us we are getting what we asked for, someone we can talk to, who knows what it is to love and suffer and be happy and sad. He’ll be human, a Jew and a Prophet, like Moses. And when He comes, we can trust His words because He’ll be speaking for God.

Watch out if you see a prophet coming your way. They’re not foretellers of the future. They are truthtellers of the present, who expose hidden gracelessness. Jesus is God’s Truthteller. He digs into my dry bones and pulls out the person He wants me to be. I want to be that person too. Sometimes. I often hide from the truth—fearing ridicule and silent scorn because my greatest obsession is to be normal and to fit in.

God’s Truthteller came in the form of a sassy teenager recently: “you think you’re so privileged.” she said when my wrinkled old mouth asked for her seat on the bus. God’s Truthteller told me to love her, to be a Christian, to trust Him with her words.

Prayer. Thank you God, for sending me your Truthteller, a baby I can cherish, a man I can believe, and a friend I can trust. Expose the flimflam thoughts I tell myself and give me courage to have a life of truth and grace.

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See more Daily Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church Chicago here.

How I Do Without Hate

As a reward for living through every day since November 8, 2016, I look to Haagen Dazs Dulce de Leche. Each day I try to do without hate. But I judge each day’s news as the worst thing I ever heard. Every. Single. Day. A bit of solace comes briefly through a pint of ice cream.

Doing without ice cream when the emotional alarms clang requires me to Hold myself tight for fear my limbs, my tongue, my head will whirly-gig out of control and irreparably damage my spirit-mind, not to mention my friendships. The Hold relaxes briefly with one simple pint. And then I do without until the wind gusts the whirly-gig back into motion.

Holding myself together generates an inward turn I take without looking both ways. I involuntarily drive straight to the core where I look for Jesus. From 2003-2011 I worked in Cook County government with a lively crew where the listening was easy. I belonged there, with cultures other than mine. God manifested himself through black and brown christs who spoke of Him: Have a Blest Day, Stay Prayerful, Jesus Loves You. Whenever the bosses above dumped demons into my serenity, Big Jim appeared and quietly laid a copy of a page from the Bible on my desk with a comforting Jesus quote circled in red. John 8:10 I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me won’t walk in darkness but will have the light of life.

The Catholic nuns gave me Jesus in grade school. He walked beside me like an imaginary floppy-eared bunny. As a newly-formed adult I moved from certainty about God and his Son to doubt. Preachers told me to welcome doubt, to throw certainty out with the th-6evening garbage, that doubting God strengthens faith. And it did. Until I started doing my own version of God. I built a periodic table of spiritual elements with blocks of God-info such as heaven and hell don’t exist and Jesus’ Resurrection is simply a symbol of renewed life. Trouble is, I silently scorned those who didn’t believe as I did. When I first met my co-workers I held a colonizing view of their beliefs. Over time my religious formulas fell in the trash heap. As slave descendants, they daily transformed their passed-down spiritual trauma into “I believe.”

Now in my own spiritual trauma I yearn for the comforting words of Big Jim and Shunice, for them to assure me Jesus loves us, all of us, including the remnants of the November 8, 2016 tragedy. I look for faith in my post-work world but Jesus is subtly tucked in for the night. My white-only community seems embarrassed, even ashamed to mention His name.

Well, I miss Him, miss talking about Him, miss Him talking to me through the kindness
and courage of my old work friends. A pint of ice cream doesn’t fill the void but it will do to keep the whirly-gig still until the Floppy-Eared Bunny wakes me in the morning.

Acting Against Type

Acting Against Type

Sitting in my church pew for the last 45 years I’ve heard from time to time that characters in the Old Testament are types of Christ. For instance, the Jonah story — spending three days and nights in the belly of a whale before the big fish spat him out on the beach is a type of Christ because the tale is a foretelling of Jesus spending three days in hell after he died, then emerging from his tomb onto the shores of Christianity. I don’t know why all this typology is necessary to connect the Old Testament to the New or, for that matter, what it has to do with me.

Grandpa Bill Burke

I suspect looking to the past to explain the present is a natural phenomenon, one we’ve used to nail each generation’s stake in the Oregon Trail of human history. Christian typology fortifies this grand obsession. Just as actors fruitlessly try to escape typecasting by choosing roles that are opposite their types, we cannot escape the age-old pull of seeing signs of our type in those who’ve gone before us.

A cousin named Barb Violi found me a few years ago through FaceBook. My father had spoken of his sister once or twice, but  he never mentioned she had children, or that he visited them in Memphis from time to time. When I visited Barb for the first time in her home in Omaha last month, she shouted, “Oh my God, you look just like Grandpa.”

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Barb Violi with Zoe & Louie

Looking for signs of my type in them, I was hungry for Barb’s memories about Grandpa and our other relatives. There were a few similarities in the dead forebears but nothing like that of Barb herself who is a rabid Democrat, cultivates indoor geraniums, loves her Scottish Terriers, swims and rides her bicycle and has art-covered walls. Her yard is full of birdhouses and flamingo planters. We are the same type

Barb told me our grandmother’s name was Katherine. My father was the type who kept secrets. He’d never mentioned her. She was killed in a car accident when he was a toddler in Terre Haute. My son unwittingly named his daughter Katherine with no knowledge of his great-grandmother’s name. My father’s father, whose looks I favor, had a girlfriend, Stacy, whom my father secretly visited in Indianapolis. My father named his youngest daughter, my sister, Stacy. My mother, who was an east-coast snob, couldn’t have known the connection because she would never have stood for naming Stacy after anyone connected to my father. Barb disclosed that most of my father’s relatives were not the drinking type. My mother found non-drinkers the ultimate in lower life forms. The only thing lower: Midwesterners.

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The Midwest

I keep looking for some ancestral typecasting to blame for my body shape, my alcoholism, my arthritis, my murderous thoughts. Jesus and Buddha both taught that we are who we are in the moment, unyoked from the past or the future.

Adhering to this spiritual axiom requires me to act against type.

Does Anyone Really Like to Read This Stuff?

Does Anyone Really Like                                 to Read This Stuff?

From the backseat of my earliest memories I hear, “Why did God make me? God made me to know Him and to serve Him in this world and the next.” It’s the first lesson I memorized in Catholic grade school, before I could even read. Sometime in my early life I heard about the Bible but our religious lessons were taught from the Baltimore Catechism with no mention of the Bible. Nuns told me Jesus was my friend, but never cited Scripture to back up the claim. Some have said the Church of Rome never wanted the Flock to read the Bible lest they start thinking for themselves, rather than having their theology managed by priests.

UnknownAt Sacred Heart Academy the high schoolers were graded on their verbatim delivery of the 1700-word Passion of Christ from the Gospel of John. Seventh graders were required to sit through a recitation of the Passion as part of Religion class. I never listened at Sunday Mass, so my first hearing of Bible passages was the torture and execution of my friend Jesus. These bloodcurdling passages sparked a morbid curiosity about the rest of the Bible, but I didn’t have a Bible to read on my own. My parents, indwelled with a long lineage of Irish-Catholic hatred for non-Catholics, refused to have a Bible in the house “like those Protestants.”

I borrowed a Bible when I enrolled in a Bible course, part of the initiation rites of the born-again cult I belonged to in the 1970’s. The elders used Scriptural passages to confront me and my live-in, abusive boyfriend with an ultimatum to either marry or separate. We chose marriage because neither of us could face life without sex. For a wedding gift, we received a gilt-edged Harper’s Study Bible, inscribed in gold, with my name misspelled (Reagen). Owning the Bible exalted me into the fellowship I craved, and I feverishly used that Bible for the next three years, marking the margins with exclamatory words, folding over pages and bookmarking meaningful passages.

I didn’t reject the Bible when I left the cult, rather I never liked the Bible and was even repulsed by it. Aside from my own bad experiences with it, the Bible’s first book, Genesis, talks of God creating Paradise and throwing out the first humans because they wanted toth be gods themselves (who wouldn’t?). Then, that couple had two boys and one of them killed the other. Most of the rest of the Old Testament describes violent gangs warring over territory, an angry God, and thousands of flawed people wandering in the desert.

In February 2013, I heard Catholic contemplative Richard Rohr say to 1,500 retreat-goers that Bible stories are myths to provide insight into human nature. The simple transformative act of spiritual hearing jolted me into a surprising love for reading the Bible—the same Bible that has been there all along.