The Least of These

Strangers on Holy Ground: Bible Study Assignment & Reflection for Nov. 13

Read:

Matthew 15:21-28 The Canaanite Woman

Luke 10:25-37 The Good Samaritan

Matthew 25:31-46 Sheep and Goats

 Reflection:

This week, our concluding week for this study session, we read three well-known texts from the Christian canon. The commonly known names for these passages are given after their citations, because we’ll be using those names for reference. The first two texts are stories to the contemporary eye and the last connects the prophetic tradition, which bears examples and visions of what happens when we fail and when we live up to our covenant with the Holy. These three passages are also examples of how Jesus taught living faithfully: through his life, through parables, through prophetic speech.

 

Before you read, what do you know about these passages? Where have you met them before?

 

As you read, consider the role of the stranger. How are you, the reader, also a stranger in meeting these texts? How are you being called in covenant within these texts?

 

The Canaanite Woman

Canaan is the land the Hebrew people conquered and inhabited. Perhaps some Canaanites joined Israel; there is some story for that with Joshua 24, when the assembled people at are enjoined to put down their personal gods and join the covenant with the One. But others remained separate, through the Babylonian exile and after. Jesus has been engaged in a number of healings through the land. The Canaanite woman is a person who has little social authority, and if someone can be said to be socially even lower than the usual crowd Jesus associates with, she is that person. We can gather from the woman’s appeal to Jesus, “even the dogs eat crumbs from the master’s table” that Canaanites have learned not to expect to be treated as equals. Yet she asks for healing for her daughter. She’s a parent at wit’s end, having run through every option to help heal her daughter. But then she hears about this stranger teacher, who wanders around and has been doing odd things, including healing people who could not be healed. What compels people to move out of where we are known and know others? Where we feel relatively safe? Why does love move us to become strangers taking huge risks?

 

Jesus turns away from her. This is the mercy, love, serve people, hang out with the rejected guy, and he turns away from her. Don’t just slide past this moment: if he were pitching a baseball game, the umpire would call a balk and a dead ball – nobody goes anywhere. Nobody advances toward home.  How do you feel about Jesus saying “nope, not you”? How do you feel when you’re rejected? How do you feel when you’re rejected after you’ve risked a lot and suffered to reach help and then you are turned aside?

 

Jesus says he is sent only to gather the lost sheep of Israel. Why? Is this a rhetorical device? If so, tell a story about why. Does he change his mind? That would connect to the tradition of appealing apparently unjust actions the Holy seems set on taking (however you view the divinity of Jesus, he’s a representative of the Holy as a prophet-teacher, or he is the Holy). But then he relents. It seems that Jesus has one of those “oh, yeah! Practice what I teach” moments, and then he heals the stranger’s daughter from a distance.

 

 

The Good Samaritan

Really, what must we do to live into the law of our covenant? So the legal scholar asks Jesus, and rather than reply with a short answer, Jesus gives a teaching story, a parable. Teaching stories are also part of the larger tradition. They aren’t supposed to be mysterious. The mysterious bits of the Good Samaritan story come up from the cultural distance of who we are approaching the story.

 

Samaritans are like Canaanites in this story, except we’re talking about a people recognized in the story’s original context as a our near spiritual kin that we’ve had a falling out with. Families can be bitterly estranged from each other. Interfaith and interdenominational disagreements can be extremely bitter. In the United States, there’s the whole history of nativism to appreciate – anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic attitudes, laws, policies, and rhetoric. It still shows up. Every time a politician has to defend his or her beliefs or convictions not to believe, there’s the same suspicion that fueled nativism, a concern about “contamination” or “pollution.” We don’t have to search very far or dig very deep to find that kind of sentiment in how communities approach strangers. Yet, this story teaches that we’re on the wrong track when that sentiment appears. Who most fully and perfectly fulfills the law of mercy and loving the neighbor? The one everyone knows can’t actually do it (yes, if you hear echoes of Jonah’s protest about the Ninehvites being unable to repent, there’s good reason to do so).

 

When was the last time you stopped when you were busy — when you were dressed up and had places to be, when you were on your way to a very important place  — and helped someone you didn’t know? Have you ever been that person in need of help, that person all kinds of people crossed the road to avoid? How did that feel? The Good Samaritan is a story about generosity – the recognition that we are one and belong to one another, and then living that out in an uncomfortable difficult way.

 

Sheep & Goats

The last passage we’re examining belongs to the prophetic tradition. But it is the prophetic tradition as emphasized by Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Amos, not the prophetic tradition emphasized by Ezra and Nehemiah. (If your only encounter with Nehemiah is via the congregation-based community organinizing models, take the time to read Nehemiah in his context. Shared community to rebuild the city is awesome and good work, something I support, but Nehemiah is rebuilding walls in part to purify the city and keep strangers out.) In the Sheep and the Goats, Jesus is talking about weighing how well we’ve lived our covenant, and what will count the most in living that covenant. Have we paid attention to the least in our world – those who have an abundance of suffering and little social power, those who have an abundance of trouble and little considered socially redeeming, those who have an abundance of oppression and hatred and separation and little acceptance, appreciation, or love? Or have we been too busy going where we need to go, tending to “our” people, and living more comfortably? The big test is how we are with strangers.

 

Conclusion:

Once we were strangers. Often we are strangers again. When we live in ways that strangers are our kin, the people we protect and love closely, then we put ourselves in the same risky places that strangers are inhabiting. We also live the risks of imprisonment, rejection, physical danger, loss, and grief. We lose some, or all, of the context that was safe and familiar, our home holy ground. But we also gain. We gain appreciation for holy ground being made and celebrated everywhere love is, everywhere mercy is, everywhere people are taking faithful risks to live generously and compassionately, loving their true neighbors.

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Authority & Generosity in Welcoming Strangers

Strangers on Holy Ground: Reflection & Assignment for November 6

Read:

Romans 12 & 13

2 Corinthians 8 & 9

Context & Reflection:

Paul wrote to specific issues and contexts. As we read Romans chapters 12 and 13 and 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 this week, what do issues do you find these two communities are facing?  What is the story these communities are telling and living? How does that story relate to the ones we’ve been exploring, stories of being strangers and of welcoming strangers, stories of resistance and stories of risking and change?

 

When Paul was writing, what would become known as the Christian movement or the church was still part of the larger Jewish community, complete with converts from the larger Roman empire. The developing community might be attracting attention for its sectarian beliefs, evident in Paul’s writing by his understanding of how Jesus, as Messiah, brings the whole of humanity back to the One, but it was still part of this larger Jewish world. Under the Roman occupation, many different Jewish sects arise, including those who withdraw, like the Jewish community at Qum’ran. The Qum’ranic texts (often called the Dead Sea Scrolls) have become a window back into that time of intensifying exploitation, resistance, rebellion that result in the Roman army destroying the temple in Jerusalem.

The seven letters we know as the reliable letters come from this period of tumult and change under harsher Roman rule. These reliable letters are written a generation (20-30 years) before the Gospels and the book of Acts are set down. The other letters attributed to Paul date to a later era, when Christian identity is emerging separating from Judaism, and there are more issues of differing teaching and arguments among different Christian communities. The seven reliable letters are: 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, Philemon, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, 2 Corinthians, and Romans. The later letters are: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, and Hebrews. When we recognize the difference in authorship and context, how we interpret the letters changes. Paul is writing as a Jew, even though the history of Christian interpretation prefers to name him the first Christian. That tradition, however, arises after Paul. Readers meeting conflict between Acts and Paul’s letters have historically chosen Acts. We can choose differently. We have choices to make, choices now influenced by a long history of Jewish and Christian relations, a history Paul did not imagine, but whose legacy we must answer.

 

Turning to Romans 12-13, the community in Rome is evidently struggling about authority and what faith asks. This is a live question for any of the Jewish communities under Roman rule, one we see being addressed in the Gospels, too, and also part of the larger body of Jewish literature of this time. Indeed, we see that issue in the prophets from the time of the Babylonian exile through the Book of Daniel. That there is trouble around authority and faith makes a lot of sense when we realize that there is no separation of faith and state in the Roman Empire. In the Empire, public religion is the public order. Where possible, part of the strategy of conquest is to absorb indigenous religions – syncretism. But Judaism is resistant to the Roman model of syncretism, and thus, the issue of which authority is in charge becomes critical. How do you relate to this struggle about authority and living what you believe?

 

Turning to 2 Corinthians 8-9, the community in Corinth is evidently going through some struggles of its own around enoughness. It often read as literal financial insufficiency, but it could also include some spiritual elements. Being generous when we’re feeling fearful and pinched is a challenging practice, and Paul adds to that challenge by dispatching two leaders, Titus and a brother famous for preaching, two more folks to be supported by and part of the community. By sending strangers, Paul is interrupting the community as it has grown used to being. Paul encourages the community then to be faithful, less attached to particular outcomes and more attached to the practices of generosity and love.  How do you relate to the struggle in community around generosity in difficult times?

 

If welcoming strangers is a core piece of how we are as a religious people, then when our larger societies are suspicious of or persecute the stranger, we will be in conflict with the governing authorities. If welcoming strangers is part of practicing the generosity of abiding love, then when we find ourselves in less abundant times, we will meet conflict with how to live generously. Generosity is most expressed and most tested in time of want, whether we’re living in times of hunger, thirst, homelessness, hatred, persecution, or isolation. The stories we choose to live into demonstrate where we place authority, and how we accept persecution, hatred, isolation, hunger, thirst, and lots of other trials and troubles living in the authority of Abiding Love.

holy ground is wherever we find ourselves called to risk faithfully

Transforming Love: Value One

How loved and loveable do you feel? How does love challenge and stretch you every day in your larger community, in your family, among your friends?

 

The first of our core values at the City of Refuge is everyone is loved and loveable and called to make the world more loving. The world of scarcity says love and loveability only is available to some people. Love is something so scarce that we must scrabble and maneuver for a feeling that is part of what makes us fully human – and while we’re working hard to get some love, we threaten the kind of mutuality and generosity that makes for truly loving relationships. Love doesn’t have to be scarce. Love, we believe, is part of every person’s birthright and calling.

 

Love is not optional, yet we choose how loving we’re going to be many times a day. Love is a necessity for our lives, yet it is also frightening because of how vulnerable love makes us. Love is about more than feeling good or valued, though these are ways we learn how to express love. Love is about more than generosity and sacrifice, though these, too, are way we learn how to express love. Love is about belonging and sacred connection, knowing whose we are and how we are to be.

 

When we lose our sense of loveability and of being loving we can do bad things. We can hurt others. We can hurt this world. We spill tears and we spill blood. Cities of refuge were named in Deuteronomy and Numbers as ways to repair a world torn apart (Numbers 35, Deuteronomy 19). The cities were for people who had spilled blood upon the land, a place where folks could flee and study under a teacher and learn how to live a different way than before. The cities are places for turning in a new direction, turning back to the Holy and turning in love’s transforming power to how we are really called to be. The cities of refuge were places where we learned anew what it means to become neighbors, to cease being strangers at odds with one another, to becoming a community together of merciful justice. Creating contemporary cities of refuge we seek the same transformation through love. We learn how to take faithful risks together, how to trust, how to be vulnerable, how to make a positive difference in our cities, how to create places worthy of living in, places that resound with the sounds of love and not with the sounds of fear and hate.

 

The Holy already loves you and made you loveable. Together, we learn how to live into our belonging and our calling.

Strangers Become Kin – Book of Ruth

Strangers on Holy Ground: Assignment & Reflection for October 30, 2011

The Bible has differing views of strangers and these differing views will seem rather like our own issues today in many ways. How to treat migrants is part of how to be a people. Should we focus on a single way of being a people, or shall we share out some values and practices and invite the development of diverse ways of being a people together? How to treat migrants also says a lot about how we understand God. Is God only interested in single way for a single people, or is God the God of everyone with diverse ways of understanding and approaching God? If, by the time Paul shows up, we have a general agreement that God is the God of everyone, the question then turns to its second part, which is does God have different expectations of us or the same ones? I hear echoes of these concerns every time I tune into the American immigration debate, and for good reason. Part of dominant American culture (still Protestant, after all these years) is the story of a people coming to the Promised Land (and, like the Promised Land, it was already inhabited).  Assimilation changes only migrants and assimilationists usually want to control the number of migrants to a small enough flow to not require the dominant culture to change. Even if you accept that – and I am an accepter of diversity and change being mutual, based on faith, history, and human nature –  the United States is already past the point of having to change the dominant culture.

 

The Book of Ruth is a story that argues against keeping out strangers, a story that shows what is possible when chesed is a key practice in human relations. Chesed is part of tikkun olam, repairing the world. Chesed is loving-kindness, compassion, commitment in covenant (not contract). Ruth is set at the time of Judges, a time of tumult when the people are learning how to be a people again, this time not in slavery and not wandering through the desert, but living together as a nation. But Ruth was probably written during the first wave of exiles returning from Babylon. The choice of setting, if written at the end of the exile, serves as an argument then: we’ve had to learn how to go from being strangers to being a people before and we can do so again, if we stay loyal to chesed. Ruth then stands in contrast to the anti-stranger build-higher-walls-and-keep-them-out texts of Ezra and Nehemiah. Ruth invites us to a story of faithful risk, not knowing how things will turn out, and not putting our trust in walls or rulers or rules, but in trusting both God and the power of chesed.

 

Nobody in the Book of Ruth knows things are going to be okay. Their life experiences are that life is unsure and often sad, painful, and disappointing. The book begins in famine in the land of bread, with the death of families and future, protection and fulfillment. No point along the way is it sure that love, kindness, of fulfillment will prevail. Naomi does not know Ruth will stay. Ruth does not know if Naomi will allow her to stay with her. Orpah does not even know what will await her in her mother’s house. Naomi and Ruth do not know how they will be received. Elimelech’s debts are so high his land must be sold, which means Naomi may have to seek selling herself too, for what protections would she have? Ruth and Naomi are surviving by gleaning, which is a very unsure endeavor. The edges of fields are weedy, often less productive, where the wild animals have been foraging, and, in times of famine, filled with people who, like Naomi and Ruth, have no choice but to glean to survive. Boaz is surprised Ruth seeks to marry him – he is, apparently, not a catch to anyone else. Ruth, although she’s captured Boaz’ eye, is apparently not so sure either. The kinsman with first claim to Elimelech’s lands sets aside that claim so he does not have to marry Ruth. None of the choices are sure. None of them are easy. But, the story tells us, choosing to live in chesed leads down the path of restoration.

 

Each day we have choices. We have choices to be open-hearted and choices to be self-focused. We have choices about how to be a people. Shall we choose to be a people that appreciates and celebrates the gifts migrants bring, for once, we too, were strangers? Shall we choose the way of chesed?

 

Assignment: Read The Book of Ruth

Living Humbly With Whose We Are

Strangers on Holy Ground Assignment for October 23, 2011

Few religious liberals I know spend much time with of three-fiths of the Torah. That’s too bad, because there’s a lot of really amazing wisdom in these books. Part of it is because although stories are woven in and around Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers, there’s lot of naming specifics of how to live, and sometimes it seems really far away from the issues most of us face. Part of it comes from disagreement with some of the specifics and what they seem to imply, such as including a ritual of forgiveness and reconciliation for man who sexually assaults an enslaved woman (Leviticus 19:20-22). I’ve survived multiple sexual assaults and surviving one doesn’t make it any easier the next time. Sexual violence attacks us at the core of who we are, and corrodes our loving connections, alienating us from being wholly part of the community.  Sexual violence is now understood as violating human rights, although it is apparent we don’t all understand and appreciate how damaging sexual violence can be, as places like Kansas City decriminalize domestic violence.   I believe that sexual assault and slavery are wrong and if there is merciful justice, there need to be ways of accountability, restoration, and reconciliation. I know we’re not supposed to bear grudges (Leviticus 19:18), so I’ll also argue that for restoration of community, it requires us to do so work around healing for the sexually abused and ending slavery.

That so much of the Torah deals with so many obligations is a reminder to us:  when we’re feeling absolutely sure we know what’s ethical and how to live well, perhaps we want to pause for a moment and find our humility we’ve set aside. Living humbly with God well is complicated, and we have to do that living with what we meet each day. I can find a number of requirements I do not appreciate or understand or that feel really bound to a particular place and time to me. Yet I have neighbors who seek to live every single one of those obligations, with great care and great love. That’s where we come together: that God calls us to live in humility, mercy, love, and reverence, caring for one another and this earth.  Living humbly with God requires us to live humbly with one another and this planet (Deut. 10:12-14).

We are obliged to remember we were once aliens and strangers (perhaps even actively are aliens and strangers!). Rabbi Jill Jacobs, in Where Justice Dwells: A Hands-On Guide to Doing Social Justice in Your Jewish Community (2011) tells us that our obligation of memory means two different actions (p. 6). We are called to lirot et atzmo – seeing ourselves as part of – and to l’harot et atzmo – showing we are part of those who are suffering oppression, marginalization, and alienation. Liberation theology, working from a different tradition’s perspective, speaks of incarnational practices of being one with those who are oppression, marginalized, and alienated, which, for people who are privileged not to have those experiences, begins with choosing to empathize, to reconnect our hearts to those suffering. In this obligation to memory, we answer the question, “whose are we?” We belong to God. We belong to one another, including every stranger and when we find ourselves once again strangers. We belong to the land.

If a practice is good for ourselves, it needs to also be good for our neighbor. And who is our neighbor? Our neighbor is everyone who isn’t already our kin, every stranger, every alien, every one suffering from bondage, every one. In a multicultural world, this is a common place for us to develop misunderstandings, a common place where we struggle for analogies that might lead us to a merciful justice and lovingkindness. Living humbly with God isn’t easy; it isn’t even always obvious what we need to do. Fortunately, we have a great many stories and other texts that recall us in shared humility to the shared difficult path of tending whose we are.

 

Study:

Leviticus 19-20 (esp: 19:33-34 & 20:24-26)

Deuteronomy 6, 10:14-11:7

Exodus 20:8-11

Exodus 23: 1-13

Matthew 25:34-46

 

Summary Question: What does it mean to remember we once were strangers? Why is honoring God connected with caring for aliens?

 

Strangers on Holy Ground October 16, 2011

(This is a continuing Bible study. Go back two posts to find the beginning, or just dive on in. You’ll need a way of reflective journaling, whether with print or other media.)

There are many other stories in Genesis that relate to being strangers, including the eviction of Adam and Eve from Eden, the exile of Cain, Jacob’s indenture, Tamar at the crossroads, Esau and Jacob’s estrangement and reconciliation, and Joseph and his brothers. The story of Joseph’s betrayal by his brothers and sale into slavery in Egypt, his redemption, and his redemption of his brothers after famine brings us to this week’s text. After Joseph dies, the Hebrew people continue in Egypt, and eventually, a new Pharaoh forgets the old Pharaoh’s promises and trouble ensues.

Exodus chapter one through chapter three, verse fifteen, introduces us to that trouble and to Moses. Before reading the text, what do you know about Moses? Where have you encountered Moses before? Both American history and European and American art are full of people creating and using Moses. What historical figures and literary characters do you identify with Moses? What traits appeal to you? What worries or repels you? Why?

Now, read Exodus 1-3:15. What surprises? Draws you in? Repels? Name all the ways that Moses is a stranger. What do you identify with in these chapters?

The trouble that begins in Exodus 1 is echoed is Psalm 146, one of the holy songs or worship poems that specifically covers the stranger.

Moses’ flight to the desert isn’t unusual.  Later, David has to hide in the desert, too, when Saul is hunting David in 1 Samuel 23-24. Over and again in the TNKH (or, Hebrew Scriptures) we meet the themes of dispossession and exile. In the Christian Scriptures, Jesus and the disciples and apostles are always dealing with military occupation and exploitation, a way of estrangement in place. Yet how often in our daily lives are we talking about these stories of exile and dispossession, of fleeing for refuge and of military-economic occupation? What might these stories have to say about today’s world?

How are we strangers on holy ground?

solar flare over shell

Strangers Become Kin – Strangers on Holy Ground Oct 2

Strangers on Holy Ground Assignment for October 2

One of the persistent themes in the collections of both branches of the holy library called the Bible is that there are no strangers in God’s creation. We don’t find that on the sixth day, God created humanity and then marked a special set of that human creation as strangers. Strangers are a creation of human beings, related to an idolatry of narrow self-interest and sibling rivalry.

Those we name as strangers, aliens, exiles, and the rest of that motley crew are those who don’t belong to family or neighbors. Yet, because we have been strangers, we are asked to live out a way that leaves no one strangers. We belong to every stranger and every stranger belongs to us; we have a kinship birthed in being strangers. When we create strangers, or deny them acceptance as family we exile ourselves from the Holy.

On the other hand, there are often enormous social pressures to maintain people as strangers, aliens and exiles, people who can be reviled and treated as less than children of God. When we embrace the stranger, we enter a dangerous place, even if it is a holy place. Holy places are often dangerous, which is a challenge to many who have equated safety and security with holy places. But creation and change both come out of destruction and danger, out of testing and growing in adverse conditions, out of adventure and risking our whole selves to live the values we profess. Solidarity with strangers means we are also strangers, again, and in a society that persecutes strangers, that’s a dangerous thing.

Two early stories play out these themes. They are both difficult and painful texts. They are texts that have thousands of years of interpretation wrapping them in cotton wool to try and make them not texts of challenge to keep open to the jealousies and other distinctions that make having strangers to persecute acceptable. The story of Hagar and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah are wrapped around the story of Abraham and Sarah at the oaks of Mamre, welcoming the stranger.

Imagine telling each of these stories over three nights, beginning with a terrible tale of breaking covenant on night one and going to sleep wondering what can be done to turn back to God. Then we have the tale of the second night, which reconfirms the covenant with God and we go to sleep “ahhhhh, all is well” conveniently forgetting that there was a turning that needed to happen which is what created the necessity of reconfirming the covenant. Then we have the third night and another terrible story is told, with extra images, and these are frightening stories for many reasons. Whenever you find a story you love in this library, look for the stories that make you uncomfortable on either side: they will challenge the easy interpretation.

What do you know of Hagar and Ishmael? Stop for a moment and call up your recollections. Journal them. Do you number Hagar among your spiritual ancestors? Do you feel a kinship with her? With Ishmael?  What does it mean to you, if you do or do not feel that kinship?

The story of Hagar was long used as a defense of sexual abuse of slaves, an example of a interpretation wrapped to comfort one group of people and dehumanize another. In Islam, this story is alluded to in Sura Ibrahim (14:37), retold in the hadiths, and reenacted during the Haj. During the Haj,  pilgrims race back and forth seven times, honoring’s Hagar’s search for water in the desert for her baby.

Now, read Genesis 16. What do you know now of Hagar? What arguments rise in your heart to make what Sarai and Abram do to Hagar and Ishmael acceptable or understandable? What does it mean that Hagar is told to submit? What kind of submission is this? Would be a radical kind of submission that works differently than we usually imagine? What kind of courage is needed to refuse to die and instead live in terrible circumstances? What kind of love?

What do you know about Sodom and Gomorrah? What images come to mind? Journal your recollections. What have you learned is the primary reason for the destruction of the cities? Where is holy ground?

Now read Genesis 19:1-29. What challenges you about the text? What do you find comforting? Can you imagine contemporary situations where the crowd demanding the strangers would be justified? What would you do? Would you give away everything you had and risk everyone you love for strangers who show up at your, pursued by a crowd? What about if they were pursued by the police or the anti-terrorism squad?

Where is holy ground? Everywhere. Who belongs there? Everyone. Yet we are regularly creating miserable situations and aiding and abetting misery for others, by setting up this people or that circumstance as outside our range of concern. Readiness to be in danger by accepting and being strangers is an old spiritual path, as we can find in these stories. Yet even the spiritual mothers and fathers in these stories struggle with what they are to do, with how to be truly and fully loving of one another – and they’re having direct experiences with angels and God every day. Traditions treat these ancestors as holier than we can possibly be, and as somehow more perfect. Yet when we spend time with the texts, we can appreciate them as imperfect, just like us, and focus instead on how they lived lives of discipleship. They paid attention to God, and their attention wandered, with other stuff coming in. They turned again and again back to God, while God was already there with them, and slowly, they were challenged and they changed. That’s the discipline of submitting ourselves to the Holy, which isn’t comfortable and, as Hagar, Ishmael, Lot, Lot’s daughters, Lot’s wife, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham and Sarah teach us, is a challenging way.

a fallen leaf in a fruiting hedge

Strangers on Holy Ground September 25th

A Process Note: You’ll need your method of journaling for this week’s assignment. Any time I encourage you to write down, feel free to record your reflections and storying in other media. If you find yourself doing so by telling wholly new stories or by using other arts, like quilting, collage, or sculpture, you’ll want to be able to explain it to others in order to participate in class.

Reverence for Holy Ground:

In many ways, when we approach this holy library, even if we have grown up with these stories and studied them for years, we are still strangers on this holy ground. The cultures that these stories are about are very distant from our own, and millennia of interpretation have become part of our own cultures. Consider what you know about the Tower of Babel and write down your understanding of the story. Now turn to the text – Genesis 11:1-9 (abbreviated Gen.). What spiritual themes are in that story? How are they connected to your life? How close is what your memory carries to that text?

Take one piece of another, even more difficult story, of Noah after the flood. Write down or retell the ending of the flood story. What spiritual themes are in that story? How are they connected to your life? Read the text, Gen. 8:18-9:17. How close is your memory to the text? What spiritual themes seem important in this telling? What confuses? What seems most connected to your life?

In the time and place that these stories were set down and edited, many of the peoples understood the gods to be specific to particular places. When one left a place, one left one’s gods. Loss of home and kin was a loss of everything – livelihood, security, history, purpose, and religion. Cultures in Diaspora – something that is nearly taken for granted as part of contemporary global experience – is an alien concept at the beginning of our library. Used to cultures in Diaspora, one of great themes in Genesis we might draw out today is this change to understanding and appreciating everywhere as holy ground, and the possibility of carrying our stories with us, being shaped by and also changing where we move.

What do you remember of the story of Abram and Sarai before they became Abraham and Sarah? Before Hagar and Ishmael and Isaac? Journal your telling of their story. What spiritual themes seem strongest to you? Where are you challenged or finding confusion? What seems most connect to your life? Now read Gen.12 & 13. Take your time. Put yourself into the story. What themes emerge? What surprises?

Have you ever known a particular place that felt like home to you? Have you ever known a place where you belonged and knew you were part of the living story of that place? If you’ve never felt that kind of belonging, imagine what it would be like to do so. How do you know your story and make yourself at home?

If you’ve been called out of a home place, how did you know it was time to go? How did that leaving feel? If you have never known a home place, how do you know it is time to settle? How do you weave your story into the places you live?

Return to Sarai and Abram. What does their story say to you now?

Review: God’s promises to Noah after the flood (Genesis 8:18-9:17) and the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9).

Study: Abram & Sarai (Gen. 12 & 13)

Bible Study Webinar

Strangers on Holy Ground

The library of the Bible is filled with stories of strangers discovering themselves on holy ground. These strangers find their usual culture turned inside out and upside down. New expectations are shaped, new promises made, and new ways of belonging and being strangers are lived in turbulent and difficult times.

This Bible Study attends these stories of strangers on holy ground in an age of alienation and fear, displacement and mass migration, rapid economic change and instability, and fights about belonging, purpose, and tradition. Our times of dislocation and disruption are times when our stories we live are challenged, too, offering us an opportunity to engage the challenges and be changed with them, living into new stories.

We will wrestle these Biblical stories of strangers on holy ground and share what we meet in ourselves, each other, and the cultures and communities where we live. This is not a Bible Study focused on methods of scholarly Biblical criticism or having a right interpretation. This Bible Study bows before these stories as living texts and holy ground that still offer us something vital as we grapple with the difficulties of dislocation in our world today.

Classes run Sunday, September 25 through Sunday, November 13 (no class Sun. Oct. 9) at  7-8:30pm ET(US).

The class has no fee. Donations are accepted.

We are using Go To Webinar for the class. To receive an invitation to register for the webinar, email Rev. Naomi King at revnaomi@bellsouth.net

When not swabbing decks or swilling coffee, the Rev. Naomi King is found engaging the questions of culture, faith, the Bible, and the stories we’re living via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and video. You might also find her knitting, gardening, searching for fossils, or learning her local lizards.

Rev. Naomi King

Agreement for Participation:

  1. I will attend to the text for that week before the class begins.
  2. I will participate in reflection, keeping a written, audio, or video reflection journal each week and participate in the class.
  3. When I reference the Biblical stories, I will also note which translation I am using. All translations are welcome; we willl pay attention to how the stories differ in them.
  4. I will respect my journey and that of others in the class.
  5. I will live humbly in acceptance and recognition that in holy storying, there are many interpretations, not only the one I feel is right or know to be true.
  6. I will engage in spiritual reflection and refrain from scholarly debate.
  7. I will honor my own story and the stories of other participants by not retelling any story but my own outside the class, without the prior permission of the other participants. I will not distribute class materials to others, including recorded class sessions.
  8. I will honor these texts as living stories that have relevance to our lives and faith today.

turkey feather

Restorying Restores

That old and yucky story drags us down. I can take a quick trip to the land of overwhelming cynicism and retreat to mockery and despair pretty easily. I’ve been well trained to do that and I’ll meet plenty of my friends and neighbors in that space, as we grimly feel the weight of powerlessness and hopelessness grind further on our souls.  That’s when I need to stop, breathe, and remember how I’ve known peace, hope, and joy before. Those memories remind me of the story I’d rather live. If I can’t find those memories close by, then I might need to retell a story that will take me to the same place.

Restorying is a way of restoring ourselves, of beginning again and of picking up where we left. When I’m in the cynical place, the primary story seems to be one that cultivates apathy and exhaustion. When I’m living in the story of having moral agency – just because I breath, just because I feel – then that’s what seems to be the primary story. Restorying restores.

In the story we really want to live – the one where we all have gifts and we can make a difference for good – we need to know our gifts, know who might make use of them in our communities, and know our community partners who share a calling to working on particular issues or with particular people in our community.

Name your gifts. Repeatedly in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, people are asked to offer the gifts they have, not someone else’s gifts, not to all be one kind of person in a very narrow way, but to offer the gifts each has. Musicians make music. People who take joy in weaving, weave cloth. Those who love the alchemy of cheese take the milk and the salt and the enzymes and make the cheese. Write down the gifts you have to offer.

Who needs your gifts? Every community has need of every gift. If your gift is encouragement and you’re finding yourself appreciating and cheering people on, who most needs encouragement in your community? Where are the people who’ve lost hope as you travel around where you live? If your gift is teaching people through the martial arts to find their center and to feel more capable and stronger in their lives, who in your community most yearns for that way of being? If your gift is telling stories that call forth stories from others, who most needs the stories you have to tell or yearns to learn how to tell their own? Next to your list of gifts, make note of who in your community can use those gifts. Your gifts shared will open the way for those with whom you’re sharing to do likewise. Circle a couple of the gifts and folks in your community that tug at your heart.

Who are your community partners? We don’t make healthy vibrant community alone, as individuals, although each of us together does make that way of life possible. There are other people who share your heart tug to be with particular people yearning for your gifts so they might share their own. Who can you partner with? An institution like a school, a library, or a shelter? A group, like one for parents or a storytelling troupe or the community gardeners reclaiming abandoned land? Or will you form a group with some others you know who might be interested, and identify together other community partners with whom you can work? Name the community partners for the gifts and folks you’ve circled.

Pick up your gifts and know who needs them. Connect with those community partners. Make and live into the commitment.

You have the ability to be an agent of hope, to live a story that restores. How will you start or enlarge that agency today?

four ibises work the shoreline in their unique way