Vegan for Lent: know when to fold ’em

ImageSo. I am a Vegan for Lent failure.

It’s just not working for us right now. I’m trying to study for my master’s comprehensive exam which takes place April 1&2, Jon is working like crazy this month (don’t even get me started on how much I hate the ER shift from 3-midnight that means he misses bedtime), and we just don’t have the time or energy or head space to think and plan as much about food as this whole project requires. We were both tired of feeling hungry all the time. I just want a damn grilled cheese sandwich.

I really considered hanging on, solely for the sake of the blog. It appears my readers like vegan food posts. I like happy readers. But I’ve already “cheated” on this thing a few times (currently eating red beans and rice with andouille sausage as I type), and I just have to come clean that it just isn’t happening anymore.

I don’t have any big spiritual insights about failing my Lenten devotion. I have some clarity now that being a vegan is harder than I thought it was, and that it’s most definitely not for me. I shall return to my usual “less meatarian” (per Mark Bittman) diet of largely lacto/ovo vegetarian eating with supplements of sustainably raised meats. I guess I am just really grateful for the bounty available to me, and the fact that the only deprivation I know is the kind I choose (and then fail to keep choosing).

One of my favorite Bible verses is from the Psalms: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” It seems petty, maybe, and possibly anti-Christian, but I think food is a great way to experience the goodness of God. Despite a sort of anti-fleshly strain in our faith, one that preaches denial of the body and being above bodily things, we are enfleshed, and we worship a God who became flesh. A God who, in Jesus, seemed to really love eating good food with people. One of the first things he really wanted after he rose from the dead? BREAKFAST. Sure, he chose fish where I might choose a runny-yolked egg, but I think in Jesus we see that while denial is good for a time, there’s nothing inherently sinful about enjoying good meals, good wine, and good company.

I also still believe that what we choose to eat is a spiritual issue, an opportunity to demonstrate our care (or in Christian lingo, stewardship) for our bodies, our neighbors, the poor, and the planet. And I will probably always be wrestling with how my diet reflects my values. But, for now, I won’t be doing it as a vegan. I need to focus on studying and taking care of my family in a way that I was not able to on this diet.

Vegan for Lent, Week 2

20130220-105942.jpgThis week in my lenten discipline has taught me something about my psychology: I don’t like being told what to do. The minute there is a rule about something, all I want is to break that rule. I may go weeks without eating meat naturally, but the minute I make a rule that I have to be vegan, all I want are runny yolked eggs, things covered in cheese, and bacon cheeseburgers. I may have taken advantage of Sunday to have both a cheeseburger and cheesy pizza. I could spiritualize this into a nice post about how sinful I am, or something, but the reality is, from the very beginning, people don’t like being told not to eat (of the fruit of that tree, or of the fruit of Five Guys). I may be a bad Christian, but it seems to just be the way people are, and I’m people too. I can’t imagine God not knowing that we’d be this way from the start. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with cheese, really, but doing without it has definitely required me to think harder than I would otherwise think about my food.

Breakfasts are especially difficult. I tend toward the hypoglycemic in the mornings and have always preferred protein to carbs or fruit to start my day. Before, my go-to was homemade Egg McMuffins, or a cheese stick. Rarely I’ll have a KIND nut and grain bar. Now, I find myself having an extra cup of coffee to tide me over, because I don’t want to eat cereal or oatmeal or fruit. So, easy vegan breakfast solutions that are not cereal with almond milk would be appreciated.

Another thing I’ve noticed with being a vegan is: I get bored with the leftovers really fast. Even if a meal was really great the first time, I don’t really want to eat it again very often. This has led to some weird ass dinners when I am avoiding leftovers. The other night I seriously ate a baked potato with green goddess salad dressing on it because I couldn’t face any of the zillions of tupperwears in my fridge. Usually, I’ll put a poached egg on leftovers, or turn them into a frittata, to shake it up a bit, but I can’t do that with this diet.

This week I tried to use some of the online recipes I’d collected on my Pinterest board so you guys can try them too. Here’s what we ate in the last week (it’s so few meals because they always seem to make a ton of leftovers, and because I was home alone for several days, so I did less cooking):

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This gumbo was really tasty served over brown rice, and the friends we had over for dinner who aren’t vegan seemed to think so too! The key, to me, to make up for the lack of sausage is the addition of some liquid smoke seasoning.

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These cookies use coconut oil instead of butter, and I veganized them by using applesauce and a little baking powder and soda to replace the egg. The texture was slightly different than the average cookie, but they were decidedly cookie-like and very tasty. They basically taste like a slightly coconutty sugar cookie.

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I wanted to try a cheese substitute, just for the experience, so I largely gave this casserole a try just to use the Daiya cheese. While I couldn’t get the cheese to melt like it claims it will, I found it to have a good flavor, and will buy their products after Lent is over for my lactose-intolerant husband. The casserole itself was a little dry, so I added salsa to my plate. If I made it in the future, I might just pour some enchilada sauce in with the veggie mix to make it saucier.

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This squash and kale bowl had a great flavor but wasn’t quite filling enough to be a whole meal. I might add bulgur or quinoa to make it more filling next time.

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OK, so I didn’t really cook this tofu banh mi. Consider this a plug for The Root Cafe here in Little Rock. All of their food is local and delicious. It was great to know there was a place I could go and have something yummy for a lunch out with a friend.

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This tagine was a dish I had made and liked even before my Vegan Lent, so I knew we’d like it this time around. I was short on zucchini, so I subbed in some frozen green beans, and they worked beautifully. I also didn’t have preserved lemons, so I used lemon infused olive oil, lemon zest, and some extra lemon juice.

2 weeks down, one month to go!

vegan for lent

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I love Lent. I know that sounds morbid, but I think in a way, Lent suits my natural spiritual normal. I am not always an exuberant Easter believer, ready to shout from the rooftops. I’m more given to contemplation, dwelling on mortality, even doubt. And if this was my natural state before my near death experience, it’s only been intensified by my recent brush with the impermanence of my flesh. While I have often wished to be more certain in my faith, the older I get, the more I accept that if the Body needs all kinds, it needs people who over-intellectualize, over-analyze, and who get scared in the middle of the night. So long as it is God to whom I take my millions of questions, even when I question his existence, I will count myself blessed with enough faith. As my “patron saint” Flannery O’Connor said, “When we get our spiritual house in order, we’ll be dead. This goes on. You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don’t expect faith to clear things up for you. It’s trust, not certainty.”

So, though I skipped Lent last year, this year I’m continuing to make my way in the darkness and have decided to pursue a Lenten devotion. Food has long been a faith-like progression for us, and I felt pulled to try to be vegan for Lent this year. Jon has decided to join me, and if you feel so inclined, you can join in as well. Fasting from foods has long been a Lenten tradition in the life of the church. I hope that whenever I experience a desire for say, my favorite food of all foods, cheese, I will be able to first remember that God abundantly provides for my every need, that I will remember that I have never been forced to go hungry, and that others do, every single day. I will also try to practice gratitude for the abundance in my kitchen, gratitude for the earth that produces that abundance, and gratitude for the farmers who steward that earth. It is my hope that the whole experience can be one of mindfulness and gratitude.

Expect to see musings on this experience, as well as some vegan food blogging through this season.

I will say one thing though: I will be ending my fast one day early, as Etta and Claire’s first birthday party (their First Fiesta) is the day before Easter, and I want to be able to eat tacos and cake!

on tornadoes and the Jesus who calmed storms

Last year was a bad tornado season for those of us who live in Tornado Alley. Bad enough that we spent several nights in our “safe space” waiting for the sirens and the winds to stop. A friend had a tornado knock a tree onto her house. Other friends survived the tornadoes that blew through Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. It freaked me out enough that I finally made a FEMA-recommended tornado kit to keep in my safe space, which is small comfort when I know that if a tornado really does hit my house, no waterproof bag full of food and supplies can save me. Tornadoes are scary. They are unpredictable. They are deadly. And climate change seems to be making them worse.

This year has already seen several tornadoes. People have died. Communities have been destroyed. Others are just now starting to pick up the pieces.

And John Piper, not even a week after this latest bout of deadly tornadoes, would like to let those survivors know that God did this. Because that’s what the hurting and grieving need to hear right now, right?

Now, let me say right now that I believe in a powerful God who could cause tornadoes if God wanted to. But I also believe that sending these storms wouldn’t be in keeping with the nature of the God I have come to know and love.

I believe that the best way to learn about the nature of God is through the Person of Jesus Christ (as Brian McLaren called it at a talk I attended, you could say my hermeneutic is Jesus). And the God revealed through the person of Jesus is not someone who capriciously sends tornadoes that pick up babies and carry them for miles and kill them. The God revealed in Jesus is someone who wakes up in a boat in the middle of the storm and calms it. The God revealed in Jesus is someone who raises the dead and heals the sick and comforts the grieving and gets to know the outcast. God isn’t someone who breaks and destroys, but someone on a mission of healing and wholeness and reconciliation and redemption.

In the wake of deadly tornadoes, God is on the side of the folks wiping away tears and giving hugs and listening to the grieving and picking up the pieces. God’s drawing nearer to us through acts of love and healing. At least that’s what I believe.

Yes, we live in a world that does not work the way God designed it to. There were no deadly tornadoes, no death at all in fact, in God’s original plan. But all of creation was given the ability to turn from that design, and we did, and here we are. But God isn’t smiting us. God is working to fix it, and God invites us to be a part of the healing. At least that’s what I believe.

I’m praying for the people in Indiana and Kentucky who are dealing with devastation right now. I want them to know that God is on their side.

i have always depended on the kindness of strangers

a photo I took of downtown San Jose.

10 bonus points to the person who knows where the title of this post comes from. This is a long story, but I hope it will bless you as much as it has me.

As I mentioned yesterday, my husband somehow left his iPhone in San Jose, Costa Rica, on the last day of our visit there. This last day, I must say, can barely be considered a day. We arose around 3:30 in the morning. Possibly the only thing that got me out of bed that early was that our awesome AirBnB host had promised coffee and breakfast would still be ready, even before the actual crack of dawn, and so I dragged myself out of bed, did my last bit of packing, and enjoyed fresh bananas with granola, and home baked bread, and some of the most delicious coffee in the world. We were in a bit of a rush to eat breakfast, get a taxi, get to a bus stop, and take that bus to the airport in order to arrive by 4:30 am for a very early flight. With steps 1 and 2 completed, we were in the taxi almost to the bus stop when Jon noticed he didn’t have his phone with him. I remind you at this point that it was insanely early in the morning, and we may not have been thinking clearly. He checked his backpack and his pockets, and didn’t find the phone. We figured he had left it by the computer he was using at the casa right before we left, and pondered if we could go back for it, but realized we couldn’t if we wanted to make our flight. We decided we would have to email our hosts when we got back to the States and see if they could send it back to us.

As we rode the bus to the airport, we saw many pilgrims walking along the sides of the road to a city in Costa Rica called Cartago. An estimated 2 million people all over the country were walking, many for days, to reach this city in order to show thanks to God for their blessings, and, for many, to ask for healing. Our friends in San Jose had told us of a man in the papers who had already received the miracle of being healed of his blindness during this year’s pilgrimage. Seeing them walk along the road, carrying only small backpacks, in the wee hours of the morning was a great blessing. I’m not sure I can really explain why, but their devotion and dedication and sacrifice touched my heart, and as we roared past each little group in our great big bus, I said a little prayer that God would bless them for their faith. God certainly blessed me with their faith.

We made it onto our plane and eventually arrived home in Arkansas. Here is where I also pause to mention that it is difficult to secure a ride home from the airport without a phone, especially now that airports, realizing that most everyone has a cell phone, have eliminated pay phones. And, in the event that one does manage to find an actual payphone in actual working order, who still has any phone numbers memorized that he or she could call? Not us! A taxi home was the way we had to go, as we were weary and absolutely could not face the prospect of yet another bus.

We finally arrived home, and Jon emailed our hosts explaining the lost phone situation. We then headed to church, happy to connect with our friends there after a week away. That night, Ryan preached on what is commonly known as the Golden Rule, from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. We discussed how that verse marks a transition, where Jesus turns from speaking about our relationship with God (“ask, seek, knock”), to our relationship with each other, a relationship that should be characterized by us doing what is good and loving to others, even when, and perhaps most especially when, it is no guarantee that this goodness and love will be returned. We do not participate in goodness and love in order to receive it, but because when we participate in goodness and love, we participate in the very character of God, a character perhaps best illustrated in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, in which God is radically UNfair, bestowing love and goodness even when it is least deserved.

The next morning, Jon received an email from our hosts Darrylle and Juan Carlos telling their side of the story of the lost iPhone. I asked for their permission to share this story:

As soon as we received your message we searched the house and found no sign of your iphone. We were so sad for you as we knew that if you’d lost it in the street or in the taxi or bus that there would be only a chance in a million that we could find it. We called the number to see if we could hear it ringing somewhere in the house or if someone would answer. After many rings a woman answered and when Juan Carlos spoke with her she asked if the phone was his. He told her that it was and she said that we could pick it up. She lives high up in the mountains near Turrialba about 2 hours southeast of San Jose.

We jumped in the car and headed toward the area. The road to Cartago was packed with pilgrims walking in the rain and it was amazing to experience their dedication and determination. By the time we got to her area it was dark and raining. After seeking information from people along the road and calling her on numerous occasions, we finally found her standing in front of a small shanty along a little road way off the main highway deep into the countryside. She is a single mother working nights in San Jose and takes this long two hour trip daily. She had found the phone in the back of the taxi about 5 a.m., at first thought of giving it to the driver, but then had second thoughts. She said she knew if she gave it to him he would make no effort to find its owner. Throughout the day she told several people she had found the phone and received several offers to buy it. Of course, she could have used the money, but decided that she would keep it for several days and if the owner didn’t appear that she would then sell it.

When we met her along side the road, she just walked up to the car window and handed us the phone and didn’t ask for anything. Unfortunately, we’d left the house in a hurry so I only had ¢10,000 ($20), so I gave it to her but she seemed happier to have found the owner than to have received the money. It was a blessing to be in the presence of this sweet, happy, honest and caring woman. Juan Carlos and I had spent time together yesterday morning, as part of our daily spiritual practice, discussing how if we keep our minds in synch with thoughts of goodness, if we hold the intention to bestow rather than to receive, if we focus on our true Self rather than our illusionary ego, that miracles will appear. As we reached the main road to return to San Jose we simultaneously expressed our realization that we had just experienced a miracle and our minds filled with light and joy. Everybody gained, there was no loss and each and every one of us received a blessing of love. Thank you so much for providing the opportunity to experience God in our lives. It was amazing.

Amazing indeed. Jon and I both choked up as we read the email and realized what a miracle this was. Sure, it’s just a returned iPhone. Why would God care about such a thing when there are literally blind people walking to Cartago in need of sight? Because this story is not about the iPhone, but about the goodness at the heart of people everywhere. I personally believe this goodness is the image of God. It’s the goodness that inspires someone to get up insanely early to send a traveler off with a good breakfast. It’s the goodness that inspires people to walk for days and days in order to say thanks and perhaps beg for a miracle. It’s the goodness that inspires people to drive for 4 hours for someone else’s phone. And it’s the goodness that inspires a woman living in poverty to do someone a great kindness, even when doing the opposite would help her provide for her children. It’s the goodness that lies at the heart of the God of the universe, a goodness that lives inside each one of us, if we choose to honor and nurture the image in which we are created.

I needed a reminder of this goodness. When we arrived in Atlanta, it was a rude welcome home to the States. The customs agent who checked my passport said something very ethoncentric about people who speak other languages. The man in front of me in the security line acted absolutely beastly to everyone he encountered. And my personality is such that I often tend to dwell on those people who don’t nurture their inner goodness, rather than those who do. And yet, here in front of me, here in my life, I have been given a miraculous reminder of the nature of God and the true nature of all God created and declared good. And I am so truly thankful.

an earthy good friday

Today is Good Friday. Today is Earth Day.

I saw a tweet about how today you can choose to celebrate the Earth OR you can choose to celebrate the One who made it. As if that were an either/or proposition. I’d like to suggest that in taking care of the Earth, we serve and indeed worship our Creator.

In the past few years, my faith has sort of shifted directions. I feel like I’ve gotten to know Jesus better and been drawn closer to him. As this has been happening, my understanding of what is important about Jesus has shifted slightly. Rather than being focused solely on Jesus’ death and resurrection, I’ve broadened my focus to what Jesus said his mission was– to proclaim the gospel that the Kingdom of God is at hand (that is, available to us right here and right now), a kingdom characterized by resurrection, renewal, and the return of all of creation to the way things were meant to be. This means the saving work of Jesus, which was his life, death, AND resurrection, is not just for my soul, but for all of the earth. And that’s where Earth Day comes in.

Part of the beauty of the Creation story* is that we were placed in a beautiful garden in order to enjoy and care for it. As I mentioned in a post about faith and food that was inspired while listening to a Rob Bell sermon, God told Adam that he was put in the garden to work and to take care of the Garden.  Bell noted that the Hebrew words for “to work” and “to take care of” used to describe Adam’s (if I was going to get literary here I’d say that at this point Adam is a symbol for why all of us were created) role in the garden are usually used elsewhere to describe the act of serving and worshipping God.  Basically, to worship God was to TAKE CARE OF what God created in the garden (aka the world).

I believe a great window into just how far we have fallen from the ideal to which we were created is to see just how warped our relationship with creation has become. A relationship that was supposed to be characterized by reverence and care has become a relationship characterized by exploitation, destruction, and abuse. This is also reflected in our relationships toward our fellow creatures, human and nonhuman, and even in our relationship toward God. We cannot properly love the Creator while destroying the creation.

When Jesus put on human skin and lived with us, he preached the coming of the Kingdom. He modeled Kingdom life, a way of living characterized by right relationship: to God, to each other, and to creation. He taught us to live as children of God, that we might be a blessing to all of creation, as described in Romans 8:18:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”

The saving work of Jesus, the liberating work of Jesus, is for us, and for creation itself.

So how does this tie in to Good Friday? On Good Friday, we remember a savior who came to teach us how to live as we were created to live, but who allowed us the freedom to refuse to live it out. He allowed us, rather than responding to him in the relationship that we should have, to reject him and subject him to violence. He modeled a love that, rather than lashing out against enemies, tells us to put away the sword and then reaches out to heal even the one who comes to kill us. He modeled a love that, even as it hung suffering and dying on the cross, was moved to forgiveness. He modeled a love that somehow is not destroyed by evil, violence, and death, but which submits to it, only to come back again. Through this love, we are enabled to transcend evil, violence, and death. Through this love, we become partners in first dying to the old ways, and then in rising to participate as partners in the resurrection and renewal of all things, which will culminate in the New Jerusalem, a place here on earth, in which everything works the way God planned it, and everything is made right.

So on Good Friday, we sit with the wrongness. We sit with the brokenness. We sit with the realization that we are fallen. Fallen so far that we would kill the one who came to save. And we marvel in the love that would let us. And this Sunday, we rejoice in the love that was not destroyed, but resurrected to bring renewal to us and to all things. The experience of Holy Week is very spiritual, but it should move us to very earthy action.

*I believe the creation stories in Genesis are less statements of fact than they are statements of purpose. They tell the “why” of creation rather than the “how.” Thus, I believe in evolution, even as I affirm a Creator God who made everything with divine purpose. As a literature student, I find the language-centered aspect of the story, that God literally spoke things into being, particularly fascinating, but that’s not particularly important for the scope of this post.

i am a christian because…

Rachel Held Evans, whose blog is really fantastic and which you should be reading, shared yesterday why she is a Christian, and asked her readers to do the same. I really relate to Rachel because she is often a doubter and a skeptic and writes a lot about her experiences living an examined, questioned faith. Her post was about how the major reason why she’s a Christian is because she was born where she was born, when she was born, into the family she has. And I think it’s a really great answer, because honestly, who knows where I’d be if I wasn’t born in the Bible belt to people who raised me in church, and who knows where I’d be if that church hadn’t been an awesome Presbyterian church which nurtured my curiosity, wasn’t afraid of my questions, and didn’t belittle me for who I am. But that’s not why I’m a Jesus-follower today (I don’t usually prefer the word Christian, but I’ll go with it for the sake of this post and because that’s how Rachel phrased the question).

I mean, if I had my way, I might not be a Christian today. Often I am frustrated with what feels like my own lack of belief, though in those moments, I always seem to end up praying to God to give me my faith back…

Anyway, this is how I answered Rachel’s question:

I am a Christian because, despite my doubts, despite the fact that my cerebral nature often keeps me from ever making a true leap of faith, despite my stunning capacity for existential crises in the middle of the night, despite my inability to believe every word of the bible or check every box in any creed…Jesus will just not let me go. He calls me back to his simple Way again and again, and I am unable to stop loving him or to stop believing that the way he lived is the most authentic, human, kind way to live. I am a Christian because I love Jesus. Not because I believe everything the church says about him.

Every time I walk away, something draws me back.

Image via Flickr user Megyarsh.

When I wanted to abandon my faith because I lost someone I really cared about; when I woke up with a frozen and panicked feeling in the middle of the night, night after night, terrified that nothing I believed in was real; when I felt my furthest from God…at that moment, this totally non-Charismatic Presbyterian girl was given a strange spiritual gift. I say strange, because this “gift” was the weird habit of sobbing, uncontrollably, whenever I thought about God, whenever I tried to pray, whenever others talked about God, whenever others around me sang songs to God. For a period of several months. (This was super awkward at a missionary conference where everyone talked about God for an entire weekend, and I was the strange girl sobbing the entire time.) And while at first I thought this sobbing was just grief, the way it kept coming up, only in connection to God, eventually clued me in. And the best I can explain it is, God gave me tears when I had no words to show me that I didn’t need words. Which is a big deal for someone as wordy as I am. God gave me tears so that God could wipe them away. So that God could surround me with arms to hold me that reminded me that God’s arms are always holding me. God gave me tears so that I might know God’s nearness.

And though I can say that I’m not charismatic, I had then, and have had since, strange, mystical, deeply emotional encounters with God. Moments when someone told me words I needed to hear. People who crossed my path at just the right time. Encounters that point the way to Jesus and remind me that God refuses to let me go. (A commenter told me this sounds a lot like Calvinists’ view of irresistible grace, to which I have two responses: 1. The Calvinists won’t take me because I can’t check all their boxes, and 2. I believe I am very much free to walk away from Jesus at any time. His love is a healthy kind of love. It gives me a say in the matter.) And so I keep coming back to my faith. Because somehow, that strange experience with the sobbing, the kindness I am moved to do for others, and the kindness others are moved to do for me are all bound up in this person of Jesus who makes broken things whole and then tells them to go and do the same.

People often try to pin me down, ask me if I really believe the Bible. Ask me if I really believe this or that doctrine. And I’ve just never been great at really wrapping my mind around any of it. Which is, on the one hand, entirely against my entirely analytical nature, and on the other, entirely of a piece with it. All I can say is, I love Jesus. I love the way he lived and loved and lives and loves. I want to be like him. And I want to be among people for whom that is enough.

I’m not particularly interested in proselytizing. But I do love to explore and question and wonder and discuss (and, I must admit, even argue!). So I ask: why are you [whatever word you would use to describe your faith]?

Beatitudes Part III: Hunger, Thirst, Righteousness, and Mercy

This is part III of a series of posts on the Beatitudes. Check out parts I and II if you missed them.

We’ve now reached “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” I have traditionally heard this preached as “God loves the goody two shoes,” as if it says “Blessed are those who want to be good little Christians all of the time.” The problem with this reading is that this is not a light yoke or an easy burden. Those who want to be good little Jews all the time would be the Pharisees. This is not our Jesus. He didn’t go around recruiting the goody-two-shoes. He picked the folks who don’t have it all together. It would not be good news. So there must be another way to read this.

To me, righteousness is when things go the way God planned and designed them to. When we exist in right relationship to God, to each other, and to all of creation. Some folks call this right relationship God’s “shalom” which means peace.

To hunger and thirst are downright visceral feelings. To me, to hunger and thirst for righteousness is like that sick at your stomach feeling you get when you encounter something that is just so not right with the world. Something that is so clearly not God’s plan for the world. To experience the tension between what God created the world to be, and what it is like right now. But in that tension, in that lack, in that fallenness, in our frustration, and heartbreak, and longing for things to be made right, God is with us. God’s sick at God’s stomach too. God’s heart is broken too. God longs for things to be made right too.

This verse in some ways reminded me of the Japanese earthquake. Though some like John Piper might claim that God caused the earthquakes in order to teach us a lesson or send us a message, ours is a God who hungers and thirsts for a world in which these things don’t happen. Not a God who causes these things to happen. God is with us when horrible things about the world break our hearts. Not when we get them all fixed, but when we struggle, when we wonder, when we question, when we feel the disconnect between the way things are and the way they should be. This is great news, because it’s easy for bleeding hearts like me to get overwhelmed and feel hopeless and powerless because we can’t fix it all or even do something about it all. But God is with us in that place.

God can handle it when we feel like Habakkuk (Ch. 1): “How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.” God can handle our anger, can handle our sorrow, can handle our concern. In fact, God is with us in that feeling. To me, that is good news.

God is also with us when we move from tension, anger, and sorrow into action. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” To me, this is where the Beatitudes begin to move from conditions (mourning, poverty of spirit, hunger and thirst) to action. To be merciful is to have compassion for another and to be moved to action to change that situation or express love and care. I don’t have much to say about this particular Beatitude, because it seems fairly straightforward, but I will point out that it seems rather interesting that Jesus seems to be advocating a salvation based on works if we look at this line alone. Do mercy, get mercy.

Beatitudes Part II: Blessed are the meek

A very "meek" looking Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount.

In case you missed it, I’m doing a blog series this week on the Beatitudes, based on a talk I gave at my church on Sunday. If you missed Part I, check it out, because it’s crucial to understanding how I’m going to look at the rest of this text.

I’m skipping “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” because Ryan covered that in a different talk.

So, moving on to “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” This one immediately made me wonder if my being asked to cover these verses was some kind of joke. I am so NOT meek, as it is usually defined, and everyone who has known me for even 5 minutes can attest. But, I was asked to speak on this text, and all I can think is, well, I guess they probably realized I wasn’t just going to say meek is being shy and pitiful and unobtrusive and that Jesus is telling us to be this way.

So I immediately set out to look for other places where the Bible uses the word “meek.” One clue as to what “meek” means can be found in Numbers 12:3, talking about Moses. My TNIV says “Now moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” Many other translations use “meek” here instead of humble. So perhaps meek can be understood as humble. I mean, Moses stood up to Pharaoh and liberated the Israelites. Obviously he wasn’t “meek and mild” as we usually think of it. But he was humble.

Another clue can be found in who Jesus is talking to. At this time, the world had been conquered by Rome. THEY had carved up the earth. They seemed to be the ones who inherited the earth– the ones with big swords and military might. And here Jesus is saying the MEEK are the ones who are blessed. The down and out. The oppressed. The have-nots. And while some might say, well, the powerful can have the earth, because we’ll have heaven, Jesus is saying, No. The EARTH. It goes to these folks. Because ooh, baby, heaven is a place on earth (more on that in a second). And, as with “blessed are the poor in spirit,” this blessing tells us more about the one doing the blessing than the one receiving it. And what that tells us is: God is not on the side of the powerful. God is not on the side of the oppressor. God is not on the side of the one with the giant army. God is on the side of the weak, the powerless, the oppressed, the slave, the orphan, the widow, the poor, the hungry, and the downtrodden.

Now that we’ve sort of clarified that “meek” can perhaps better be understood as “humble,” and that we’ve also connected it to the fact that he was speaking to a group of people whose land was occupied by a great military empire that already seemed to have inherited the earth, we can look at the fact that by even using the phrase “inherit the earth,” Jesus is referencing a long tradition, a concept with a context.

Giving Abraham and his descendents a land to inherit, possess, and own, was part of God’s covenant with Abraham. What at first was meant as possessing the land of Israel becomes expanded and enlarged through Jesus to mean possessing the kingdom of heaven, which will literally be on the earth. You see this in prophecy in other books of the Old Testament:

Isaiah 57:13 “Whoever takes refuge in me will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain.”

Isaiah 60:21 “Then will all your people be righteous and they will possess the land forever.”

Psalm 25:8 “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant. For the sake of your name, Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great. Who, then, are those who fear the Lord? He will instruct them in the ways they should choose. They will spend their days in prosperity, and their descendants will inherit the land.”

And Psalm 37 is especially full of references to inheriting the earth:

“For those who do evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.” (v. 9)

“But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity” (v. 11)

“The blameless will spend their days under the LORD’s care, and their inheritance will endure forever.” (v. 18)

“Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever.” (v. 27)

“The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever.” (v. 29)

Then there’s Psalm 69:35: “God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah. Then people will settle there and possess it; the children of his servants will inherit it, and those who love his name will dwell there.”

There are other references in Ezekiel 33 and Romans 4:13, but I think you get the point. Inheriting the earth is a big part of God’s covenant with God’s people in the Old Testament, a big part of the Old Testament prophecy about what God would later do, and now, in the Beatitudes, reappears as part of Jesus’ promise/announcement to the people who will be part of God’s kingdom on earth.

“Inheriting the earth” is about a future time and place in which heaven and earth, the place of God and the place of people, become one. A place in which everything works according to the Way of Christ and everything broken is made whole, and things are as God always intended them to be. The Bible calls this the New Jerusalem. It is not a place we fly away to when we die, but a reality that we can participate in during this life, on this earth. It is a place that we can live in now, and that we can participate in bringing about. Greed, exploitation of the environment, violence, oppression, betrayal will not be part of this New Jerusalem. This is why Jesus refers to Psalm 27. Some things will wither away. Others will survive. When we focus on the things that survive, things characterized first and foremost by love, we participate in eternal life and the Kingdom of Heaven in the here and now, a way of living that will last forever.

a new series: The Beatitudes

Me giving my Beatitudes talk. No, I have no idea what is up with the claw hand.

My church, Eikon, is in the middle of a series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (starts in Matthew 5). We just got started, so it’s a great time to join us if you’re interested. This week, I was asked to speak on the Beatitudes, and I figured I’d turn my talk into a series of blog posts to share with folks who didn’t/couldn’t attend (or just folks who didn’t catch a word I said because I’m such a fast talker). I will say that I am not a pastor or theologian. I’m just an English literature scholar/grad student who likes Jesus.

Anyway, consider this Part I on the Beatitudes!

To start, I think the way I’ve often heard the Beatitudes preached makes them out to be some sort of checklist of things we must do to be blessed by God. I’m not sure that a checklist of to-dos in order to earn God’s favor would have been considered radical, crazy good news to a group of Jews and Gentiles, so I’m pretty sure this is not how Jesus intended us to take this text. Instead, I think the Beatitudes are a sort of radical manifesto about the nature of the kingdom of God.

This reading is greatly informed by the very first Beatitude: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Right away, you can’t read this as some sort of “to-do.” Why would you want to be poor in spirit? To be poor in spirit is to not get it, to doubt, to question, to feel far from God, to be, as The Message puts it “at the end of your rope.” This is not a desirable condition. Instead, this is a statement less about the one who is poor in spirit, and more a statement about the one handing out the blessing: God. It’s not a statement about earning or deserving God’s blessing, but a statement about a God of extravagant love who pours out blessings on even, and perhaps especially, those who do not deserve it. There is no why to the pouring out of God’s blessing. Ours is a God who likes to bless, choose, and use the people that we think don’t deserve it. This is good news. Our God loves to bless all the people who don’t deserve it, who screw up, who doubt, who don’t believe all the right things, who don’t do all the right things.

In this light, all the rest of these Beatitudes are not about what we must do to earn God’s blessing. The focus is not on the condition of the one being blessed, but on the nature of the one doing the blessing, and, by extension, the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven, which Jesus repeatedly announces is at hand. This might make us look at the rest of the list in a different way, and I’ll be going through all of them step by step, every day this week.

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