What have you noticed in the world around you lately? Has the fabric of society seemed a bit – or more – strained to you? It has to me. This week we finish Lamentations – I feel like it’s time to write something about Lamentations. We also begin the book of Ezekiel which is generally speaking, another prophetic version of Jerusalem’s fall. But particularly, this book is about what happens to a seemingly normal priest in the face of everything that is important to him being destroyed. Ezekiel helps us consider what it means to move from the complacency of privilege to the consciousness and activity of faithfulness to God in the midst of the crumbling of the old, familiar world around us. “The next twenty years saw Judah blundering toward total disaster as the result of weak and inefficient rule. The principal culprit was the war party at court supported by the traditionalist and nationalistic landowners (“the people of the land”) who could not forget Josiah, whom they had put on the throne, and could not understand that they were now facing a completely different situation.” (p. xxvi-xxvii) The bottom line is that things change, and we can choose responses that acknowledge our current realities or respond in ways that leave us in the past.
July 15 – Lamentations 5
July 16 – Ezekiel 1
July 17 – Ezekiel 2
July 18 – Ezekiel 3
July 19 – Ezekiel 4
July 20 – Ezekiel 5
July 21 – Ezekiel 6
Sometimes in the midst of horrible life circumstances God seems to be silent. Lamentations addresses the real human side of silence from God in the midst of great tragedy. Richard Nysse in Enter the Bible says, “Third-person narration both describes and explains the suffering, but the book insistently moves toward direct, first-person articulation of the unbearable pain and devastation and God’s responsibility for it. The latter leads to direct address to God to see, to consider, and to restore the speaker(s). The book moves from silent suffering to verbalizing the suffering, and, in turn, demanding that God, the source of the suffering, end the suffering. The book refuses to be silent in the face of God’s silence.”
As we begin reading the book of Ezekiel, we consider its context – it, too, occurs after Jerusalem’s and its temple’s destruction, set in Babylon within exiled communities. It is another response to this destruction, exile, and diaspora. Samuel Almada notes, “As a priest, Ezekiel participated in the institutionalized worship practices at the Temple in Jerusalem, and he inherited its traditions. But later, forced by external circumstances and a personal experience with Yahweh, he was transformed into a messenger of the new, a true prophet, impassioned, combative, and unpredictable.” (p. 275)
Has it ever seemed to you like God has been silent in the midst of terrible situations? And, has God ever taken your life in a vastly different direction than you had previously imagined?
How’s your experience with centering prayer going? I find it so helpful to have any kind of structured prayer practice, and this one is no exception. Sometimes it is a challenge to focus on just one word, though. But I suppose the mind / soul welcomes that kind of challenge.
Also, something I’ve been wondering about is how many people have experienced ASMR – “autonomous sensory meridian response”? Ever since I was quite young, I’ve periodically felt “tingly” when I’ve experienced something that has been very emotionally pleasant, especially when listening to music that moves me deeply. If I feel like I need a spiritual / emotional lift, I can also relax myself mentally and let the same feeling generally flow through me. In my experience, it feels like some sort of God-energy moving through me, though when I was younger I wondered if it came from God or … somewhere else. (My formative religious and spiritual experiences seemed paradoxical: the regularly-patterned Sunday worship, as well as the wild beauty and wonder of life on the farm and in music. I didn’t know if I could trust my own experiences as truly spiritual.)
It seems like scientists are only beginning to study this. My questions are: what is this feeling? From where does it come? Why does it come and go? Who is capable of experiencing and/or producing it and under what circumstances? I’m also wondering about how it interacts with religion – what affect do religious beliefs have on it, and can it be integrated into one’s spiritual life?
Where are the ways in which the physical and spiritual meet for you?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what prevents people from really committing to justice work and movements, what puts our hearts in the right place but keeps our feet firmly right where we are. At the same time that I see good people not doing much visible work, I also see dedicated people who get just plain burnt out on the work. Those who lead justice movements tend to be clear that there are sacrifices of time, emotional, and other risks involved in working toward justice, but in our overall “sit down and shut up, polite, civil society,” most of the time we are implicitly and overtly taught to live lives that are risk averse and follow paths of least resistance.
Most of the time, those of us who want to work toward justice in the world end up having to figure out our own way to do that and to balance that work with other work that pays the bills. Many justice-oriented organizations hire paid community organizers – those who organize people to do and lead the work of justice in communities, and that work has its own need for self-care and direction in order to be sustainable. Lately, though, I have been wondering about how those of us who are a part of those organizations, who work with them on a volunteer basis, can balance our work with them with our life goals (matching up our self-interest with the organization’s) and with our need for self-care. I notice there is some writing and research on this, but I think more is needed.
Our book for the month, Justice in the Burbs, frames this in the question, “Can’t I just answer, ‘too busy’?” The book calls us to examine our schedules and to start with small choices and actions – which is, yes, a good start toward living a life of justice. They call the church to consider its role in the current societal state of things: “In this culture, when you ignore questions of justice, weeds, poison plants, and eventually brownfields spring up. This is what we believe happened in relation to the culture wars in this country. The church has failed in large ways to tend the cultural soil we have been given charge over, and unhealthy ‘plants’ have grown there. You can blame the thorns, or you can ask why the thorns were able to grow in the first place.” (p. 105)
But in this book and the others we have read about doing justice, I would like to see much more material about educating and socializing people of all ages to engage in fruitful justice work without burning themselves out. Can you imagine if we lived in a society in which people regularly and powerfully acted on their values and stood up for them when they were violated? I would like to see more resources that address in practical ways what it looks like to build a life around these things.
What are some ways you do or could structure your life around core justice issues in your life? What are the challenges you face in doing so?
Check the Think! Pray! Act! calendar for ideas and things to do.
Check out the Find Your FBCO Map to find your local faith-based community organizing affiliate and connect with the people who are working together to live out their dreams of a more just world!
What’s going on in your living of the Gospel? Let us know in the comments, in our e-mail discussion group, or on social media.
“Family Separations: A Word to the Church.” Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), n.d. https://disciples.org/resources/justice/immigration/family-separations/.
“Reclaiming Jesus.” 17 January 2017. http://reclaimingjesus.org/home.
Almada, Samuel E. “Ezekiel 1-39.” Pages 273–84 in Global Bible Commentary. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004.
Broockman, David, and Joshua Kalla. “Durably Reducing Transphobia: A Field Experiment on Door-to-Door Canvassing.” Science 352.6282 (2016): 220–24. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/352/6282/220.
Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015.
Digital Theological Library. “Open Access Digital Theological Library | a Virtual Library for Theology, Religious Studies, and Related Disciplines.” Open Access Digital Theological Library, n.d. http://oadtl.org/.
Hood, Cameron. “The Brain-Tingling Sounds of ASMR.” The New Yorker, 31 May 2018. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-brain-tingling-sounds-of-asmr.
Luther Seminary. “Enter the Bible,” n.d. http://www.enterthebible.org/.
Murphy-Shigematsu, Stephen. “How to Sustain Your Activism.” Greater Good, 13 March 2017. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_sustain_your_activism.
Nysse, Richard W. “Old Testament: Lamentations.” Enter the Bible, n.d. http://www.enterthebible.org/oldtestament.aspx?rid=45.
Padgett, Alan. “Old Testament: Ezekiel.” Enter the Bible, n.d. http://www.enterthebible.org/oldtestament.aspx?rid=46.
Samson, Will and Lisa. Justice in the Burbs: Being the Hands of God Wherever You Live. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005.
Society of Biblical Literature. “Bible Odyssey,” n.d. http://www.bibleodyssey.com/.
Tea, Kristen. “To My Friends Who Are Sick Of Politics.” MotherWise, 15 August 2017. https://motherwiselife.org/to-my-friends-who-are-sick-of-politics/.