Bob Marley Easter Sunrise Service

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: April 20th, 2014

Bob Marley Easter Sunrise SQFar more than being an international reggae music superstar, Bob Marley was a Prophet.

He saw, in the struggle of his people against poverty and oppression, an ancient struggle.  Even as he named the beastly dimensions of empire in the modern age, he believed that redeeming the world takes recognizing and engaging the spiritual reality beneath the trappings of wealth and might.

His music stands as an eternal call to join with God in the pursuit of justice, love and healing for all of creation.

Bob Marley’s redemption songs tell the Easter story. Death does not get the final word!

I am continually amazed at the number of people I encounter whose hopes for the healing of the world are Christ-like, but want nothing to do with a church that they’ve not experienced to be concerned with these same things.  I am also amazed by the number of Christians who speak about non-Christians and non churchgoers as though they don’t care about the same things.  I think the healing of the world requires a bridging of this divide.  I think that open-minded Christians can help by building connections with folks who share our hopes, even if they don’t share our congregation’s more traditional tastes in worship. Continue reading »

Some talent is found, some must be cultivated

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: December 5th, 2013

On the face of it Seattle has little in common with the flat land of my birth. But like the Chicago Cubs’ fans in the midwest, Seattleites are used to rooting for teams that never make it all the way and too often fall far short.

Seahawks’ Secret Factor: Secular Incarnational Ecclesiology?

That could be changing this year. The Seattle Seahawks have not only captured the spotlight of the NFL. They lead the conference and their 11 and 1 record is the best in the whole league, positioning them in front contention for the Super–well, let’s not jinx it. Beyond ALL of this, they’ve gained the attention of folks like me who rarely give football the time of day.

Why are the Hawks doing so well? In an interview with ESPN, coach Pete Carroll said that some talent is neither found nor acquired but must be cultivated. Sure, the first round draft picks help, but so does knowing how to recognize potential in those who don’t make the first round. Cultivating talent means giving people a chance and standing beside team members when they’ve made mistakes. That’s what great teams do.

In a Facebook post this week, Ron Sims reflected on Coach Carroll’s remarks and his own experience in public service.  “When I became the King County Executive, Governor Gardener told me not to become enamored with hiring just the ‘best and the brightest.’ He said ‘Go out and find the talent.’ Continue reading »

If the car goes fast, I go fast.

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: March 1st, 2013

NeuronsSince learning that Kate is pregnant, our lives have been full of many new things: Sharing with family, friends, and all of you. Visits with doctors. Ultrasounds. Morning sickness. Afternoon and evening sickness! Carpentry projects to get the house ready… Plus, our normal things continue. Work, ministry, Kate’s father’s wedding, my trip to Guatemala… Life is full and it’s going really fast.

In the midst of it all, Kate and I draw great joy from following the week by week development of our baby, now it it’s 14th week in the womb. (Yes, there’s even an app for that!) We were recently quite shocked to learn that our baby’s fetal brain was building up to 250,000 new neurons each minute! It seems too fast. Scary fast. Like, doesn’t it seem like something could go wrong moving that fast?

Bottom line, life does move fast. People come into our lives and leave. Friendships wax and wane. Doors of opportunity open and close, and open again in ways we may not even perceive because they are moving so fast. It can overwhelm us.

Speedy VWMy new appreciation of life’s speed reminded me of a brief meditation written by Thich Nhat Hanh. Continue reading »

The Epiphany Challenge:

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: January 7th, 2013

It’s a new year and new reality…if we’re game.

Friends, I need to come clean about New Year’s resolutions.  I don’t like them.  I try to avoid making them.  It’s not that I don’t think they’re a good thing for people to do, I would just personally prefer to feel a little badly for not making any, than to feel worse for making them and not keeping them.

That said, a recent combination of life events and liturgical themes has me taking a second look at the role such resolutions can play in our journeys of faith.

On January 6th, we celebrate Epiphany, the ‘appearance’ of the infant Jesus to the Magi.  More than a single event, Epiphany is actually a liturgical season that extends from January 6th (The twelfth day of Christmas) until Lent.  As such, the scriptural themes convey the manifestation of Christ in the world.

Many Christians around the world begin Epiphany, like the Magi of old, with gift-giving.  Though we have tended to make gift-giving a Christmas Day tradition, we could surely agree that the greatest gift of the season is the one we have all received as Divine love takes human form.

So the pastor in me must grudgingly observe that Epiphany presents the faithful with a challenge–namely to make space in our own lives for the living Christ to appear anew.  Isn’t this the real fulfillment of Immanuel, God-with-us?  Isn’t this the whole point of following Jesus in the first place?  God’s love is meant to be revealed within each of us.  This is the new reality!

Well, that will preach, but how do we put it into practice?  How about New year’s resolutions, with a twist?  Instead of making a private commitment, what about making a public one?  For that matter, what about making a few?

In case you’re thinking of putting this newsletter down about now, Continue reading »

Advent is a bumpy ride

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: December 5th, 2012

Advent is upon us and with it the new liturgical year.  The scripture lessons of advent captured the imaginations of their first hearers by interpreting the signs of their times.  For some, the trauma of war, the grief of loss, and desperation of exile were overwhelming.  In Mary and Joseph’s day, the struggle to survive and prevail against the oppression of despots and foreign occupiers was added to the personal trials people of all times and places undergo.

In those times the voices of prophets and angels implored God’s people to take heart.  They announced the dawn of a new reality already breaking in upon the old.  The covenant once made with Moses, carved upon stone, would now be written upon people’s very hearts.  God’s own hopes for humanity would be fulfilled, but the people must prepare!  The ride might get bumpy.

Christians have had trouble thinking and talking about eschatology–the end times–and the Bible doesn’t exactly make it easy.  Scripture depicts it in different ways.  Sometimes it is with the assurance of God’s grace and mercy.  Sometimes it is with dire warnings of judgment and harsh punishment.  Sometimes it emphasizes the need for individuals to make personal and spiritual preparations.  Elsewhere it pronounces the need for communities and nations to change the social and economic order.

We should not be surprised that some Christians try to spiritualize the whole affair, making it all about the individual ‘getting right with God.’  Nor should we be shocked when Christians socialize the Gospel, making it all about what it takes to make the world a better place.

Fortunately, discerning Christians aren’t locked into an either/or proposition.  Continue reading »

Any Given Sunday

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: November 1st, 2012

I haven’t yet met anyone who wasn’t feeling a bit nervous about this election.  My Democratic friends fear that Governor Romney might get elected.  My Republican friends are afraid of four more years with President Obama.  My independent and undecided friends range from feeling torn to dissatisfied.  Across the spectrum, we all seem pretty pessimistic about the odds of Congress finding consensus no matter who is elected.  The fact is, we’re a deeply divided people.

Turns out, we’re also pretty split over whether religion is a unifying or divisive force.

I was intrigued by the results of a study published last month.  It finds that Americans tend to over-report their church attendance.  Whereas Europeans feel quite comfortable admitting they don’t attend worship services, we Americans want to see ourselves, and be seen by others as churchgoers.  Half of all Americans report that they attend church weekly.  When attendance is actually verified on any given Sunday, only about a quarter of us–Americans and Europeans alike–actually go.

So what does that mean?  First, it might mean that we’re currently a less ‘Christian’ nation than we have imagined.  Second, we are still different from Europe.  We feel differently about religion.  Third, it suggests that some of us are concerned enough with our perception of our culture’s expectations that we’re not always honest about how we practice our faith.

Back before I was a preacher I used to love staying up to watch Saturday Night Live.  One of my favorite sketches was called, ‘The Honest Planet.’  Each week the setting was different but the dialogue always had me rolling on the floor.  The idea was simple–everyone actually said exactly what they thought.  WOW!  It was Continue reading »

The price of free speech

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: September 28th, 2012

Anti-Islam film ignites violence

As violent reaction to the anti-Islamic film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ continues to take its toll, lovers of peace and freedom debate the conclusions that many are quick to draw. The first lesson may be that we need calmer heads to wade into the fray.

According to Reuters, the flashpoint of the violence came on September 8th when an Egyptian television station with a history of religious extremism broadcast a trailer for the film depicting the prophet Muhammad as “a womanizer, a homosexual, and a child abuser.” The US embassy issued a statement. “The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

Later that day, a group upset about the film scaled our embassy walls, ripped down the American flag, and replaced it with a black Islamic flag. Just as many Americans were learning of the Egypt unrest, we got word that a violent attack on the US embassy in Benghazi, Libya had killed US personnel. We would later learn that our ambassador and three other Americans died. Around the same time, we began to hear that Mitt Romney was criticizing the Obama administration for ‘apologizing’ for the aforementioned film. Soon, Americans were lining up along rhetorical battle lines and it became immediately clear Continue reading »

We’re all in the same boat

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: June 30th, 2012

Chihuly floats in boat

Among the privileges of pastoring, I consider foremost the life passages through which so many of you and I have together walked.  Births, graduations, marriages, break-ups, illnesses, personal transformations, and the loss of loved ones make up the fabric of our common life.  To belong to a community which seeks to ensure that none of us walks alone is a great gift.  To be entrusted with shepherding it is, in the biblical sense, awesome.

Having traversed the dissolution of my own first marriage and the sudden deaths of both parents, I know first hand that some of these passages simply cannot be navigated single-handedly.  There were times when I was overwhelmed with fear, anger or sadness.  At other times, my denial of what was happening or eagerness to put it behind me led me to inconsideration and even mistreatment of those around me.  Thanks be to God for people who loved me and stuck by me even when it must have been hard!  The fragile crafts we sail through life can get squirrely on certain tacks and I will not forget the friends and family that tended the tiller and sheets when I was tied up in knots.  They reminded me who I was when I forgot.  They helped me find the new me when I needed to grow.

Such a community is good news in a world as broken as ours.  From time to time I encounter folks, usually men, who’ve somehow internalized the notion Continue reading »

A beauty for all time…

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: May 29th, 2012

A few weeks ago, Kate and I visited Port Townsend and Fort Worden.  When I saw the lighthouse overlooking Admiralty Inlet, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the North Cascades it drew me inside.

For most of us, lighthouses are things of beauty even if it be the sentimental sort.  Aside from their picturesque placement at the boundaries of land and sea, we imagine the anxious mariners caught in inclement weather getting bearings from their sight and sound.  We think what it might be like to be the caretakers, living right beside the object of our singular purpose and concern. We fantasize about days spent freshening the paint on the tower, polishing the brass fittings on the lamp and lubricating the gears which keep it turning.

Tending this lighthouse were three eighty-something uniformed members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary who clearly loved their jobs.  As they explained that the lighthouse was really a thing of the past–that the gorgeous, giant lamp inside hadn’t spun for many years, I could believe it.  Radio beacons, GPS, regional navigation authorities and smaller lighting systems direct today’s sea vessels with greater accuracy and lower cost.

When I asked if anyone lived in the caretaker’s house, I wasn’t surprised to learn that no, it was empty.  Turns out, it was vacated after September 11, 2001 when ‘things started to get weird.’  I’m not exactly sure what the guard meant by that, nor could I intuit how September 11 might have convinced the government to pull personnel away from a lighthouse guarding an inlet to the Puget Sound, but somehow, I too could feel the weirdness.

Honestly a part of me started wondering if many in our culture haven’t started to think of churches in the way I think about lighthouses.  Every year, I talk to couples who are looking for a church in which to get married.  They tend to be scouting out a building with the right look and feel.  They don’t tend to be looking for a congregation to bless the commitment they are making to each other.  They don’t tend to express interest in our church family or how we live out our faith.

Are churches becoming the spiritual equivalent of giant lighthouses, steepling our neighborhoods with their obvious architecture and backlit reader boards?  Have the churches that broadcast on TV and radio found a more sustainable way to operate?  Are we leaving our brick and mortar structures to the care  of our eighty-somethings?  Have young people found other means of navigating life’s hurdles?  Have our cultural institutions begun to chart their own courses, independent of mother church?  A case could be made… Continue reading »

Guilt: What is it good for?

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: March 2nd, 2012

A friend of mine who is gay recently shared how he felt when he came out of the closet.  One of the first changes he noticed was in the way his body felt.  He had never realized that he’d spent most of his anxious life breathing shallow breaths.  He discovered that most people breathed deeply–from their gut.  Learning to be honest with others about who he was freed him from a kind of fear so elemental that it changed every moment of his life.

Most of us have experienced, even if only for a short time, what it is like to feel on edge.   Relatively few of us have had to live very long with a fear for our safety or well-being if people found out who we were.  Though attitudes are changing, many in our culture still communicate social disapproval of gays and lesbians in ways that are deeply shaming and too-often violent.  It is no surprise that those who are called ‘abominations’ experience higher rates of depression and suicide.   Being gay can still get one arrested in 29 states, to say nothing of the countries around the world where the legal penalties can include fines, imprisonment, violence or execution.  Even where gays and lesbians have more civil rights, it can still be risky to show the slightest degree of public affection–even holding hands or embracing a moment too long.

Stealing Kisses

One warm spring day a few years ago, a good friend and his partner came from out of town to visit me and Kate.  Naturally, we decided to hit the beach.  As we crossed the railroad tracks at Carkeek park and climbed down the long stairs, we noticed a young couple embracing and gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes.  Imagining no one was watching, they stole a quick kiss.  “Doesn’t it warm your heart to see people so much in love?” I offered.  My friend considered, then said, “Yes, but it will feel warmer when I can feel that safe expressing my own love.”

We all know that guilt can be a destructive force in our lives.  When it rules us, we tend to live by fear, and not by love.  Living by fear, we risk hurting ourselves and others.

That day at the beach, I felt guilt for forgetting how our culture has turned romantic love into a privilege only some can express.  And what about the gay couples who’ve been in committed relationships for years who are denied the legal rights to hospital visitation or tax benefits or family medical leave or inheritance of property?

Feeling that guilt, I re-committed myself to being an advocate for the civil rights of all people.  But my guilt motivated me more than that.  Even our own denominational statement on human sexuality implores our members to advocate for civil rights for our GLBT brothers and sisters–something our most conservative Brethren tend to ignore. Continue reading »

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A 2012 Invitation from the Pastor

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: December 12th, 2011

From the paralyzing gridlock in Congress to the painful divisions we experience in the Church of the Brethren, the past year has underscored the poisonous consequences of our disunity.  But I think there’s something each of us can do to make 2012 different.

It’s no mystery as to why we are troubled.  Our economy is in the toilet.  Our nation is at war.  Our government and non-profits have fewer resources to devote to greater needs.  More and more of us are simply trying to survive.  Even those who feel secure are feeling the pinch.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale and stubbornness of these problems.  It’s easier still to identify the people who are to blame–as long as they aren’t us.  Fortunately, followers of Jesus have a prior commitment to searching within themselves for anything that might be standing in the way of their reconciliation to their brothers and sisters.  We know how easy it is to find the speck in another’s eye, and ignore the log in our own.

Those who’ve lived through the breaking up of a marriage or committed relationship are often able, in hindsight, to see things which might have forewarned them.  I don’t think the brokenness in our society or church has yet sealed our demise, but neither do I think our success, without real change, is assured.

So I’d like to issue a 2012 invitation.  Starting with ourselves, with what we actually can do, let us be brave, compassionate, and creative.

In our denomination, the presenting symptom is virulent disagreement over human sexuality.  Growing numbers believe it is time for the church to explicitly welcome gay and lesbian people into full participation, that doing so is a matter of showing Christ-like compassion and inclusivity.  As the culture around the church grows more accepting of homosexuality, many of those within the church who remain convinced of its inherent sinfulness have resisted what they see as cultural conformity in favor of Continue reading »

OK, it’s not a golden calf… it’s a bull.

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: November 1st, 2011

I’ve heard them described as `Cafeteria Catholics’ for the way they personally select the church doctrines they will actually practice.   I’ve tended to hear it from scriptural literalists claiming to follow the `whole bible’, aimed at liberals who cherry pick their favorite teachings and ignore the rest.

But when the Pope’s Council for Justice and Peace recently called for global financial reform, citing scripture and instructing Catholics to support policies that honor `the primacy of being over having,’ of `ethics over the economy,’ and of `embracing the logic of the global common good,’ conservatives were caught looking the other way as liberals celebrated the alignment between the Vatican and the protesters occupying Wall Street.

Setting the Catholic model of institutional authority aside, the contradictions between biblical stewardship and free market fundamentalism are difficult to ignore. What do I mean by market fundamentalism?  Namely, it is the religious-like zeal with which many have embraced, as absolute truth, several core economic doctrines:

1. Rags to Riches: With hard work and determination, in America, even the most down and out can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

2. If your policies support the folks at the top, the wealth will trickle down to those at the bottom.

3. If you leave the marketplace alone, an unseen hand will shape and guide it in the best possible way.

Some will argue that these are not religious doctrines, they are self-evident `truths.’  But we who question or critique these `truths’ in mixed political company can attest to the vehemence with which we are shot down as heretics, communists, and traitors. Continue reading »

Moving out from behind the lens

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: September 1st, 2011

Almost always it is the fear of being ourselves that brings us to the mirror. ~Antonio Porchia

Have you ever noticed that some people seem confused about who they are? At times, they fit neatly into our pre-conceived notions. Sometimes, not so much. I’ve even noticed some folks who seem to have difficulty distinguishing the person they know themselves to be from the person others see when they look at them.

I’m surely no expert on personality, but I’m confident that most of us have, at one time or another, struggled to come to terms with our identity.

Growing up with parents who were missionaries, then social workers, then pastors, I moved around more than most. I suspect this generated a kind of anxiety that persists in my personality, at least in the background, even to this day–a kind of pre-occupation with place, with knowing where I’ve come from, where I’m at, and where I truly belong. It’s probably even related to my love of maps.

Moving around also brought opportunities. If you’ve ever felt like you’d become a person you didn’t like, or that others didn’t like, there’s nothing like a move to give you the chance to try changing who you are.

I don’t think my imagination has ever been elaborate enough to guide me into an alternate personality, but I distinctly recall the shift I made, occasioned by the move my family made from Indiana to Iowa when I was fifteen years old.

Continue reading »

The Gifts of God’s Household

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: August 2nd, 2011

I’ve been told the whole disagreement is completely unnecessary, that no other industrialized nation’s legislatures agonize over whether or not to stop borrowing the money they need to meet the financial promises they have already debated and made.  But apparently being completely unnecessary hasn’t made arriving at a compromise any easier.

The bitter congressional fight over raising the debt ceiling is but the latest expression of deeply seated cultural disagreement over the nature of our world and the proper role of government in it.  Fueled by inaccurate reporting, political brinkmanship, and an endangered economic recovery, the public is understandably on edge.

Anxious times like these make talking about spiritual gifts awkward.   Describing the abundance of God’s blessings may just verge on delusional.  Everything around us screams that our most vital resources are scarce and must be held onto at all costs.

Perhaps the desperation of our situation might help us step back from the madness and take stock of our situation.  We aren’t the first Christians to face Continue reading »

Lily’s dream of peace

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: July 1st, 2011

Not every young American woman dreams of traveling to hostile nations to get to know their sworn enemies, but Lily Ghebrai is no ordinary young woman.  When dreams like this become realities, crazy things can happen.

This spring, Lily joined a delegation of Seattle’s United Nations Association on a friendship tour of Iran.  That’s right, it was a trip to express the hope that despite the over-heated rhetoric of our respective governments, Americans and Iranians can be friends.

Naturally, her parents were concerned for Lily’s safety.  But they also knew that their daughter’s heart has been lit on fire for the cause of peacemaking and that it has defined the way she relates to others.  I don’t think I’m going too far out on any limb to say that it would be hard for anyone to not be drawn to her warm smile and open manner.

Lily’s early life was influenced by war.  Her own parents were caught up in the liberation struggle Continue reading »

Get on board!

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: June 1st, 2011

We’ve heard the call before but we might have mistaken it for the hype with which we’re sometimes recruited to join some leadership team.  Yes, June is the month when the leaders we called in April take their places on our church board, but when we hear ‘Get on board!’ I hope our imaginations are turned toward the possibilities implied by the imperative.  In most cases, the board onto which we ought get is the deck of a boat or a train, a vessel prepared to leave, bound for a place we ought to go.

Sometimes the price of a great imagination is a little confusion.  I will never forget my grade-school field trip to a secret station upon the ‘underground railroad.’  We were led down rickety stairs into a brick-walled basement and shown where runaway slaves hid from the authorities on their way north to freedom.  It was quite clear to me that the tracks had been cemented over and the opening for the trains coming up from the south was long ago filled in, but I could tell how wisely they’d chosen the spot because no one standing on ground level would ever have suspected the tracks or station so cleverly hidden from their sight.  Considering the lives at stake, this was a very good thing.

For some reason the moment I learned the underground railroad wasn’t an actual railroad never stuck in my mind as well as the time I saw that secret station, but having parents who got arrested in the civil rights movement of the ‘60’s and later Continue reading »

Post-Osama: the prospects for peace

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: May 5th, 2011

Nearly ten years after the terrorist strikes of Sept. 2001, the news of Osama bin Laden’s death re-awakened strong feelings in our nation.  Grief, relief, anger, exuberance, fear, and dismay again took the stage of our public and private conversations.  Ten years ago, these played themselves out on television, in living rooms, classrooms, shops, and places work and worship.  Then, the images of destruction were close to home.  Today they are a world away.  Still, I am haunted by the eerie co-mingling of images and emotions and find myself wondering at what has really changed.

It almost goes without saying that the event which re-oriented our foreign policy, launched two wars, re-shaped the executive branch of the federal government, and re-wrote civil liberties was a generation-defining moment.

Our initial reactions on that tragic day conveyed the best and worst of who we are.  Our collective grief brought people together across all kinds of boundaries.  They ignited an impulse to reach out and help others.  They provoked self-reflection and a desire to understand what could have led people to do this to us.

At times our fears got the best of us and reared themselves as hateful, racist, speech and even as violence.  Close to home, North Seattle’s Idris Mosque was targeted with vandalism and violence.  Thankfully, community members including some from our own congregation, offered courageous, non-violent, round-the-clock presence to deter more violence.  Since then, Interfaith commemorations of 9/11, prayer services and picnics have maintained and strengthened the goodwill born that September.

Would that the political climate of today was characterized by the same kind of unity.  Since 2001, we’ve seemed to grow only more divided.  Cable news programs offer an ever-narrowing selection of sometime-facts, tailored to fit the biases of their increasingly polarized viewers.  Gridlock rules our legislatures, from one Washington to the other.   Continue reading »

Go down, Moses…

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: March 1st, 2011

Tahrir Square

From Cairo to Tripoli, in Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, and Abidjan the people’s resistance to repressive regimes has taken to the streets.  The strains of the great spiritual echo in my ears, `…tell ol’ Pharaoh to let my people go!’  This is a time of hope and celebration, but as in any crisis danger accompanies opportunity.  Predictions are still premature but it’s not to early to draw some lessons from history and observations from the present.

Political scientists coined the term, ‘authoritarian bargain’ to describe when citizens give up some political rights in exchange for economic security.  In the Middle East and North Africa this bargain is collapsing.   As growing numbers of youth enter the labor force, rising unemployment and drought-induced food scarcity has made it difficult or impossible for dictators to fulfill the economic side of the bargain.

Raj Desai, a Senior Fellow on the Global Economy and Development at the Brookings Institute, explains that dictators historically weather these pressures with a variety of strategies: repression, corruption that buys support from powerful individuals or parties, the exploitation of factional, tribal, or sectarian divides, and sometimes by granting limited political reforms.

As this goes to print, Muammar Qaddafi is exacting brutal violence upon protesters in a desperate bid to retain power in Libya.  Whether he or the protesters will finally prevail, the near-term danger is of escalating violence.  Yemen and Bahrain have been using the same tactic.  This is where we benefit from considering the role of religion.  As repressive regimes fall, we face the risk that what could replace them may be extremist in ideology and, in the cases of Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain, hostile toward the U.S. and other nations that have supported their predecessors. Continue reading »

The Church of High-Fidelity

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: February 1st, 2011

It goes without saying that the world of marketing is filled with hype.  The discerning comparative shopper must trudge through landscapes littered with phrases and acronyms, all designed to suggest that the products in question are using the latest and greatest technology.  Positrack, Solid-State, Full HD, 4WD, AWD, DiG!C4, LiveView, Clearvue, are just a few.

My personal favorite technological innovation, one which has stood the test of time remarkably well, is High Fidelity, more recently shortened to Hi-Fi.  It may not be good that the phrase is still useful.  ‘Solid-State’ is no longer used because almost all electronics are built compactly, and with transistors instead of tubes.  ‘Hi-Fi’ designates sound which is reproduced in the full frequency spectrum of the human ear, and too often our sound falls far below that standard.

Many of you have heard my musings on the ‘Church of High-Fidelity.’  It’s how I describe the ideal church of the future, or perhaps the church which is already coming, but not fully arrived.  The Church of High Fidelity seeks to be faithful to the source.  In our case, that means faithful to the life and teachings of Jesus, which thus means faithful to the heart of God.  Some people get tripped up trying to apply technological terms to the Church.  Not me. :)   The Church of High Fidelity doesn’t use technology to replace what is essential.  Instead, it seeks technology use that deepens our connections to the essential.

I sense this may already be unraveling for some of you.  Please bear with me.

The other day, I was talking with a friend who is helping to manage a megachurch web-site.  They are using their web-technology to broadcast the services from one of their campuses to be replayed at their others.  In my humble opinion, that is NOT the Church of High Fidelity.  Another regional megachurch uses a different kind of technology toward the same end.  They actually fly their preacher from one campus to another campus in a helicopter!  Any idea what that costs?  It would have to be thousands of dollars each week.  That is also NOT the Church of High Fidelity. Continue reading »

Mystery Awakens

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: January 1st, 2011

It was all over the news.  For some it was a once-in-a-lifetime event.  Most people didn’t even see it.  The full lunar eclipse December 21st was special.  For the first time in almost 400 years, it coincided with the winter solstice, the last of the lengthening nights and the first of the lengthening days.  Other than that, it looked like most other full lunar eclipses, which, in my experience, are AWESOME, and definitely worth the losing of sleep.

Those who’ve not seen one might wonder what the big deal is.  The moon changes its shape daily, and disappears monthly.  But this kind of eclipse happens quickly.  And when the moon disappears, it really turns a ghostly red from the long waves of sunlight refracting through the earth’s atmosphere and bending their way into its shadow.
Life can be like that.  Remarkable things happen frequently, but are not universally perceived.  What makes them special depends on one’s perspective, and the special may not even appear until something stands in the way of the normal.

Albert Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He [or she] to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: [their] eyes are closed.” Continue reading »

Prepare Ye…

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: December 4th, 2010

Advent platitudes about the brightening dawn of hope and new life run pretty, plentiful, and cheap.  Digging deeper, we come to the root of Advent matters, but also get our hands dirty.

As a child, I was deeply curious about how things worked and wildly fascinated by my cousin Mark’s mystical powers with all things electronic.  I wasn’t always clear on why most of his electronic toys were in various states of dis-assembly, but it seemed like it usually had to do with their needing to be repaired.  Granted, some of those things may not have needed repair before he dismantled them and a good many were surely sacrificed at the altar of scientific inquiry, but those sacrifices were not in vain.  My cousin Mark knows how things work, and just as important, he’s learned how to learn about how things work.  His secret ingredient?  The courage to take it apart.

The story of Jesus’ birth is rooted in a broken world.  The land of ancient promise is in the imperial grip of fear, greed and tyranny.   Continue reading »

Healing takes discipline, rest… and movement

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: November 1st, 2010

Someone said that laughter is the best medicine, but I’m guessing they weren’t trying to recover from abdominal surgery.  My wife’s recent surgery has offered us both a chance to consider the life ingredients needed for healing.

There was a time when it was thought that what healing bodies most needed was rest.  While our culture still tends to undervalue rest’s importance, physicians now understand that movement is a huge part of the healing equation.  Many of you have learned first hand how quickly hospital nurses now encourage their resting patients to get up and walk around.  I used to think that was largely driven by the insurance companies trying to maximize their bottom line.  Now I know that moving promotes the circulation that can reduce inflammation and the risk of blood clots forming.  Movement can help disperse the painful gas bubbles trapped in the body after invasive surgeries.  Movement minimizes the loss of muscle tone and tissue from extended convalescence.  Even when movement is impossible, compression sleeves around patients’ calves are activated to keep the blood moving through the lower extremities.  And for all of this, the data show, outcomes improve.

We wouldn’t want to over-simplify things.  Healing takes movement and it takes rest.  It can take other things, too.  Getting the pain medications right is pretty important!  There’s no substitution for properly trained caregivers.  They need to run tests, administer proper dosages, reassure and motivate patients and family, accurately convey information to physicians and specialists, and constantly wash their hands!  Discipline, rest, movement–all essential ingredients for healing.

Perhaps the same is true in our spiritual lives.   Continue reading »

Encountering Sacred Space

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: October 1st, 2010

In a world where so many slap the label ‘sacred’ onto anything they’d like to claim as their own, or market for their own gain, or about which they prefer to shut down conversation or critical thought, sacred space can be easy to find, but hard to truly encounter.

At District Conference, David Radcliff invited folks to share stories of sacred spaces.  The sharing was beautiful, and straight from the heart.  We made many discoveries.

Sacred space is found where people come together.  It’s where sharing happens, where relationships are built, where love grows, where commitment blossoms bearing the fruits of compassion and right action. Continue reading »

It can be the hardest word we ever say

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: September 1st, 2010

‘Help!’  A cry, a plea, a prayer, a teaching, a command.  Five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the images of survivors on rooftops take us back to those agonizing days.

For several thousand years, western civilization has been enamored of the rugged individual who can outlast wind and wave, the captain of their own destiny.  And though Hebrew and Christian scriptures warn us against the idolatry of self, many people of faith now swear by Benjamin Franklin’s dictum, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’

To be fair, truth is usually a two-sided coin, and there are surely people whose sense of entitlement has fostered a lifestyle of dependence, but I think the scales have tipped too far the other way.  As we have fashioned our faith in our own image, we’ve taught our children that their need is their weakness, that, with the right attitude and hard work they can accomplish anything. Continue reading »

Living the Word

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: August 3rd, 2010

Anabaptists aren’t used to being in vogue, but the fact is, the way we practice faith has never been more relevant.  This year’s Church of the Brethren Annual Conference moderator, Shawn Flory-Replogle said it well.  “We live in the most violent, materialistic, self-centered society since the Roman Empire.  As the Church of the Brethren, we know a little something about those things.”  Indeed.

Perhaps this is why so many folks who are frustrated with the rigidity, hierarchy, individualism, and attachment to the status quo of their own religious traditions are finding inspiration in Anabaptism.  Ironically, these emerging forms of faith are experiencing real growth just as our own denomination seems paralyzed by conflict and malaise.  We needn’t be surprised that Brethren don’t know much about being in style, but we have little excuse for losing sight of how extremely relevant our practice of faith is in today’s world.  The world is deeply in need of another way of living and that’s what people who take Jesus seriously work to achieve.

The Annual Conference theme (Taking Jesus Seriously) dovetailed beautifully with that of this year’s National Youth Conference: ‘More than meets the eye.’  Our workshops, group discussions, and worship services explored the dimensions of our identity which elude a cursory glance.  The world has a million ways to sell us an identity that says I’ve ‘got it together.’   But underneath the surface, we are deeply broken.  Beneath the fashions of the day lie the insecurities and wounds which we dare not reveal.  Underneath the conspicuous display of wealth and strength lie the fears of our own weakness and worthlessness.

How refreshing it was to have insightful preachers from other traditions come to remind us of the good news of God’s grace, and the gifts of love and joy which pour forth from its discovery.  When I am most afraid for the future of our faith tradition, I will be able to remember the power of this basic message to unite our diverse body of believers, and call us all into discipleship, service, and mission.  Thank you, friends, for helping we youth and advisors get to Colorado for a week of inspiration.  I hope you’ll be infected by the same spirit which so refreshed us.

Mama’s motto: Let’s make it right

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: June 23rd, 2010

Mama’s birthday has prompted me to express my gratitude for a woman of uncommon love.  It’s not that she wasn’t without her faults.  In fact, she knew her own shortcomings very well.  She knew her own pain, but she didn’t let it rule her life.

I recently heard someone say that we all have wounds.  The question is whether they make us stronger or weaker.  Even as our culture tends to idealize personal strength, Mama knew that strength was also inter-personal.  She modeled this in her relentless pursuit of righteousness, of right-relationship with God and with others.  She was not someone to sit on her feelings or allow her conflicts with others to fester.  She wanted to make it right.

Can you think of the last time you learned someone was upset with, or disappointed in you?  How did you handle it?  I think I usually look for a way to fix it–unless I don’t sense that the other person desires to have it fixed.  Then, I get stuck.  That didn’t stop my mother.  Her faith in the power of reconciliation didn’t blind her to its obstacles.  Her faith inspired her to place a radical trust in the power of love’s intention to overcome fear, anger, and injustice.  She knew it wasn’t enough to pray for peace.  One needed to discover within, the capacity to express love, even when there was no promise of recompense.  When something wasn’t right with someone, she faced her fears and pursued the possibility of healing.

In the year and a half since her death, I’ve heard countless stories of people whose lives were shaped by my mother’s love.  I guess that is the real miracle of love.  It is weakened only when it is not shared.  The more freely it is given, the more widely it is shared, the more deeply it is expressed, the stronger it becomes.

I know what Jesus meant when he bid his disciples to build up, for themselves, treasures in heaven, the kind that could never be stolen or spoiled.  I give thanks for the way Mama’s faith was lived on earth as it is in heaven.

My confession: I have a problem with stuff

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: June 2nd, 2010

Sure, I believe in simple living, but actually living simply is another thing.

At our last week’s Men’s Breakfast, Jeff Keuss asked they guys to share about their relationship to ‘stuff.’  Turns out, just about everybody reported having problems dealing with their stuff.  At least I’m not alone.

As my breakfast brothers shared, I realized we all had different reasons for our conflicted relationship with things.  Two weeks ago, Kate and I bought a house.  To be sure, it has been exciting.  Our move brought us back to Seattle, 5 minutes from the church, closer to Kate’s work, and into a home of our very own.  We’ve felt exceedingly grateful, especially for the hard work of my folks who made it possible to begin with.  But not everything has been exciting.  This  move has slammed me kind of hard, and it’s forced me to reflect upon my attachment to my stuff.

Moving is not foreign to me.  In my 40 years, I’ve lived in at least 23 different homes, and in none for more than 5 years.  I marvel at the deep connections so many  have to a geographic place in their lives.  It makes me feel like a nomad.  For me, home was simply where my family was.

While my family was never attached to a single house, we were extraordinarily connected to our things.   Continue reading »

Don’t think of an elephant!

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: April 29th, 2010

Whatever you’re doing right now, I want to ask you to NOT think of an elephant.  Feel free to think about whatever you want, just not an elephant.

As a wise man once said, ‘A mind is a terrible thing to waste, or not to have at all.’  Researchers have learned some important things about the way the mind acquires, stores, and recalls information.  Notably, the mind handles information by bundling and framing it.  Where it can do so easily, the information is more easily stored and recalled.  Where information is difficult to conceptualize in this way, it is disposed of.  There is a lot of information to be known about elephants.  All of us have some notion of them.  Those who have had experiences with them have not likely forgotten them.  They are memorable creatures, even if we’re instructed to NOT think about them.

How often do you find yourself walking into a room and forgetting why you were there?  We tend to regret the information we can’t seem to recall at the right times, but disposing of information can be very helpful.  Why?  Because we are simply not capable of handling all the things which our minds can perceive.

Information overload is even more of a problem in the modern era, where it streams at us far faster than we can process.  We’ve learned to cope with the flood of information by looking for patterns.  When we hear a deep growling sound, we remember other times we’ve heard that, and soon recall the danger that sound suggests.  When we encounter a situation that confounds us, we sort through memories of similar things, and latch onto those which connect symbolically.

It turns out that words play a very important role in shaping our ability to discern patterns, and therefore, our ability to store and use ideas.  When information fits our view of the world, we tend to retain it.  Unfortunately, if conveniently, we tend to ignore and forget information that contradicts our perceptions or opinions.

Words are symbols.  They bundle and frame things as ideas.  They carry them like boats carry people over the sea.  Their contents may shift.  Their courses may drift.  They may even capsize and sink, or ground upon a rocky shore.  Not surprisingly, they sometimes disgorge their passengers and take on new ones, before setting out for entirely new destinations.

The Hebrew word Ruach is a good example.  At times it means Spirit.  Elsewhere-breath.  Sometimes wind.  It can even mean scent, or the verb, to smell.

Today, spirit can also refer to the intangible presence of a deceased person, a class of alcoholic drink, team enthusiasm, a quality of character, or to one’s mood.  We perceive the intended meaning in relation to its context.

Mars Rover 'Spirit'

'Spirit' B-2 bomber

This dynamic can get tricky for people of faith who have canonized ancient texts, formulated creeds, and spent years with the lyrics and liturgies of their traditions.  We shouldn’t be surprised that we have so much conflict over language.  It is important.  What else can come close to conveying our understanding of God, of the meaning of Jesus’ life, or the purpose of following as a disciple?  What else can so stand in the way of communicating the principles of our faith across divides of culture or world-view?

So much more can be said about the power of words to carry or fail to carry the ideas we hold most dear.  This May, following the lectionary, my sermons will look at a few of them.

We’ll explore the biblical journey from its beginning in ‘the garden’ (Eden), to its conclusion in ‘the beautiful city’ (New Jerusalem).  We’ll consider that city’s river and ‘tree of life.’  We will talk about glory, a concept attributed both to things divine, and things military.  We’ll celebrate Pentecost, the miracle in which the Holy Spirit (as tongues of fire) descends upon a diverse group of worshipers and helps them to understand each other.  Finally, we’ll contemplate ‘Woman Wisdom,’ a feminine image of the divine honored in the book of Proverbs.

Whether the language of our faith looks more like a mine-field or a tapestry has a lot to do with our spirits.  But the season of the Spirit endows the faithful with the wisdom to navigate the dangers and the inspiration to take their creative turn at the great loom.

See?  I am making all things new!  -Rev. 21.5

…the point is to change it.

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: March 25th, 2010

‘May God have mercy on the assassins.’  Shot while celebrating mass, these were his last words.
Three years earlier, few in El Salvador would have expected Archbishop Oscar Romero to become the hope of the nation’s poor. The Vatican had chosen him precisely because he didn’t like to make waves or confront authority.  But that was before his conversion.It’s not that he wasn’t a natural leader or that he didn’t care for the plight of his flock, but a new and radical kind of theology was rocking the very pillars of tradition which had kept the authority of the church secure for hundreds of years.  Romero was a doctrinal and social conservative.

In the 1960′s, a generation after WWII, the world’s great powers were in turmoil. Though the imperial aspirations of Germany and Japan had been defeated, new contests for power played themselves out around the globe. Europe was losing its colonies in Africa and Asia to independence movements. The US and Soviets were the new powers and each believed their security and prosperity depended upon gaining influence in their respective hemispheres. Continue reading »

Avatar: Imagine crossing over

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: March 7th, 2010

Until this last week, I’d only known an ‘avatar’ to be an image used to represent a person interacting with others in an on-line game or chat room.  Needless to say, this word is finding a new place in our culture.Crossing Over

Those more culturally literate than I would have associated ‘avatar’ with the human incarnations of Hindu deities, often portrayed as half-human, half-animal.  ‘Avatar’ comes from the Hindu verb ‘to cross over.’  Those who have already seen the Oscar-nominated, highest-grossing film of all time will make the connection.

Avatar, the movie, is set several hundred years in the future.  Industry, for those on planet Earth, has grown increasingly dependent upon resources that can only be found off-planet.  Jake Sully, a paraplegic war veteran, is hired by a mining company operating on the distant world of Pandora to help them with a special project.

The plot starts to look like Dances with Wolves.  Pandora is inhabited by giant humanoids called the Na’vi who dress like Native Americans, and generally commune with nature.  Of course, the mining company wants to extract an insanely precious mineral right out from underneath the Na’vi home. Continue reading »

The Danger of Positive Thinking

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: February 1st, 2010

I’m about the last person from whom you’d ever hear a warning about getting too much of a good thing. My friends argue about whether I’m a perfectionist or a maximalist. I usually argue for the latter. I really don’t need everything to be perfect and I don’t take it personally when it’s not, but I do constantly find myself asking whether there wouldn’t be some way that we could improve what we’re doing or making or partaking in.

To be fair, I’m not always the one to catch myself over-compensating for things that are not quite good enough. I’m thinking that the very idea of ‘good enough’ is my kryptonite. It robs me of my super-power, the ability to make just about anything better.

Virtue or vice seems to depend on one’s perspective, and the most startling perspective to come my way lately is being bandied about by Barbara Ehrenreich in her latest book, Bright-sided: How the relentless promotion of positive thinking has undermined America.Ehrenreich-fromCreativeWell2

Honestly, the first time I heard it, I found the title troubling. I think positivity is one of my personal attributes. Whether or not you agree, it is something to which I aspire. In fact, I’ve often thought that negativity was one of our deeper social problems.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess to not having read this book, but I have heard her share her thoughts on the subject in two separate public-radio interviews.

Last week, Fred Utter re-introduced me to that ‘Magic Eye’ thing that was so popular in the nineties. You know the funky carpet-pattern looking photo collage that supposedly contains a 3D image if you can just look at it the right way. Well it actually does occasionally work, but you have to hold the picture close and focus on it close, without bringing your eyes together as you normally do when you’re trying to look at one point. In relaxing, and allowing each eye to take in a slightly different image, a third image appears, in three dimensions. Enough said.

Ehrenreich is trying to do a similar thing. In observing several seemingly independent cultural tendencies, she has perceived a single pattern. Continue reading »

Recess: Time to bring it back

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: January 1st, 2010

Almost every day at work, I hear one of my life’s favorite sounds–recess at the elementary school across the street–hundreds of kids having all kinds of fun. Then I hear one of the saddest sounds–the bell that calls them all back to class. Why did we ever let them take recess away from us? I think it’s time to bring it back.

Seriously, how much fun was that? Sure, I know there are bullies and fights and not getting picked to be on the team you want, but that stuff happens off the playground too. Drama and trauma aren’t the exclusive realm of the playground. But man, there’s a lot of fun stuff that never happens unless you have some regularly set-aside time to play with others.

The other Sunday, a bunch of folks from the church went over to carol at the Northaven Retirement Community. From two years old to over seventy, that group had fun, especially singing to the 80-plus crowd who will always show up to hear a choir.

Honestly we were a somewhat unruly bunch. Not that everyone at Northaven likes to color inside the lines, but we had kids roaming ALL around, wanting to be held, then not, then deciding to go help Harumi play the piano, then deciding not to sing. My favorite was to see several of our youngsters helping Rob direct the singing.Jan 2010 22

Some adults get cranky amid such antics, but not our group and not Northaven either. On this day, it was grace abounding. Unless I was missing something, it seemed like every one of us was just enjoying ourselves.

I wish more of my life was like that. I mean, haven’t we all wanted to direct the choir and play electric guitar and drums at one time or another–so much that we just acted like we were, even though we didn’t really know how to, or didn’t have anyone that would actually let us do it for real?

Continue reading »

Advent people are making plans

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: December 1st, 2009

Conventional wisdom says the right time to celebrate the new year is January.  To be sure, that’s when our Gregorian calendar changes and our attentions turn toward the year ahead.  But that’s backward from the way we mark the passing of our personal time passages.  This March, I’ll celebrate my 40th yDSC_0190 croppedear of living, but in truth, I’m already living in it.  Am I only to celebrate upon its completion?

Advent time is screwy.  It’s liminal time, in-between time, not-quite-but-just-about-time.

For Christians, it is the beginning of the new year.  The season of Pentecost ends with a celebration of Christ’s reign as a different kind of sovereign.  Advent takes us all the way back to the beginning of the Jesus story as his world and ours prepare for his coming. Continue reading »

Falling isn’t easy, but we needn’t fall alone

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: October 1st, 2009

The spiders around my house are looking healthy and fat these days. When I first moved out here, they looked exotic and frightening. In Indiana, it was mostly Daddy long-legs. I used to diligently sweep them all out of sight. dsc_00281

At some point, I called a truce. I asked them to stay out of my hair and not to crowd out the doorways or windows. Now, if they spin their webs out of the way, I leave them alone. I gently move the inevitable encroachers to better spots. I’ve learned to tell individual spiders apart and must confess to esteeming the more diligent and crafty among them. I see now that I am the host of these little creatures guarding my house from annoying insects.

I’m still a bit squeamish around the Hobos. This is the time of year they try to get inside to lay their eggs. I’m not cool with the ones that can really hurt me. I’ve had enough pain for one year. Continue reading »

Searching for the science of spirituality

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: September 1st, 2009

What if you slept? And what if, in your sleep, you dreamed? And what if, in your dream, you went to heaven and plucked a strange and beautiful flower? And what if, when you awoke, you had the flower in your hand? Ah, what then? Samuel Taylor Coleridgeblue-nigel-21

I’ve always been a fan of Candid Camera. My stomach was sore for days from laughing so hard at the episode where the construction site porta-potty was secretly mounted to a fork-lift. Viewers watch worker after worker suffer varying degrees of puzzlement and consternation upon opening the door to a world now 12 feet below them. Of course, the subjects eventually spot the camera and small crowd splitting their guts over their plight and it’s smiles all around.

Humor is healing. We’ve known this intuitively for some time, but it wasn’t `til the 1970′s that scientists began to acknowledge a connection between our frame of mind and our bodies ability to heal. Norman Cousins may have triggered the revolution. After being diagnosed with a terminal illness, he checked himself into a hotel and had films of Candid Camera and the Marx Brothers brought in. He literally belly laughed himself back to health. Intrigued by his widely shared story, scientists began studies which later confirmed his conclusion. The new science of psychoneuroimmunology was born! Continue reading »

The power of a question

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: August 1st, 2009

There’s a kind of power that comes to students who understand their stake in the questions they ask. I remember well the day at Manchester College when I ran into some students from a school out East. They were traveling around the country to share their experiences with student-led classes.

“Student led?” I asked. Was I hearing them right? Why would a school let students lead a class? Weren’t we here to learn from our professors?

They shared the story of their own student-led class experience. I was fascinated by the process they used to get together and decide what they wanted to study. The whole thing was making me laugh-not the way one laughs at something ridiculous, but more the way one laughs at a clever friend’s description of an event that you were at, but hadn’t found funny at the time, but now can see was actually hilarious.

I don’t think I’d ever spent time thinking about what I might want to study, if I actually got to choose entirely on my own. That realization started me down the rabbit hole. Endless possibilities! Continue reading »

Oh, to be as clever as Tom

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: July 1st, 2009

When I asked Tom Mullen, one of my favorite seminary professors, to preach at my ordination service, I expected him to be clever and profound; but when he titled his message, ‘Unfit for the Ministry’ I wondered if choosing the faculty comedian had been wise.  Was my vocation to be in jeopardy just as it was getting off the ground?

My first pastorate was in Indiana.  Out East, when people learn you are a pastor, they tend to smile and commend you for your willingness to serve the church.  I knew Seattle would be different, but I didn’t know that honestly answering one of people’s first questions upon meeting me would end so many conversations before they’d begun. Continue reading »

In like a lion, out like a lamb…

by: Ken Miller Rieman posted: April 1st, 2014

Bob Marley Easter Sunrise 2014K thumb‘In like a lion, out like a lamb’ has long described the seasonal transition in the month of March.  It could also be applied to Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem.

Each year, thousands of pilgrims made their way to the Holy City for Passover, the Hebrew people’s most important celebration.  Passover recalled Israel’s liberation from slavery in Egypt many centuries earlier.

In Jesus’ time, Israel found itself under the thumb of another empire.  The Roman occupation of Judea placed great strain upon the people.  The empire fed upon the resources and labor of its subjects, but it could not have done this without the cooperation of some of the locals.  If you want a sense of the people’s feelings about those who cooperated with the Romans, just search for references to tax collectors and temple scribes.  They’re not too popular.

With devout Jewish folks coming into the capital of their occupied and corrupted homeland to celebrate their historic escape from slavery and oppression, Passover was electric with tension.

Pilate, Rome’s local governor, rides into the city upon a stallion, surrounded by a great army. His message was clear–he was in charge and he would defend his authority with force.

Jesus, at the height of his popularity, rumored to be Israel’s king in waiting, with many of his followers hoping for a showdown, plans his own dramatic and surprising entry to the city.  Like a king who comes in peace, whose realm needs no army, he sits astride a donkey and the crowds go wild.

Then Jesus makes his appearance at the Temple.   Continue reading »