Tag Archives: Jesus a Life

INDISCRIMINATE FORGIVENESS

JesusonCross_edited-4

Photography by D. Plasman

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Church tradition acknowledges that Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness comprises the first words he speaks from the cross. On several levels, it’s curious why Jesus prays “Father, forgive them” instead of saying “I forgive you.” Because Jesus is the object and target of their abuses and taunts, it would seem his choice to forgive or not to forgive them. Recall also the incident (Luke 5:17-26) of the disabled man lowered through the roof by his four friends; on that occasion, Jesus announces, “Your sins are forgiven.” Why not make the same announcement from the cross?

I don’t know the answer or whether there is one, but I suspect there may be a relationship between Jesus’ prayer, “Father, forgive them,” and the lack of specificity in the word “them.” Who is “them”? To whom is Jesus referring? The soldiers obeying orders? It would seem so, but does Jesus’ prayer stop with the soldiers? Does “them” also include Pilate, who gave the order? And what about the array of religious leaders and temple thugs who plotted against him? What about the disciples who fled, and Peter who three times denied him, and Judas who betrayed him?

Where does “them” begin and where does “them” end? What’s the limit? Might “them” include all those present that day, all those who had lived before that day, and even all those who have lived since that day? Does Jesus’ prayer—vast in time and boundless in place—become a reality when the one universal God hears it? If so, is there anything or anyone who stands outside the scope of this prayer?

On a scale of 1(low) to 10 (high), how large is your circle of “them”?

[This reflection is one of 365 that appear in my book: Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke, available at Amazon.]

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , , |

THE NEXT PRESIDENT

LudingtonLighthouse BLOG

Ludington, Michigan

Photography by D. Plasman

I don’t care if the next President of the United States is (or isn’t) a Christian. I don’t care whether the next leader of the free world is, what some would call, a “believer” or an “unbeliever,” an agnostic or a full-fledged atheist. I don’t care if the next resident of the Oval Office is a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a fan of Oprah, or a lover of opera.

As an ordained minister in the Christian tradition, I just want the next President to care deeply about the common good for all people—within and outside our national borders.

At this point in the touring circus known as the campaign season, I’m not at all sure who will be or what we will get in the next President. Maybe that’s why I recently caught myself fantasizing about serving as the moderator for the next round of presidential debates.

Here’s how I imagine it. I would hold up a copy of my book Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke and say: “I know you haven’t read this. It’s about a man who influenced untold numbers of people in the last two thousand years. His life affected countless lives and changed the course of civilizations. He’s been misunderstood and misrepresented, ridiculed and revered. This is an excerpt found on page 370. It concerns his death by crucifixion and the response of those who watched him suffer and die.”

Bystanders watched while the religious leaders scoffed at Jesus, “He saved others. He should save himself if he’s God’s chosen Messiah!” The soldiers also mocked Jesus while offering him sour wine: “If you’re the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (Luke 23:35-37)

Actually, the scoffers, taunters, mockers, and ridiculers get it right. Up close, they’re the first witnesses to the ultimate expression of Jesus’ life and his approaching death. Honoring their unintended testimony, here’s a ten-part summary of what they see.

The path to greatness is achieved through descent.

Leaders don’t grasp power; they give it away.

Self-sacrifice is chosen over self-preservation.

This one seeks reconciliation rather than revenge.

Prayer is offered for those who inflict harm.

Nonviolence is the posture of resistance.

True power absorbs pain in order to mock the oppressor.

Minority voices are protected rather than silenced.

Losing one’s life is not the ultimate loss.

A non-anxious presence conquers the chaos.

As moderator, this would be my only question to the candidates seeking to become the 45th President of the United States: “We look to leaders to shed light in a world beset with storms. Pick any three statements in that ten-part summary, and tell us in specific ways how your leadership and policies will be shaped by them. Each of you has fifteen minutes to respond. Thank you, in advance, for your thoughtfulness.”

Posted in Jesus a Life Also tagged , , , , |

TRADITIONAL FAMILIES

Temple Bar Dublin BLOG_edited-2Dublin, Ireland

Photography by D. Plasman

I ended up at the website of the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC). It was an honest mistake on my part, but that’s hardly an excuse. Founded in 1980, TVC is a father-daughter operation that claims to be “America’s largest non-denominational, grassroots church lobby, speaking on behalf of more than 43,000 churches and millions of like-minded patriots.”

TVC’s homepage banners include: Battleground 2016 – Our Fight For Religious Freedom and Obama’s Push to Normalize Transsexuals Put Your Children at Risk. Further down the rabbit hole, several bullet points caught my eye: Securing the Constitution against the growing threat of Islam and Shariah Law and Protecting traditional marriage and family as the cornerstone of society.

Admittedly, I don’t know much about Shariah Law, but I do know that Jesus knew a thing or two about traditional families. Here’s a reflection entitled “The New Traditional Family” in my book Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke.

Jesus’ mother and brothers were looking for him, but they couldn’t get near him because of the crowd. Some people said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are here and they want to see you.” Jesus replied, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear God’s teachings and do them.” (Luke 8:19-21)

Considering how often the phrase “traditional family” is uttered by religious folks, Christian talk show hosts, and some politicians, one would think the Bible has a lot to say on the topic. It doesn’t!

A traditional family, some say, consists of a man and a woman (gay couples not included), preferably in their first marriage (though no points are deducted if this isn’t the case), along with their children (adopted children count). The husband is the head of the home. Oddly enough, it’s nearly impossible to find a traditional family in the Bible.

I tested this out on Hebrews 11 where we find a spiritual Hall of Fame of fifteen biblical notables. I applied the following “anti-traditional family” filters: the person was part of a family where members murdered each other; the person murdered someone outside the family; the person got drunk and exposed himself to his children; the person offered his wife as a sexual partner to a world leader; the person was willing to sacrifice his son; the person had more than one wife (simultaneously), or one wife and many concubines (simultaneously), or many wives (simultaneously) and many concubines (simultaneously); the person was a prostitute; the person murdered his own daughter; the person was such a lousy father that God despised his sons.

After applying these “anti-traditional family” filters, only Enoch is left standing. We know little about Enoch other than that he “walked with God,” and apparently didn’t die a normal death (Genesis 5:24). If Enoch was married, you can bet he enjoyed the company of many concubines. The “anti-traditional family” filter would toss him out.

Jesus reminds us that the only family that ultimately counts is the community where the hearing and doing of the life-giving word is practiced. All other definitions are neither biblical nor moral.

By the way, the folks we met last November in Dublin and throughout Ireland think our election process is a source of great entertainment and craziness. We raised a few beers to that sentiment.

 

Posted in Jesus a Life Also tagged , , , , , , |

Thin Places

Hore Abbey website

Hore Abbey – Cashel, Ireland

Photography by D. Plasman

This is a place where travelers go to find God, Wisdom, Peace, Karma, Harmonic Convergence, or, as some prefer, the Infinite Whatever. The landscape of Ireland is dotted with centuries-old castles, abandoned abbeys, spirit-filled monasteries, and more cross-adorned cemeteries than you can visit in a ten-day trip.

The Hore Abbey is over 800 years old. Worship, study, and committee meetings don’t occur there anymore. It sits as an abandoned building, much like a deserted warehouse in an American city, minus the graffiti. During the two hours last November we spent strolling about, we were the only visitors. No one was there to collect an entrance fee. We met no security personnel. We were free to walk, sit or scale the walls. We left only because a crew came with lawn mowers and weed wackers to tidy up the grounds.

Someone on the travel site Trip Advisor called the Hore Abbey an “enjoyable gloomy wreck.” I’m guessing an American. More sensible visitors understand it to be a thin place. Thin places, as Eric Weiner, author of The Geography of Bliss, reminds us, are locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or that which only can be described as transcendent.

The Bible identifies numerous thin places. The burning bush for Moses was such a place, as was Mt Sinai. Jesus, too, experienced places where the veil between heaven and earth was most sheer. The Mount of Transfiguration and the Garden of Gethsemane come to mind.

I hope to visit and photograph more thin places, but what I hope for most is that my life resembles a thin place – the place where heaven and earth touch, where the arc of God’s concern serves as the template of my own path.

It’s Lent, so I need not fear confessing that I’ve screwed up and messed up, copped out and caved in more times than I care to remember. St. Paul said it best: “I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions . . . It happens so regularly that it’s predictable.”

At the end of a certain parable, Jesus tells a legal scholar (who initially raised the question: Who is my neighbor?) to follow the example of the altruistic Samaritan who came to the aid of the beaten man on the Jericho road. In my book Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke, I conclude with this paragraph.

Rather than give specifics, Jesus leaves to us the task of working out the details. “Live like that.” How am I to be a neighbor? Is mercy one-size-fits-all? The answers for each of us won’t be the same. This much is certain: Like Jesus, we live by dying. We find our lives by losing them. Freedom comes when we give up control. We descend into greatness. When we do so for the least of these, we imitate Jesus. By showing mercy, we expand the ever-widening circle of God’s great compassion.

We become thin places in a world of thick walls.

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , |

Building a Christmas Wall

Mother&Child Jaipur Train

Jaipur, India

Photography by D. Plasman

The story of Christmas in essence is the story of a middle eastern family seeking refuge in a hostile world. What I heard in the most recent presidential debate is that we’d better close our borders, send the illegals home, and protect ourselves by building a wall that will dwarf all walls. The two narratives don’t match. Here’s my take on the Christmas story, an excerpt from my book available at Amazon: Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke.

“God’s arm is strong and has scattered the proud who trust in themselves. God has brought down the powerful from important places, and lifted up the humble. God has filled the stomachs of the hungry, and sent away the rich with nothing. God has been merciful to the people of Israel, just as God promised to Abraham and his descendants forever.” After three months, Mary returned to her home. (Luke 1:51-56)

The second half of Mary’s prayer has endured a variety of labels: a war cry, a political platform, a revolutionary’s manifesto, even a subversive tract. Mary’s prayer moves beyond the personal and private into the reality of God’s great reversals. What starts as a lullaby is now laced with landmines.

Borrowing again from her ancestors, Mary uses imagery uttered by Moses (Exodus 15:1-18) and Deborah (Judges 5:1-31) and David (Psalms 33, 47, 136). The great deeds of God are declared in the past tense as works already accomplished in the life and history of Israel. However, as past actions, they are experienced in the present and will continue in the future. What God has done, God is doing, and God will continue to do.

If we find ourselves among the world’s humble, hungry, and poor, Mary’s Magnificat is powerful assurance of a God who sides with the oppressed and one day will turn the tables. However, if a proactive God troubles our status quo sensibilities, then we tend to spiritualize Mary’s radical message and fashion to our liking a domesticated God.

No doubt, it is from their parents—especially their mothers—that John the Baptist and Jesus learn the radical nature of living into God’s ongoing transformation of the world. From their parents, they learn of God’s deep connection with those who suffer disconnect. From their parents, they learn that God won’t let things sway forever in favor of the rich and powerful. From their parents, they learn of the God who stands in solidarity with the weakest and most vulnerable.

Where have you seen the great reversals of God?

 

Posted in Jesus a Life Also tagged , , , , , , , |

Minor Repairs

Book Repair

My book, Jesus, a Life, published three weeks ago, is suddenly not available for purchase—at least for a few more days. My friends at Amazon are making minor repairs. Apparently, personal computers and corporate computers don’t always communicate. The problem was pretty simple. It was a case of over-hyphenation! Words, which were properly hyphenated at the end of a line, sud-denly ap-peared as hy-phenated words in the mid-dle of lines. How an-noying! However, I’m pleased to say all will be well in several days or so when the book again will be available.

I wish to thank the 29,035 people who bought a copy of Jesus, a Life. Oops, that’s the height in feet of Mt. Everest. I am deeply grateful to the nearly 60 people who bought copies in the three weeks since my book was published. I’m in a good mood, and benevolent forces in the universe have made it possible for me to make this offer: If you already purchased a copy of Jesus, a Life, I’d like to send you (at no cost to you) a free copy of the repaired version. However, in most cases I don’t know who you are or where to send it. So, if you’d like a second book, absolutely free, contact me at dplasman@aol.com or find me on Facebook or call me at 616-828-2293. All I ask is that you let me know, in a word or two, what you think of the book.

Speaking of hyphens, an elongated one is called a dash. A dash is the line that separates the year of birth from the year of death—it’s the life we live. Jesus tells a story about a rich farmer who built bigger barns to store all his surplus. Here’s an excerpt from Jesus, a Life.

“But God said to the rich man, ‘You’re such a fool! Your life will end tonight, and who will benefit from all the things you’ve kept for yourself?’ That’s what it will be like for those who hoard treasures on earth but aren’t rich toward God.” (Luke 12:20-21)

God calls the rich man a fool, but there are many names he isn’t called. He isn’t called a crook, a scoundrel, or a thief. He isn’t called a liar, a scam artist, or a cheat. He isn’t guilty of bilking senior citizens out of their nest eggs. He isn’t accused of shredding documents before a pending IRS audit. God doesn’t call him a bad man or an evil man, just a foolish man. His grave marker says it all: He had lots of stuff. He built big barns. His harvests were awesome. He knew how to spend. So much potential. So many opportunities. So little to show for it in the end. 

The story begs a few questions: What people-investments did he make? Did he work to alleviate suffering? Were other lives better off because of him? Did he ever stop to think of the “have-nots” in his corner of the world, and what he could do to assist them?

If this were merely an ancient tale, we could easily forget about it and move on. However, it speaks to us today, prompting some personal inventory. For what will I be remembered? Whose life was touched because I was here? What in this world will be better because I lived?

What relationships in your life are in need of more investment?

 

Posted in Jesus a Life Also tagged , |

REVERSAL OF FORTUNES

Cemetery

Lafayette Cemetery, New Orleans, LA

photography by D. Plasman

My forthcoming book, Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke will be available for purchase from Amazon later this month. It’s 400 pages and will be a reference resource people will turn to more than once. I’d be grateful if you’d consider purchasing it (less than $20). I don’t expect readers always to agree with my interpretation of scripture, and to prove it, here’s an installment to get you thinking. To preface the excerpt, Jesus tells a story about a rich man and a poor man Lazarus who is sick and hungry and occupies a spot at the rich man’s gate.

 “The poor man died, and angels carried him to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. Tormented in Hades, the place of the dead, he looked up and saw in the distance Abraham with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, show some mercy! Send Lazarus to dip his fingertip in water and cool my tongue. This heat is unbearable!’” (Luke 16:22-24)

Rich or poor, death plays no favorites. Both men die. However, something shocking happens after death; a great reversal occurs. The poor man, Lazarus, receives special treatment as he’s ushered into a new community next to the Hebrew patriarch Abraham. The rich man ends up (or down) in Hades and is left without a friend. Hades is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Sheol, an Old Testament reference often translated “the place of the dead.”

At this point in the story, Jesus’ listeners would have raised their eyebrows. Aren’t riches a sure sign of God’s blessing? Aren’t poverty and sickness sure signs that one is experiencing God’s displeasure?

As in many parables, the absence of certain details is worth pondering. Jesus makes no mention of either man’s personal faith. There is no suggestion that Lazarus ends up in heaven because his piety is robust and his belief system is strong. Lazarus is rewarded in the afterlife for another reason altogether. On earth, he was poor and hungry and sick and lonely and forgotten and abused and abandoned. On earth, he counted for nothing. Period. For all we know, Lazarus was not even Jewish—he could have been a Buddhist, a Hindu, or an early Muslim before the arrival of the prophet Muhammad some six centuries later. He’s definitely not a Christian.

Similarly, the rich man’s faith, piety, belief, and orthodoxy are nonfactors in determining where he ends up. He’s where he is for one reason: during his earthly life, he regularly ignored the needs of Lazarus at his gate and of all the Lazaruses beyond his lot line.

Why do we seem to get hung up on right beliefs instead of right actions?

Posted in Jesus a Life Also tagged , , , |

He Would Have Known!

Cobblestone Woman

From the Introduction to my forthcoming book, Jesus, a Life (365 musings on the life of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke, with 29 black and white photographs, available from Amazon in mid-November):

“This collection is for people who deeply love Jesus, God, and the church, but it’s more purposely directed to those who’ve given up on all three because of the harm authority figures and religious institutions have inflicted on them. This is a long list that includes those who’ve been devalued, discouraged, and denounced because of their gender, their life experiences, their marital status, their ethnicity, their race, their addiction, their disability, their sexual orientation, their politics, their doubts, or their questions.”

 

 

 

HE WOULD HAVE KNOWN!

 As the religious leader watched the woman washing Jesus’ feet, he thought to himself, “If Jesus were a true prophet, he would know the dubious character of this woman touching him. We all know she’s nothing but a sinner. Luke 7:39

The host is offended, not only with the woman who crashed his party but with Jesus, who was far too at ease with the devotion she lavished on him.

Simon the Pharisee was right about many things; this woman violated all sense of religious propriety. In touching Jesus, she caused him defilement. By letting down her hair in public, she displayed immodesty. If Jesus were a real prophet, he would have protested graciously and sent her on her way. What good is a prophet if he doesn’t recognize sin and call sinners to task when they’re exposed? Like a bloodhound on the scent, Simon knows a sinner when he smells one. The conventional wisdom of the day labels this woman a definite sinner.

The wisdom of conventional religion is nothing if not decisively clear-cut and unambiguous. Conventional wisdom of any sort doesn’t put up with loose ends. That may be why we opt for conventional wisdom more often than not.

Conventional wisdom says: The poor are lazy.

Conventional wisdom says: Not in my neighborhood.

Conventional wisdom says: God helps those who help themselves.

Conventional wisdom says: Close our borders to the south.

Conventional wisdom says: America, right or wrong.

Conventional wisdom says: We’ve got Middle East oil to protect.

Conventional wisdom says: Gays will fray the fabric of the family.

“If Jesus were a true prophet,” Simon protests, “he’d know all about conventional wisdom.” That much Simon seems to get right. Jesus is well aware of conventional wisdom, and has no use for it.

With which conventional wisdom do you agree?

Posted in Jesus a Life Also tagged , , |

Jesus, a Life

Jesus_a_Life%20cover%201b[1]

This is for anyone who’s ever preached a sermon, or heard one. A Sunday morning excerpt from a soon-to-be-published book . . .

THE ESCAPE

The synagogue worshippers got up and drove Jesus to the hill on which their town was built. They were ready to push him off the cliff, but Jesus managed to escape and continued on his way. (Luke 4:29-30)

No one bothers to wait for the benediction. Nobody makes a motion for a congregational vote. In an apparent act of unanimous spontaneity, the synagogue worshippers rush the speaker’s chair and hustle Jesus out of town. So much for job security.

The word drove suggests in Greek, as it does in English, a hostile and aggressive action. Here’s blind rage fueled by mob mentality: “No one comes on our home court and makes those accusations. Hometown son or not, nobody gets a free pass spouting that God’s love is meant for people we can’t stand!”

With dust funnels swirling behind them and Jesus securely in tow, the crowd reaches a suitable execution spot. The preacher has to die, and in all likelihood, he would have were it not for a bizarre and mysterious turn of events.

Jesus somehow “managed to escape.” Huh? How’s that possible? Nobody sees him walk away? Are we to believe the hilltop altitude gives them bigger problems than the preacher’s message? Does their prolonged argument over who’s going to push him off the cliff actually provide Jesus the opportunity to give them the slip?

The fact that Luke doesn’t dwell on the logistics of the escape is reason enough to let the issue stand. The Sabbath crowd tries to kill Jesus. (Wait a minute, weren’t executions unlawful on the Sabbath?)

Rather than pointing to a divinely orchestrated rescue operation, this near-death episode is a reminder that Jesus doesn’t stay where his presence isn’t wanted. He may arrive an unannounced visitor, but he doesn’t remain an unwelcome guest. Yet, in spite of the treatment, Jesus doesn’t invoke on them fire and brimstone. There might be a lesson there if we choose to see it.

When was the last time you roasted a preacher?

 

 

Posted in Jesus a Life Also tagged , , , , |