Sunday, June 14, 2015

Conditions for Life

Ezekiel 17:22-24 
Conditions for life

A couple weeks ago I began my morning as I typically do by climbing out of bed and stepping over the dogs, throwing on warmer clothes and my glasses and stumbling down the stairs to make my coffee. Then - a part of my spring and summer routine I head out to ‘walk the north 40’…  as I call it- or meander around our little back yard to examine the chickens and the garden.

On this cool morning a couple weeks ago I was looking to see how the seeds had finally burst through the soil and the little heads of the green beans, snap peas and zucchini were finally beginning to open and look toward the sky- hopeful- just as I was- that we might -finally- see the sun..

But on this day- as I looked down something caught my eye.  It was a little - translucent worm like creature - it looked like a little piece of angel hair pasta- but it’s neck stretched and twirled in a kind of snake like movement. I’ve never seen anything like it. So I kneeled down to see that there were about 20 of these little critters all over the soil- freshly composted soil I had recently added to the garden. I was so mesmerized I plopped down on the ground to watch. I texted Kyle to come look- and quick! A text which he was super excited to receive at 5:30 am…

Later that day I went to do some research to get to the bottom of this mystery creature.

With a bit of digging I discovered that these little snake-like angel-hair-pasta translucent worms have a name: they are called enchytraeids, or as they are commonly known- which I can pronouncepot worms- no, not that kind of pot- flower pot. They sometimes appear in compost soil in times when there has been a lot of moisture - like when we’ve had a month of rain in Colorado. They are generally harmless - but are an indicator that the conditions of your soil might not support other types of life— as these little worms thrive in conditions that are low in pH and high in moisture.

It turns out- my compost bin had created the perfect conditions for life…. for pot worms- but perhaps not for the vegetables I hope to grow to feed my family.


The prophet Ezekiel spoke among the people of Israel in the midst of the babylonian exile in the early decades of the sixth century BCE. The people had just lost everything. Their land, their monarchy, and their temple were all destroyed, and here they are in babylon trying to understand what has happened to them and what it means for them as a community.

We pick up with the prophet Ezekiel in the 17th chapter- which is pretty darn beautiful honestly… 

“  On the mountain height of Israel
               I, God, will plant it,
          in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit,
               and become a noble cedar.
          Under it every kind of bird will live;
               in the shade of its branches will nest
               winged creatures of every kind.
24        All the trees of the field shall know
               that I am the LORD.

however- reading the rest of Ezekiel is a lot more harsh, and gives a more broad understanding of the depth and meaning of todays text.

You see, the first chapters of Ezekiel tell a story of death and exploitation. The powerful have taken everything from the people. Chapter 17 begins with a long, poetic riddle like allegory of two eagles and a vine- recalling the leaders of Israel being seduced by the power and armies of Babylon- only to desert their own people. Ezekiel says that following these corrupt leaders is like transplanting a vine in poor soil. The roots are easily pulled and the fruit rots on the vine. We see patterns of those in power exploiting and neglecting those without.

When we come to todays text we see that God’s power and creation is bigger than the ways of exploitation and corruption.

God is the one who creates an environment for life. God takes a sprig from atop the lofty cedar. And, foreshadowing the poetry of Mary’s magnificat in Luke, the high are made low and the low are made high. God creates an environment where all can live and grow and thrive.

This is in line with this theme we see throughout the Bible old and new- God calls for conditions that support life… in a context where the people have been oppressed and the powerful have exploited and taken advantage of their own… The Prophet Ezekiel reminds us that God is the one who reverses the status quo so that all may thrive.

One of my favorite thinkers- Buckminster Fuller said, “I must commit myself to reforming the environment and not people; being absolutely confident that if you give people the right environment they will behave favorably.”

Buckminster Fuller knew that given the right conditions people will thrive- when starved of the right conditions- often due to a lack of will or greed on the part of those with power and resources, people will suffer.

And then this week I read an article in the satire magazine- The Onion-source of truth and wisdom…  the headline read “15 years in constant fear somehow fails to rehabilitate prisoner”….

While it may not look like it if you step back and look at the systems and communities we have created - We do know what it takes for people to thrive, for communities to thrive: 

All people need access to healthy food, homes free of violence, clean water, opportunities to learn and be challenged, communities where we can feel safe outside, clean air, jobs that pay a living wage, friends and family who are supportive, affordable healthcare, and opportunities to work, play and rest.

We do not have a lack of knowledge of what conditions it takes to thrive- we have a lack of will.

While many here- including myself- might have conditions that allow them and their families to thrive…

too many in our communities and too many in our world are not able to survive- let alone thrive.

Because something is out of balance- the ph in our soil is too low to support life for all.

We have pot worms growing in our soil.

Disparity between rich and poor in our country has grown exponentially in the past 40 years. Theories that if we only increased the gross domestic product of our country then all of our social ills would be solved have been busted. Studies show that social ills are tied more to inequality than to poverty alone. Thriving is more about balance than wealth.


I invite you to wonder:

What conditions support life for all?

Why is our ‘soil out of balance’? What is stopping us from creating an environment where all can live? 

What actions can we take to build a church/ community where all can thrive?

Ezekiel came in the midst of brokenness beyond our imagination. A time of exile and wondering when people felt helpless and hopeless. 

And he brought a word of life. He came to remind the people that they need not rely on the leaders who had fallen into corrupt ways. They needed to turn to God- and to take action - to rise up and live into the ways of life. 

“  I myself will take a sprig
               from the lofty top of a cedar;
              I myself will plant it
           Under it every kind of bird will live;
               in the shade of its branches will nest
               winged creatures of every kind.
24        All the trees of the field shall know
               that I am the LORD.”

May we have the will to take action. To till the soil. To water, fertilize and weed. To name injustice, to support those in need, to call for systems that are fair and provide opportunity for every person— every person- to live and love and grow.

May it be so


We Are More

2 Corinthians 4:13- 5:1
We are More

When I was a kid my family moved a lot. I mean A LOT.

I was brought home from the hospital to a trailer outside a military base in Belleville Illinois. By the time I was a year old, my parents had moved to a little house with marbled orange and brown shag carpet..  By age two, we were moving back to the state that was my parent’s closest state to home- Arizona. First an apartment, then a little white box house in the desert of Black Canyon City, then back to Phoenix, to a couple different apartment complexes.

Things began to settle down when we moved to Las Vegas, shortly before I started Kindergarten- first an apartment, then a condo near the university. Then to Carson City for 10 months, back to Las Vegas… then to the other side of Las Vegas.
And finally to Colorado. By the time I was 12 years old I think I’d called 12 different places ‘home’.

While my dad was in the military for a short time- our moves weren’t due to military life directly, but perhaps were impacted by the reality that my parents had both come from military families- and frequent moves had become their rhythm that would never break- even to this day.

While this sounds like a terribly unstable environment for a kid- and just reflecting on all of the moves is a bit exhausting for me even now…

At the time, I knew no different. And.. Where we were didn’t matter so much- as long as my family was there. If my parents and my sister and pets were there- we were home.

No matter the external circumstances- then and now- I learned early that my center could not be tied to external circumstances. Home was more than a house and stability was more than consistency.


Paul writes to the people of Corinth to assure them and to strengthen them. 2 Corinthians is thought to be one of the later letters that Paul wrote to the Christian community in Corinth- as enough time has passed that the community has experienced conflict- they have experienced frustration with Paul- and they are a bit deeper into the messiness of life. Early on they thought Jesus return was imminent, and now they have experienced illness, death and doubt. They thought the early exhilaration of life in Christian community would last forever. They thought Paul would be perfect, and life would be perfect and it would all last forever. And now people are dying, and fighting and losing hope.

In his letter, Paul affirms his own determination to never give up, to not lose heart- to practice resilience.

These momentary setbacks and experiences of diminishment are only passing illusions in the light of the unseen eternity that awaits.

Paul calls the people to live from a deeper place. To look beyond that which passes and dies—calling up images of tents and clothing and buildings. And he calls them to find their center in that which is permanent- a grounding in God, a home in Christ.

This is a tension we find again and again throughout the Bible Old and New.

Permanent vs. Impermanent

Physical vs. Spiritual

Here and now vs. ever after

From the beginning of time, people have held tension between these two seemingly at odds ways of being… a need for permanent and physical structures and institutions—

and a focus beyond- a realization that life is something more than what we can see, a life beyond- that is bigger than our current structures.

We can see this tension in the Hebrew people’s early longing for a temple— moving from nomad people to settled people- from Samuel to Saul, David to Solomon … the earliest leaders of Israel sought to build a physical home for God- a tabernacle or temple that would last forever from generation to generation.

In the time of the early Christians- communities of followers met in homes, and hidden places outside the center of power. Over time Christianity shifted from a movement- a branch of Jews following the prophet Jesus— to a religion endorsed by the state complete with elaborate institutions and extravagant churches at times losing sight of a grounding in God and grasping to property and power and permanence.


We - as the Christian church of the 21st century continue to struggle with the need for buildings and institutions as the old falls away and the new is born.

Our churches are changing- as we hear again and again- less people are attending Sunday worship, institutions struggling to figure out how to be sustainable into the future…

While the old may be passing away- We know that our buildings matter, our communities still matter. We still need ‘a home for God’ - a place to gather and to worship, pass on our faith, and work for justice.

And, while we need buildings and value buildings, we know these buildings and institutions will not last as we know them now. The renovation that is now underway- the updating and hard work to be good stewards- to prepare a place for future generations— will one day itself be outdated. The work that is currently being done will one day need to be torn down, renovated, and adjusted itself.

Knowing they ultimately will not last, some dismiss the need for buildings and institutions at all.. However- I think this is missing the point.

Knowing our bodies will one day fade and pass, that our buildings will one day be outdated and lose their usefulness, that our institutions will not always serve us in the ways they do now- should not lead to a nihilistic dismissive view of bodies, buildings or institutions— nor a clinging to keep things just the way they are forever…

rather — this reality should invite us to care for, honor, appreciate all of these things now, while at the same time holding them lightly.

We know that most things in this life pass. The people we love, homes that hold memories, seasons, our possessions that bring comfort and joy, pets, and even the spring tulips and iris that have already faded.
Knowing they will pass- Paul reminds us- don’t get hung up on the passing- appreciate all things while you have it- take care of it… but don't grasp, cling, hoard— hold gently- with gratitude and awe— and release when the time is needed to release.

For we know that there are things that are permanent.

Our center is in God’s love is always there and always available.

The laws of love are permanent; treating one another with justice and compassion passes from one generation to the next. Our relationships and connections tie us together in ways that surpass time and space.

I have a confession- My habit of every time I clean the house or the car I think… ok— It is going to stay like this for-ev-er.

Within 20 minutes one of our three kids or two dogs has walked through and dropped a backpack, or a wrapper, or a muddy footprint— and for-ev-er has passed.

I can whine and complain- and you can bet I do— and then I can move on- either clean it up or not worry about it.

For all these things are passing- just like the homes of my childhood, just like the buildings and places we love.

What is permanent is love. Is God at our center. Is the relationships and the connections that call us to something more.

May we know what is permanent—
That we might experience the grounding in God that lasts - that pulls us to share love and grace and compassion.

And may we know what is passing—
what is now and and is important- but not to be clung to… to be held gently.

May we say:

For all that has been— Thanks.

For all that will be— Yes!