Murmuration? You gotta be kidding!

Today I was challenged to write something original on the word murmuration.

My mind immediately went to a biblical text when, after the Hebrew slaves (laborers with no rights), led by Moses and Aaron, have escaped their Egyptian taskmasters (“management” with absolute power), they find themselves in a state of murmuration and a sudden attack of nostalgic longing in the wilderness.

“And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! And wherefore hath the LORD brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt? And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt. – Numbers 14: 1-4, KJV.

A forgetful people is nostalgic for “the fleshpots of Egypt” – the place they had murmured against while bending their welted laboring backs to their taskmasters’ whips – eager to exchange their uncertain future for security.

So today, in the United States of America, we’re in two states of murmuration. One believes we’ve just left Egypt (the regulation society of the Obama and previous Administrations) and now murmurs for security – build the wall, stop the Muslim immigrants, make America great again from the previous Administrations that were, shall we say, Pharaohic? – while the other murmurs that we’re being led by a murmuring madman and Administration that keep us in a constant state to twittering murmuration on the way not to the promised land but to a land led by the Egyptian taskmaster security.

Such is life on this Sunday evening, March 12, 2017. I’m sticking with Moses and Aaron. I’m not so big on the captain or the Egypt that is ahead of us if we keep up the murmuration.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN.

A Time to Weep

Faith and hope come hard sometimes. Four days living next to the abyss brought the wisdom of Ecclesiastes came to mind:

“For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven . . .  a time to weep, and the time to laugh. A time to mourn, and a time to dance . . . .” – Ecclesiastes 3:3-4

I’m not laughing or dancing. I’m weeping and mourning over what’s happening in America. This is the time, the season, for weeping and mourning. Maybe I’m sane after all?

Faith lives next to the abyss.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 25, 2017

 

 

You will be like God

“There is only one sin,” suggested Kosuke Koyama, “Exceptionalism.”

Looking again at the Genesis stories of creation and fall (Gen.1-4) through these eyes seems to go to the heart of the story of humanity and the rest of nature.

The Garden of Eden is a natural paradise. All the creatures are living in harmony within the limits of nature itself.

Then, without explanation, a pernicious idea intrudes. The serpent suggests to the humans that they can become the exception to creaturely existence. “You will be like God! You will be the exception to the rest of us. You will know what no creature can know. You will be like the Creator. You will know good and evil.”

There has been no thought of evil in the Genesis paradise before the sin of exceptionalism breaks the unity of all creatures under the reign of the glad Creator who had declared it all ‘good”.

Only two chapters later, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” [Gen. 6:5-6].

In a similar vein, J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atom bomb, declared, “There are no secrets about the world of nature. There are secrets about the thoughts and intentions of men.”

With a wisdom and passion akin to the Genesis writer, Oppenheimer opined after watching the first nuclear explosion, “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”

One can hope and pray that the wisdom of Genesis, Oppenheimer, and Koyama will turn those with their fingers on the buttons of nuclear arsenals away from the power of the serpent’s deception, and make a sad Creator glad again.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 11, 2017.

Heeding the dream in 2017

Today is a day of searching for wisdom. This period between the November 2016 American election and January 20 presidential inauguration is what Carl Jung called a pause moment. An interruption of the normal to seek a deeper wisdom.

This year two calendars converge. It’s the first day of a new year on the secular calendar, which coincides this year with the First Sunday after Christmas on the Christian liturgical calendar.  This coalescence invites the kind of pause of which Jung spoke. Here’s an excerpt from the assigned Gospel reading for today from the Gospel of Matthew.

 

Now after [the Wise men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. – Matthew 2:13-16

Several things leaped out from the text this year:

  1. The wise men “tricked” Herod. The Greek word translated here as “tricked” derives from sports – the wise men sported, played, mocked, or made a fool of Herod. Whenever Herod sends out agents for the children, wise people find a way to play him.
  2. These “wise men” – magoi in the Greek text – are foreigners from the East. These foreign visitors with a different religious tradition (astrology) are outsiders to the myths of religious and national exceptionalism. They bring gifts for the Christ child before “returned to their own country by another way,” side-stepping Herod and his agenda.
  3. Joseph’s dream and flight into Egypt reverses every expectation. It was from Egypt that Moses and the Hebrew laborers had fled. Now it to Egypt that they flee from Herod, the puppet king of Roman occupation, who had made a mockery of Passover and Exodus. In this pause of 2017, perhaps the angels will forgive updating the text:”Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Canada (or) Mexico, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the children to deport them.”
  4. The Holy Family become refugees.

Interpreting biblical texts is a dangerous thing, and sometimes the interpretations go a bit to far! Though that be the case, this Gospel of Matthew text for the First Sunday after Christmas and January 1, 2017 offers an interesting opportunity to do what Carl Jung suggested. Engage the pause. Join the wise. Refuse cooperation with agendas that mock the good news. Take time out from the collective madness to be found again by what is holy and sane.

Grace, Peace, and a Blessed New Year,

Gordon