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A friend posted this on Facebook today and I had to re-post it here.  It’s a blast from the past, part of the soundtrack of my young adult life. Glad to have it where I can find it and share it with friends.

Without further ado… comedian/musician/mathematician Tom Lehrer.  Enjoy.

~

 

 

 

 

Mo and the G-20 – A Fable

Allow me to introduce Mo. He’s a middle-aged man with a checkered past, but for the past couple decades he’s been a solid citizen, working in the family business – cattle ranching – and helping raise his two boys.

One day Mo was out taking care of the animals when God paid him a visit.

“Mo,” God says, “My people are in trouble. They’re being strong-armed into working ten-plus hours a day, sometimes seven days a week… and if they don’t work those long hours they can’t afford to keep their homes or feed their families. They don’t have time or energy for Me any more. And they’re starting to feel like I’ve given up on them and like I’m only watching them from a distance, and that’s not true. So listen. There’s a meeting of the G-20 coming up shortly. I want you to go. Tell the world leaders My people need three days off to worship Me.”

If it wasn’t for the fact that God’s voice can’t be mistaken for anything else, Mo would have thought he was going crazy. For sure the delegates at the G-20 would think he was crazy. Mo told God so. But after some discussion Mo agreed to go, accompanied by his brother Ron.

When he arrived at the G-20, Mo found his name already on the speakers’ list.

Mo got up to speak and he delivered God’s message just the way God had given it: “This is what the Lord says, the living God. Let My people go and have a three-day weekend celebration with Me out in the countryside.”

The G-20 delegates exchanged glances and a few muffled giggles. Then the Moderator got up to speak:

God?! What is this god you speak of? I don’t know any god. Why should I listen to him?”

Mo shrugged. “This is all I can tell you. God met with Ron and me a few weeks ago and made His wishes known. He wants His people to have a three-day weekend to worship Him. Do we dare to disobey God?”

The Moderator laughed. “Why should we give people three days off?! The workers are nothing but a bunch of lazy bums. Projects need to be completed! Get back to work!” And he kicked Mo and Ron out.

Later during the G-20 sessions world leaders voted to expand the work week to 50 hours a week and abolish time-and-a-half for overtime.

The two competing TV news sources reported the incident this way:

Channel One – “Breaking news from the G-20. Christian farmer claims God told him to demand three weeks off for every Christian worker in the world. Muslims are up in arms and claim prejudice. Story at eleven…”

Channel Two – “Delusional farmer says God wants people everywhere to have three months off work. This command can’t be found in the Bible – in fact the Bible says work is good and God hates laziness. So this man can’t have heard from God. The whole story is a pack of lies created by Channel One to discredit Christians.”

Neither channel mentions the increased workload or the abolished time-and-a-half.

Mo goes home to the ranch and looks up to the sky. “Why Lord? Why did You send me to do this? Now the people are in a worse place than they were before.”

God says to Mo: “You just sit back and you watch. I’ve got something big up My sleeve, and I have a pretty big sleeve…”

 

(inspired by Exodus Chapter 5)

 

The Woman at the Well

WellYarda

Somewhere around the year 30 AD, Jesus and his disciples were preaching the good news of the arrival of God’s kingdom against the backdrop of the Roman empire and their occupying forces.

You could say “it was the best of times and the worst of times.” And because Jesus, in our Gospel reading for today (John 4) is traveling from the Temple Mount and Jerusalem to Mt. Gerizim in Samaria, we could call today’s reading…

“A Tale of Two Mountains”

A long time ago, in a far away place, there lived a woman. She was pretty much your average woman… except that she’d been married five times.

We don’t know her name (I wish we did).

We don’t know how old she was, but if you figure an average of 5 years per husband with a first marriage at fifteen, by the time our story takes place she’s at least in her early 40s.

I mention this because somehow I always pictured her as young, but she wasn’t. She was most likely old enough to be Jesus’ mother. And she felt older – tired, worn out.

The woman lived in the city of Sychar in Samaria, known today as the West Bank. It’s a hard-scrabble land: mountainous, rocky, and dry. She lived not far from Mt Gerizim where the Samaritans worshiped, and not far from Jacob’s Well.

For the women in those days, the daily trip to the well was the highlight of the day. Women spent most of their time working in the extended family compound but once a day they went out and walked part-way up the mountain to the well to get water. And as they went they met neighbors and laughed and talked and caught up on the latest news. “How’s Aunt Mary?” “How are the kids?” And because it was hot, and the water jugs were heavy, the women went to the well first thing in the morning, when it was cool.

But this particular woman – she never went in the morning. She wasn’t welcome. I mean, five husbands…! At best that was a very long streak of really bad luck. If only one of the marriages had ended in divorce – we don’t know that any of them did – but if only one had, she would have been socially unacceptable.

But at this point it didn’t matter – now she was living with a man she wasn’t married to. She was no longer welcome among respectable people. She was shunned by the women of the town. She came to the well in the heat of the day – at noon – so she wouldn’t have to hear their words or look at their accusing eyes.

In a way, after all these years, she kind of liked having some time to herself. It gave her time to think. She was glad that, even as bad as things were, at least she still had her health. She wasn’t begging for money at the city gate, and she’d never been a prostitute. And sometimes as she walked up the path to Jacob’s Well she thought about the ancestors who had walked that path before her: Jacob, the patriarch, the one they called Israel… whose name means “he wrestles with God.” She could relate to that. Standing in the place where Israel stood she sometimes wrestled with God herself. And his sons: Joseph… Benjamin… Judah… all twelve of the brothers and their families. Some people said even Abraham had walked these paths once. When she thought about all the generations that had gone before she felt proud. Proud to be a Samaritan. She may not have been the most upstanding person in the world but at least she was a good and loyal Samaritan.

On another mountain, in Jerusalem, Jesus had just finished having a long talk with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Like the woman, Nicodemus had walked up a mountain alone, at an odd hour, not wanting to be seen. And in his own way he too was wrestling with God. Jesus had talked with him, done his best to answer the unasked questions, and now Jesus was tired and wanted to go home to Galilee. So the next morning he and the disciples set out northward. At midday, exhausted and hungry, the disciples went to grab a bite to eat while Jesus rested by a well.

That day, just like every other day, the woman of Sychar arrived at the well around noon… and a strange man sitting there! This was not good. Everyone knew a woman – a decent woman – would never be caught traveling alone. This was dangerous. Who was he? What was he going to do?

“Think fast” she thought to herself, but it was too late. He’d seen her. There was nothing for it but to get the water and get out as quickly as she could. If he was a decent man he’d ignore her, pretend she wasn’t there.

No such luck.

“Give me some water,” he said. No ‘please’. No ‘hi how are ya?’ Just a demand. From a man who – judging by his accent – had no business making any kind of demands of a Samaritan. Which she figured she’d better remind him.

She asked, “How is it that a Jew like you is asking for a drink from a Samaritan woman like me?”

If the conversation had taken place in our time she might have said: “hon, do you know who you’re talkin’ to?”

Because that’s exactly what Jesus heard, and it’s exactly the question he answered: “If you knew who you were talkin’ to, you would ask him for water, living water, the gift of God.”

Really? –she thought. That was a daring answer. This was a daring conversation to begin with! He’s unconventional. He says curious things. She kind of liked him. And even though he was young enough to be her son there was something about him she respected.

“Sir,” she said, using the Greek word kyrie – as in kyrie eleison, meaning Lord – “Kyrie, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. How…where… are you going to get this living water?” And she couldn’t resist the temptation to poke at him a little bit, reminding him of exactly which mountain he was currently sitting on. “Are you greater than our father Jacob whose well this is?”

He said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water I give will never thirst again. The water I give will become on the inside of them a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.”

What is he going on about? She wondered. But suddenly she felt very thirsty… thirsty for hope, thirsty for something to believe in. So she decided to go for it, and ask what he had invited her to ask. “Kyrie, give me this water, so I’ll never be thirsty or come here to draw again.”

He said, “Go, call your husband, and come back.”

The words cut like a knife. WHY?? Why did he have to ask that? The conversation had been going so well… she actually had begun to feel he respected her a little… why?… why was it, every time something important needed to be talked about, a man would push a woman aside and insist on talking to other men? Why? She could barely contain her rage as she spat out the words, “I’m not married.”

Three words. No kyrie.

“Well said,” Jesus replied. “Well said. You’ve had five husbands, and now the man you have is not your husband. What you’ve said is true.”

She could feel the rocks shifting like sand beneath her feet. Who is this man? How does he know? Wait… he knows this and he’s not going anywhere? He’s still talking to me?

Kyrie, I can see that you’re a prophet,” she said. “Our fathers worshiped here on this mountain, but you Jews say we have to worship in Jerusalem. What’s up with that?”

Some say her question was a dodge, but I disagree. For starters, the husband situation was old news as far as she was concerned. If Jesus could live with it so could she. Second, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If you had the chance to ask one question of a famous man of God – Billy Graham perhaps, or CS Lewis – do you ask him how to improve your married life? Or do you ask the one burning question nobody else has been able to answer? And third, she was giving Jesus the chance to show what He was really made of. Would He put her people down? Or would He speak words of peace? So she asked the number one question on her mind: What is it God really requires of us?

Good question.

And apparently Jesus thought so too. So he explained how, even though salvation is from the Jews, the time was coming – and indeed had come – when neither mountain would be the place to worship, because people would worship God (who is spirit) in spirit and in truth.

In the deepest part of her soul the woman knew – this was right. It was the answer she’d been looking for, even if she didn’t quite understand it. So she said, “I know Messiah is coming and when he comes he will explain it all.”

And he said, “I am he.”

And their eyes met… and she looked into the human face of God.

She forgot all about the water-jug. (Jesus never got his drink.) But the woman became the first person Jesus ever told straight out that He was the Messiah. You might say she was the world’s first Christian evangelist. Her message was welcomed with joy by the people of her city – she was no longer an outcast.

And the Samaritans – who would never have offered a Jew a glass of water – hosted Jesus and the disciples in their homes for two days. And Jesus and the disciples did what good Jewish boys would never have done: they accepted the invitation.

And she never stopped talking about the day she met Jesus.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The epilogue to our story can be found in the other two scripture readings for today.

In the Old Testament reading, the people of Israel quarrel with God over the need for water. Like Jacob and like the woman they too wrestle with God. All these people have one thing in common: none of them lets go of God until they receive the blessing.

For us also Lent may be a time of wrestling with God. If so, hang on and don’t let go until the blessing comes! Because it will come.

That’s what Paul promises in the reading from Romans: we have peace with God, not of our own doing but through him. Through him we are justified. Through him we have peace. Through him we have grace. Through him we are reconciled to God. Through him.

We DO hear the words “I am he” one more time – on yet another mountain – the Mount of Olives. Jesus says them to Judas and the mob that comes to arrest him, and at these words they fall to the ground. (John 18:6)

“I am he.” This is the ancient name of God – I AM. And there is indeed power in the name.

The testimony is ours.

~
Preached at Incarnation Church, Strip District, Pittsburgh, Sunday March 23 2014

~

 

The Hard Road

RockyRoad

Re-reading the familiar story of ancient patriarchs Jacob and Esau (Genesis 32 & beyond).

Back story: Jacob and Esau are twins who wrestle with each other in the womb.  Their mother Rebekah, mystified by this, seeks advice and receives a prophecy: there are two nations in her womb and they will be divided against each other; and the younger will serve the older.   When the babies are born Esau is born first but Jacob is born holding onto his brother’s heel (the name “Jacob” means “he takes by the heel” or “he supplants”).  As the boys grow into manhood, Jacob manages by various devious means to get his hands on both Esau’s birthright and his blessing – the entire inheritance.  Esau is so angry he decides to kill his brother as soon as Papa Isaac is dead.  Overhearing this, Rebekah sends Jacob away to her brother who lives in a foreign land.  There Jacob works for 20 years as a slave to his uncle in return for two wives and some flocks.  When his uncle begins to despise him, Jacob packs up his wives, kids, and flocks and escapes back home… where he must deal with Esau and his past.

While it’s true Jacob holds *legal* title to his father Isaac’s estate, in fact it is Esau who has inherited all of Isaac’s worldly goods.  Jacob is not home when Isaac passes, nor when Rebekah passes, so everything falls into Esau’s hands.  Jacob was sent to his uncle with nothing but the clothes on his back.  Granted, Jacob has become a wealthy man during his 20 years of labor — though his uncle disputes his ownership (Genesis 31:43).  So what does Jacob really have? The birthright (Genesis 25:31-34), and the blessing (Genesis 27:26-29)… promises and legal rights, nothing more.  No wonder Esau goes to meet Jacob with a company of 400 men!

In his youth Jacob took what he thought was the easy road.  He spent his time in the tents hanging out with the family while his brother was out hunting (Genesis 25:27), using his time to devise plots to get his hands on his brother’s inheritance.  But as God begins to take hold of his life, and to form Jacob into the patriarch who will one day be named Israel, what looked like the easy road turns into a very hard road.  The bookish young man finds in his uncle a man even more crafty and deceptive than himself, who wears out Jacob’s strength in manual labor, and who cheats Jacob out of his wages time and time again.  Only as Jacob begins to see God’s hand in his life, and to obey God’s leading, does the prophecy begin to be fulfilled.

Parallel lesson for us today: The road of true spirituality is a hard road.  The Christian faith — like the ancient Jewish faith — rests on God’s promises and God’s blessing.  Esau represents the things the world values: physical strength, the family’s wealth, good looks, solid family man, married with lots of children, the leader of a nation (Edom).  But God has not chosen Esau… God has chosen Jacob.  And Jacob begins with nothing… nothing but a promise and a blessing and a very hard road.  This is the man whose children become the nation of Israel, who becomes the ancestor of Jesus.  This is the man who has a Promised Land to look forward to.  And for those of us who are on a hard road, holding on to nothing but promises and a blessing… so do we.

Civil Rights and Womens Rights

The more I learn about race, gender, and history, the more I discover the issues of racial equality and women’s rights are inextricably intertwined.

Chains

Inspired by friend and artist Betty Douglas, I’ve been reading a book written back in 1839 entitled American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses.  The book is a collection of first-hand, eyewitness descriptions of slavery in the southern United States, compiled by the American Anti-Slavery Society, one of the early abolitionist groups in the US, founded by former southerners who fled the south rather than live with the horrors they saw.

The book is heartbreaking.  It rings true as only eyewitness accounts can.  I read slowly, a few pages at a time.

Today I came across something that never would have entered my mind in a million years.  An excerpt from page 25, from the section Testimony of the late Rev. John Graham:

        “I walked up to the Court House to day, where I heard one of the most interesting cases I ever heard. I say interesting, on account of its novelty to me, though it had no novelty for the people, as such cases are of frequent occurrence. The case was this: To know whether two ladies, present in court, were white or black. The ladies were dressed well, seemed modest, and were retiring and neat in their look, having blue eyes, black hair, and appeared to understand much of the etiquette of southern behaviour.

“A man, more avaricious than humane, as is the case with most of the rich planters, laid a remote claim to those two modest, unassuming, innocent and free young ladies as his property, with the design of putting them into the field, and thus increasing his STOCK! As well as the people of Concord are known to be of a peaceful disposition, and for their love of good order, I verily believe if a similar trial should be brought forward there and conducted as this was, the good people would drive the lawyers out of the house. Such would be their indignation at their language, and at the mean under-handed manner of trying to ruin those young ladies, as to their standing in society in this district, if they could not succeed in dooming them for life to the degraded condition of slavery, and all its intolerable cruelties. Oh slavery! if statues of marble could curse you, they would speak. If bricks could speak, they would all surely thunder out their anathemas against you, accursed thing! How many white sons and daughters, have bled and groaned under the lash in this sultry climate.”

These plantation owners made slaves out of their own race as well as the Africans.

It may seem obvious that it takes generosity of spirit, or at least openness of spirit, to accept different kinds of people.

What has taken me longer to see is that the opposite is equally true: it takes the same crookedness of spirit, the same evil intent, to refuse to do so: that someone who hates on racial grounds will hate just as quickly on the grounds of gender, or poverty, or any other reason; that someone who craves power or desires to be cruel doesn’t care what means they use or who their victims are.

As a teacher I know – not just believe, but KNOW – that students only excel if their teacher can see good in them and encourage the good to grow.

What will mystify me to my dying day is why some people insist on refusing the good in themselves, insist on living in darkness, insist on depriving others of liberty and well-being, as if cruelty will ever satisfy their longings.

The Civil War never really ends.

The big day is tomorrow, and I’ve been looking forward to it all week.  I’ve even got special Super Bowl food planned for the evening.

But what should be a time of celebration and enjoyment for football fans everywhere has become a nightmare for people caught in the world of human trafficking.

This blog post reminds us the Super Bowl is also the biggest human trafficking event in the world.

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery.  It’s the fastest-growing crime in America, faster than even the drug trade.  And while women make up the largest percentile of victims, they’re by far not the only ones.  Increasingly children and men are disappearing into this world, where they are forced to work without pay, often forced to ‘serve’ ten or more ‘customers’ a day.

Public awareness is the key to fighting this devastating practice. Learn to recognize the victims of human trafficking including victims in lines of work other than sex trafficking.  And because victims of trafficking are moved around the country frequently, learn how to spot a trafficker in a crowd or on a plane.

If you suspect you see a trafficker or know someone who is being trafficked, DO NOT take direct action yourself .  Instead notify authorities or call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 and report your observations.

It’s rare to find religious commentary that is level-headed, fair, and downright funny (though it begins on a serious note).

A blog post entitled Evangelical Drama Needs Mainline Experience explains it all in terms of high school drama.

There’s the ecclesiastical equivalent of the Football Team (“pretty sure football is only for boys, and the only sport for girls is cheerleading”), the Rich Kids (“oblivious to the fact that there are other students at the high school”), the Valedictorian (“bright and well-liked, but constantly at odds with the football team”), the Debate Team, and more.

Click the link above and relate!

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