The Quail – Desire and Slavery

For my Lenten Discipline this year, I’ve decided I’ll be reading (and blogging) about Debbie Blue’s book, Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible. 

The Israelites in the wilderness in Leviticus decided they were tired of manna and started kvetching for meat. God said, “I’ll give you meat,” and thousands of quail blew in on the breeze. They were really happy, except “while the meat was still in their teeth”, they were struck by a plague and a lot of them died.

“Desire is huge and complicated. We long and we lack and our longing and lacking make us create beautiful paintings and poetry: I draws us to one another. We don’t just grow turnips – we desire more, so we grow heirloom tomatoes and spicy basil. We long for something other than processed food so we make organic gardens.”

So here are the Israelites, tired of wandering, and God gives them manna and quail to eat, and they still aren’t satisfied. They’ve been freed from slavery, but they still aren’t satisfied.

All that 40 years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, God was providing for them – bread, meat, and water. Maybe God was trying to get them to let go of the idols they had in Egypt. We are still enslaved to idols.

“I don’t think the story of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, learning to know God – is mere an item of biblical history. These are stories that help us understand what our lives are like with God. We still wander, we doubt, we wonder if it has been foolish to follow God, because we often find ourselves in the desert. The quail in the Bible are both a sign of God’s extravagant care and a sign that the Israelites’ desires need transforming. We are not exempt from the desert wanderings – but how else would we be transformed?”

 

 

The Pelican – Sacrifice and Gift

For my Lenten Discipline this year, I’ve decided I’ll be reading (and blogging) about Debbie Blue’s book, Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible. 

Pelicans are huge. Their throat pouches are expandable and their beaks are longer than the beak of any other bird ever. If you have a strong stomach, be sure to watch the pelican in St. James Park, London, eat a pigeon – alive.

Thomas Aquinas, Dante and Shakespeare all use the image of the pelican: Jesus Christ our Pelican! O loving Pelican! oh Jesu Lord!

This probably came from the legendary belief that the mother pelican pierces her body to feed her own blood to her children to keep them alive. This image of sacrificial love is what led the poets to identify this bird with Christ. So the pelican turns up all over the place in ancient Christian iconography. That image lingers as a Christmas ornament for some Lutheran churches, and on the Louisiana state flag and seal.

In reality, the mother pelican doesn’t peck her breast to feed her young. What actually happens is the mother (and/or father) pelican flies far away, fishes and swallows her catch, and returns to the nest where she regurgitates the half-digested meal into her throat pouch, and the baby pelicans dive in head first to eat their fill. At some point, whether because they pass out from lack of oxygen or because they are sated, they fall out of the mother’s beak and lie inert on the floor of the nest. Then, as the mother covers them with her wings they come back to life.

Today, the symbol to the pelican as a sacrifice is much truer to the image of the pelican soaked in oil. After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, we saw photo after photo of pelicans drenched and suffocating in the oil. And that tragedy continues to this day with marshes and beaches still contaminated as we try to appease the great god of fuel. “Jesus didn’t die to sustain our noble ideals but rather to show where our noble ideals can lead: we will kill to maintain our order, to preserve what we think in right. We find some other that stands in the way of our manifest destiny and crucify it.”

Sacrifice is a prehistoric activity. The Hebrew Scripture keeps telling us that God does not want our sacrifice. Jesus pleads, “If only you learned what this means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice.'”

“Clearly sacrifice moves people, but maybe God wants to move people in an entirely different way. God’s work in the world doesn’t work like a business – commerce or trade: give up this and you’ll get that – blood for love, the death of one thing so that something else can live. It’s a lot more creative than that. It’s not tit for tat. It’s grace upon grace upon mind-blowing grace.”

Maybe we need to quit using the rhetoric of sacrifice.

“We need to stop using so much oil. We need to give our children. We need to love the planet with a little more passion than we’ve shown. But maybe being attentive to the needs of the web of life that sounds you isn’t sacrifice. It isn’t putting something to death; it’s more like love – like learning to love with a little more passion, learning to give with a little more abandon.”

“People have been sacrificing a long time: we’ve sacrificed wetlands, badlands, innumerable species, trees, mountaintops, salmon streams – believing somehow that this is what is necessary to make our lives better, or to get what we want or what we think we need. But it isn’t working.”

Watch the pelicans flying along the beach just touching the tops of the waves. They are beauty and poetry in motion. O loving Pelican! O Jesu Lord! Maybe we humans aren’t really capable of destroying God’s world. We need to keep trying for the possibility of life lived not at the expense of other life.

 

 

Thirty Days of Thankfulness – 11/15/15

3-17 - Endure

Today I’m reminded that light ALWAYS follows dark. I’m reminded that blue skies ALWAYS follow rain. I’m reminded that spring ALWAYS follows winter. I’m reminded that I can personally do NOTHING about the state of the world except care for the needy, feed the hungry, tend the children and the old, love justice, do mercy, and walk humbly with God. So today I’m thankful to remember it’s not about me, but I DO have something I can do – with God’s help.

Ate

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This photo is part of the Lenten Photo-A-Day Challenge.

We had a Sing-along and Pie and Cobbler Potluck at church last night. So for “breakfast” at Sunday School, I ATE some leftover pie! 🙂

The lectionary passage that spoke especially to me today was from Psalm 32:10-11

10   Many are the torments of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD.

11   Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

We talked about compassion, mercy and grace in Sunday School and in the sermon today.

Advent Three – Thursday

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

This speaks particularly to me. One of my spiritual gifts is the gift of prophecy, and it is a VERY difficult gift to have. Sometimes it’s hard not to look at it like a curse rather than a gift. Unfortunately, prophets usually don’t have very comforting or uplifting things to say. They are usually critical of the powers that be, and often offend others, even other believers. That’s probably why Paul says not to despise the prophets, or the prophetic gift.

I have a hard time not resenting the gift when other people look at me like I have snakes crawling out of my ears. But I try to examine everything I say in the light of the scriptures, and in the light the Spirit shows me. I use the tests of mercy, justice and love, as shown by Jesus’s admonitions in the Beatitudes to inform my attitudes.

The Christmas promise is for justice, mercy, and love. Dear God, help me rejoice always in these things in all my life.

Expecting the Word – Advent Three – Thursday

My Advent series this year will follow the Words Matter Advent study from the National Council of Churches. Download the whole booklet if you’d like, and follow along with the writings for each day. I’d love to discuss them with you. Also, here is a link to the Advent readings from the Inclusive Bible. I prefer the more inclusive language here, than the NRSV texts used in the study booklet (be sure to read the note on page 6).

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

I find myself once again turning to the Inclusive Bible’s translation. Where the NRSV says “don’t quench” the Spirit, the Inclusive Bible says “don’t stifle” the Spirit, and again, the NRSV says “don’t despise” the prophets, while the Inclusive Bible says “don’t despise” the prophetic gift.

These speak particularly to me. One of my spiritual gifts is the gift of prophecy, and it is a VERY difficult gift to have. Sometimes it’s hard not to look at it like a curse rather than a gift. Unfortunately, prophets usually don’t have very comforting or uplifting things to say. They are usually critical of the powers that be, and often offend others, even other believers. That’s probably why Paul says not to despise the prophets, or the prophetic gift.

I have a hard time not resenting the gift when other people look at me like I have snakes crawling out of my ears. But I try to examine everything I say in the light of the scriptures, and in the light the Spirit shows me. I use the tests of mercy, justice and love, as shown by Jesus’s admonitions in the Beatitudes to inform my attitudes.

The Christmas promise is for justice, mercy, and love. Dear G-d, help me rejoice always in these things in all my life.