Tag Archives: Soul

If you want to…

The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.
Leviticus 13:45-46 (NRSV)

I have a nasty cold. You don’t want to shake my hand.”

It’s not uncommon to hear that phrase when greeting someone during cold and flu season. With all we know about germs, bacteria, and viruses, it’s considered courteous and a socially appropriate way to show concern for, and protect the health of, another person. We don’t even think that much about it.

Today’s lengthy chapter is fascinating when I consider what scant medical knowledge must have existed when these laws about visible infections were given thousands of years ago. The prescribed actions in today’s chapter describe a systematic diagnosis of symptoms, the quarantine of infected individuals, the destruction of infected clothing, and the public communication of such infections so as to protect the larger community from transmittal.

What was considered necessary for the health and welfare of the society could also be incredibly shaming for the infected person. You were expected to make yourself look sick and disheveled so others could spot you and would want to avoid you. You were to proclaim loudly and repeatedly “Unclean!” so that others could stay away. How awful for those who lived their entire lives in such a way. I can’t imagine what it would do to my soul to live life always on the periphery of “normal” society, continually repelling people with my appearance and forever announcing to people who I was “unclean.” Talk about tragic.

It brings to mind this morning one of my favorite stories about Jesus. It happens so quickly that it is often forgotten among the wondrous things Jesus did on his miraculous mystery tour:

Then a leper appeared and went to his knees before Jesus, praying, “Master, if you want to, you can heal my body.”

Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, “I want to. Be clean.”

I think about this leper in terms of today’s chapter with its rigid legal and religious societal prescription. This is a person who has been alienated from family and society, perhaps their whole lives. This is a person who has had people perpetually avoid them, look at them in disgust, and treat them with contempt. This is a person who may very well have not felt the touch of another human being for as long as they could remember. No warm hugs, no human intimacy, no loving caress of a mother or spouse. This is a person who, in word and action, has been repeatedly fed a message by society: “I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to touch you. I don’t want you near me or my loved ones.”

Imagine this wounded soul coming to Jesus at the height of Jesus’ popularity. The crowds were enormous.

“Unclean!” the person shouts hoarsely as the crowds part. Mothers protect their children and hurry them away. People look away in disgust. Shouts and insults erupt as the “normal” people urge this person to leave and get away from them. Perhaps a few even picked up stones to throw in order to physically drive the leper away from them.

But Jesus watches quietly as the leper kneels and proclaims a simple statement of faith. “If you want to, you can make me clean.”

Then Jesus reaches out and touches the leper. “I want to,” Jesus says.

This morning I am thinking about my leprous soul that no one sees. I am thinking about the many ways I am “unclean” and infected with envy, hatred, prejudice, and pride. I am thinking of the ways I secretly identify with the leper, and all the ways I don’t have a flipping’ clue.

Jesus, If you want to, you can make me clean.

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featured image by Hans Splinter via Flickr

Religion, Commerce, and the Soul

cover-Time-19870406-66703A number of those who practiced magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins.

A man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the artisans. These he gathered together, with the workers of the same trade, and said, “Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business.”
Acts 19:19, 24-25 (NRSV)

Back when I was in high school and college there was a crazy period of time when there was no shortage of scandals centering around a group of prominent American televangelists. Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker were the couple that the media couldn’t seem to get enough of, but there was also Jimmy Swaggart and others who leveraged their television ministries into personal profit machines and media empires. A closer inspection of these ministry moguls produced plenty of odd and salacious fodder for the tabloids. Many televangelists fell in a strange train wreck of disgrace that was too compelling to look away.

I was reminded of the uncomfortable tension between faith and commerce this morning as I read today’s chapter. There were two groups of people described who stood in stark contrast to one another. I had never really noticed this in my previous journeys through the Book of Acts.

First, there are those who had vocationally practiced different types of exorcism, magic, and spiritism who became followers of Jesus (v. 18-20). Upon their choice to place their faith in and follow Jesus they abandoned their spiritually dark professions and burned down their old lives. This, of course, meant that would have to begin new lives and careers. This is a picture of Jesus’ consistent admonishment for people to repent (literally, to about face and go the opposite direction) and follow. Old things pass away, new things come. There is a spiritual rebirth evidenced by their willingness to experience a huge financial loss and, in faith, walk away from that which was spiritually dark to begin a new path following the Light.

Next, there is Demetrius and the guild of silversmiths tied to the temple of Artemis. The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and Artemis of Ephesus was a popular fertility idol, her long body covered in breasts (or perhaps their bull testicles, scholars aren’t quite sure). Not unlike the media empires of the televangelists, the Temple of Artemis was a tourist attraction and a lucrative, religious cash cow. With the trending of Jesus, His message, and His followers the business of Artemis idols, trinkets, and souvenirs  was taking a huge financial hit. The local metal workers union was not happy. The response of Demetrius and his fellow merchants was to create a public riot and threaten bodily harm to the followers of Jesus along with their forcible expulsion from Ephesus.

I consider one group has a spiritual transformation that results in a willingness to suffer financial and vocational loss. Then I think of the other group who are hardened to preserve their finances and vocation at all costs. Finally, I think about the disgraced televangelists from my youth. I’m not sitting in judgment of them, rather I ponder if spiritually I’m not more like them than I’d care to admit. I wonder if they didn’t start out with sincere hearts that were hardened over time by their lucrative, religious cash cows and personal empires.

Today, I am doing some soul searching. Which example in today’s chapter am I more like, and what is the condition of my heart? Am I willing to suffer temporal loss for eternal gain, or will I cling tightly to that which is temporal at the sacrifice of my soul?

Breaking Points and Places of Restoration

Lake Mug 2 Snapseed LRWhen [the members of the Corinthian synagogue] opposed and reviled him, in protest [Paul] shook the dust from his clothes and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” Acts 18:6 (NRSV)

Wendy and I arrived home from the lake last night after a long weekend with friends. I tweeted yesterday that there are some weekends there that you just never want to end, and that’s truly the way I felt yesterday. I wasn’t ready to come home. Wendy and I have realized over time the same thing that my parents realized as they owned the place before us, that the lake is a place of soul restoration.

Our life journeys can wear us down at times. We get depleted. Our feet get dirty from walking through life’s muck. At some point, perhaps at many waypoints along the path, we reach a breaking point like Paul experienced in Corinth in today’s chapter. We can’t take any more of what life is throwing at us. We give up, give in and throw in the towel.

For Paul, showing love and kindness to those who reviled and hated him was wearying business. I think we all experience the breaking point from time to time when our spiritual, emotional, and mental reserves are tapped out. I get the feeling that the reason Jesus often stole away to a mountain side by Himself  was because He was driven by need to refresh His spiritual, emotional and mental batteries.

I’m reminded this morning that we all have breaking points. It’s part of the human journey. Jesus experienced it, Paul experienced it, I’m going to experience it too. The question isn’t “if” but “when.” Today, I’m grateful for places of restoration. I’m thankful for quiet and the encouragement of friends who recharge our soul batteries in ways that allow us to press on.

Praise Him with Show Tunes

2012 12 USP Joseph Backstage Girls Grunge LRLet them praise his name with dancing
    and make music to him with timbrel and harp.

Let his faithful people rejoice in this honor
    and sing for joy on their beds.
Psalm 149:3, 5 (NIV)

The lyricist of Psalm 149, writing some 25 centuries ago, describes corporate worship of God with the combination of dancing and music. Anyone who knows me or has followed this blog for any length of time knows that I’m a theatre guy. I majored in it in college and have been actively involved on the stage for many years. So, when I read dancing and music, forgive if me I immediately think: show tunes.

I know that the music and dancing described by the ancient psalmist is far from a Rogers and Hammerstein production number, but I’m also pretty sure that it’s far from being descriptive of my corporate worship experience in Protestant midwest America.

I love that the image the psalmist gave was that the corporate singing and dancing in the day time gives way to singing for joy on your bed at night. Again, I can’t help but think of my experience of being in musicals over the years: Mame, South Pacific, Annie, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. When you are part of a large group of people singing amazing, soul stirring songs while dancing to cardio pumping choreography you can’t help but feel a rush of adrenaline that gives way to a generous release of endorphins. Envision the result: you’re so ecstatic that you go home and jump on your bed at night and keep singing and dancing your heart out because you don’t want it to end.

[Cut to image of the same person sitting in church bored out of their skull, nearly asleep, and looking at their watch while wondering when in the world the service is going to end.]

I will confess that the churches where I have attended over the years have come a long way, at least in the music department. My soul is regularly stirred by the music in corporate worship. I think, however, that it will be a while before I see a conga line or jazz square on Sunday morning.

Nevertheless, as the church enters our most important season of the year, which leads to the most exciting, heart stirring, fist pumping reason for celebration, I personally wish there was a big Broadway style production number on the church’s event schedule for Easter morning.

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Sometimes You Have to Go Home

Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 166...
Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1662–1669 (Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jacob came home to his father Isaac in Mamre, near Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had stayed. Isaac lived a hundred and eighty years. Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him. Genesis 35:27-29 (NIV)

There’s something fascinating to me about the theme of going home. I find it one of the most powerful themes in life and in literature, and it is the core theme of a play I wrote. As a matter of fact, it’s also one my favorite things about baseball. How cool is it that the object of a game is to arrive safely home? Jesus even tapped into this theme in the parable that has become arguably his most famous and powerful story: the prodigal son.

One of the common experiences of being human is leaving home. Sometimes the leaving is a natural and healthy part of the process of becoming an adult and making your own way in life. Others have a more harrowing tale to tell of brokenness, abandonment, or escape from an unhealthy family situation. No matter the personal story, I’ve discovered along the journey that at one time or another almost everybody faces this life situation of returning home. Sometimes it’s a fun an nostalgic event, sometimes it’s a journey of repentance, sometimes it’s a confrontational situation or an event fraught with anxiety, fear and uncertainty. Very often, that return home is forced upon us by the death of a loved one as it was for Jacob as he returns to bury his father, Isaac.

I’ve also come to realize that this concept of going home is about reconciliation and about personal peace. I’ve witnessed a restlessness of spirit in those who live with broken relationships or unfinished business back home, especially with parents. The process of facing the issues which are churning that restlessness of soul can be one of the most pivotal and powerful in a person’s life journey. No matter what the outcome, the journey home and the confrontation can be the key to finding a sense of healing – even if it’s only with one’s self.

Sometimes, you have to go home.

My Life: A Photo Abecedarius

E is for Eyes.

I don’t know why, but I’ve always had a fascination with eyes. When I am struck by a stranger, it almost always their eyes that, well, “catch my eye.” Eyes have been a consistent motif in my artwork. I’ve heard it said that science has been able to replicate almost every human aspect in the form of robotics, but the eye  and it’s coordination with the brain and body has been virtually impossible to replicate in its complexity, sensitivity and rapid response.

I love that God created the eye to be the lamp of the soul. Eyes speak so much. They are so expressive. Eyes captivate.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 32

When I refused to confess my sin,
    my body wasted away,
    and I groaned all day long.
Psalm 32:3 (NLT)

Like many, I’m a fan of The Godfather saga. The first two films in the trilogy undoubtedly rank among the greatest stories ever told on film. I’m also not alone in my belief that the third film of the series, while an okay film, does not come close to the quality of first two. Nevertheless, The Godfather III has moments of brilliance, and one of them came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter.

In the film, an aged and unhealthy Michael Corleone seeks out one of the Cardinals in the Vatican to elicit his help with corruption that is taking place in the Holy See’s upper ranks. The stress of the situation is too much and in the moment of their meeting Michael suffers the beginnings of a diabetic seizure. The Cardinal, recognizing the spiritual agony as well as physical ailments Michael suffers, explains that when the soul is in agony the body cries out. He encourages Michael to unburden his soul in confession, something that Michael has not done since childhood. A lifetime of sin and corruption clogs his heart, but the Cardinal slowly urges Michael to let it out. It is one of the most poignant moments in the entire story arc of the three films.

Holding tight to our guilt and sin in an effort to keep it secret is holding on to spiritual cancer. It may not be noticeable at first, but slowly it begins to eat away at our heart, mind and spirit. Symptomatic effects begin to show up in our relationships, our thoughts, our emotions and even our bodies.

Confession is not only good for the soul, but it gives way to an inflow of Life that can bring healing in a myriad of ways.

Today is a good day for confession. Let it go.