#BlackLivesMatter, Justice, Sermon

leaving our nets behind: sermon on discipleship

[I preached this sermon last Sunday at Broadway Presbyterian Church in NYC. I’ve included the passage, prayer, and sermon. It was written between overnights at the shelter, a Student Senate Retreat, and supporting another friend who preached earlier that morning.]

Mark 1:14-20 NRSV
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,
and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;
repent, and believe in the good news.”

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fisherfolk.
And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John,
who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them;
and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

brick testament Jesus

Prayer: Oh God, we can be a stubborn people. We like things the way they are. We depend on being comfortable. But you, O God, search for us, and push us in directions that some of us would never have imagined. This morning, open us to hear a tender and vital word from you. We ask this in the name of the one who calls us to follow. Amen.

This past week has been exhausting, exciting, anxious-ridden, and surreal all at the same time. With Martin Luther King Jr. day, the start of classes, and the Emergency Shelter Network Annual meeting, it couldn’t be anything, but less. What I want to highlight is the Annual Meeting of the Emergency Shelter Network (ESN). It was held on the third floor of the Fifth Ave Presbyterian Church. 30 people were present, representing about 40 churches in the 5 boroughs. The deputy commissioner of Homeless Services shared some of the ways the city was helping house people, along with some overwhelming statistics, including that NYC in 1983 14,000 people were in shelters or on the street. In 2008, when ESN became a non-profit, 35,000 people were homeless, and the count in December 2014, our city has over 60,000 people without homes. After hearing these statistics, a hush swept through the room. A shelter coordinator piped up and asked, “Is anything we are doing actually alleviating poverty?” No answer was given that night. We moved onto other subjects and eventually spent the rest of time discussing ways to recruit volunteers. Because unless your church or synagogue that has over 1,000 members and hosts a shelter once or twice a week, you are probably scrambling to find people. Needless to say it wasn’t the most uplifting meeting I’ve ever been to. As I made the trek back to 1 train, I just couldn’t get out of my mind, the purpose of a volunteer.

Before I became the volunteer coordinator at Broadway Community, for years I volunteered at food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters. I volunteered because it made me feel good, which is how some of the other coordinators at the meeting told us to pitch it to those wanting to volunteer. “It will warm your heart to help those in need” and “build your resume.” Or even “just doing a little can go a long way.”

And with the backdrop of American Christianity, I can hear some of these same reasons for why one would want to call themselves Christian. “Follow Jesus, my friend. It’s easy; just say a prayer and you’ll be right with God.” Or “read your devotions in the morning, I do, and it’s like they last the whole day.” And often, this is how we read the discipleship stories. Jesus comes walking along this beautiful beach, happens to run into some fisher folk, calls out to them, “Hey, follow me.” It doesn’t take them a second to think about it and they’re following Jesus.

But reading our passage today, it seems more complicated than just Jesus moseying by the Sea of Galilee calling for disciples. Our passage begins with, “Now after John was arrested.” Let’s just have that sink in. In the ancient world, prisons were full of rabble-rousers, people who struggled economically, political prisoners, and those who didn’t abide by the Roman Empire. John the Baptizer fits all of those descriptions, as well, according to Mark, baptized Jesus forty days earlier. These are the kinds of people Jesus hung out with and even was baptized by.

Mark’s Gospel seems to point out that it was because of John’s arrest that Jesus’ ministry began. That there was sense of urgency.

And thinking about world history, there always seems to be something catastrophic that happens, that builds momentum for a movement. For us last year, it was the non-indictments of the police officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner that lead to the movement Black Lives Matter. It happened in El Salvador in the 1970’s when Archbishop Oscar Romero’s dear friend was killed that he started to side with the oppressed. And it was the drought in the Caesarea in the 4th century, that St. Basil the Great emptied his barns, giving to those in need.

Jesus’ ministry starts in turmoil. During a time when everything wasn’t okay with the world. It wasn’t Bible Play Land, where the mountains are lush, the fishermen are always smiling, and Jesus’ hair is blowing in the wind.

John had been arrested and Jesus starts to proclaim the good news of God. Now we need to stop right here because in ancient Rome, this phrase good news was usually paired with Caesar, not God. The good news of Caesar included the Pax Romana, that if you didn’t assimilate to Rome’s ways you would be killed or enslaved. Additionally, it was written in several places in the Empire, “the birthday of the god Augustus has been for the whole world the beginning of good news concerning him; therefore let a new era begin from his birth.” These were the kinds of proclamations Jesus had to compete with. When we proclaim the good news of God, we are proclaiming that no person, nor political or economic system can hold a candle to God’s Realm. This is what Jesus is declaring.

Then Jesus exclaims, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” God’s Realm is so close we can taste it. We saw a glimpse of it at Jesus’ baptism. God is ready to take reign of the world bringing true justice and equality. I get so excited by these words, “the kingdom of God has come near.” It fills me with hope, but Mark wastes no time. He immediately has us walking beside Jesus along the Sea of Galilee.

There we meet two sets of brothers who also happen to be fisher folk, Simon and Andrew, and James and John. But here’s the weird thing. Rabbis, in the ancient world, would not go after potential students. Rather, students would follow the Rabbis around, trying to gather as much wisdom and hopefully they would be included in the group too. As well, the disciples who usually followed Rabbis were fairly educated themselves. Jesus goes against the business as usual Rabbi and disciple relationship. He goes out of his way to find those who were as John Calvin called, “rough mechanics.” Jesus could’ve called anyone, but he chose those who were not the elite.

As Paul would later write in 1 Corinthians, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.”

And in the case of fisher folk, they were nearly in the lowest class of society, the artisan class. The Roman Empire also made sure that they stayed there through heavy taxation to the tune of 80% of fish they caught. Those fish would then be dried and salted at a factory, which was owned by the Caesar at the time. Then the fish sold would contribute to the benefit of the Empire, never the fishermen.

I wonder some of the thoughts going through the brothers’ minds when Jesus asked them to the follow him. Were they happy to give up the family business to follow this stranger? Had they seen Jesus hang around John the Baptizer and assumed that he was one of the good ones? Or were they frightened, not knowing what would happen next. Scripture doesn’t say, but I can’t imagine it being an easy decision. Simon and Andrew left behind their nets. James and John left behind their father. Following Jesus changed the course of their lives.

In 2009, I read many stories of saints of old who after hearing the Gospel message gave everything away and dedicated their life to helping those in need. I felt that this was what it meant to be a disciple (and still do). So during winter break, I donated most of my clothes to the shelter, and kept two pairs of pants, five shirts, and one coat. Mostly because after reading the words of St. Basil the Great,

“The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes.”

I wanted to make sure that I wasted nothing. And there was something freeing about that experience. I felt closer to God and worried less about what to wear. A few months later though, I got a job at a Thrift Store and started to swap out clothes and things went downhill from there.

To follow Jesus, in a way, means to me to be less distracted. To not let petty concerns eat up your time.

We are not called to be volunteers for God’s Realm.
We are not called to add an hour or two a week to our lives, so that we can feel good.
Jesus disrupts our lives from the ordinary ebb and flow to an alternative way of life.
We are called to be disciples and to follow Christ wherever he may lead.
To leave behind those nets in our lives that hold us back from doing so. Whether that be our self-doubt, or anxiety about what others may think,
or that we do not feel worthy enough to do something like that.
Christ still calls over and over, yet never away from world, but into it.
May we listen to that call and leave our nets behind. Amen.

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Anarchism, Justice, Liberation Theology

re-radicalizing scripture

Holy Scriptures endure, partially, to disrupt the lives of its adherents. This seems to be true for all religions. Of course, in each of their texts, there are a few voices that advocate for rich and powerful*, yet overall religious texts point toward justice and caring for the neighbor. In this way, Scriptures are dangerous. They demand the impossible and it’s impossible to get people to actually read them. Or maybe they have, but don’t fully understand its implications.

Here’s a few examples: Mary, Jesus’ mother, sang that the powerful should be removed from their thrones, so the poor can be lifted up (Luke 1:52). The Prophet Isaiah declared that even if you are penniless, you should still eat and drink for free (55:1). And lastly, in the earliest times of the Hebrews, womyn were leaders without question (Judges 4-5).

These examples fly in the face of current economic and political systems. 

Here’s some secondary texts that have led me to a radical understanding of Scripture:

Deryn Guest, Robert Goss, Mona West, and Thomas Bohache (Editors) The Queer Bible Commentary

Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza’s The Power of the Word: Scripture and the Rhetoric of Empire

Musa Dube’s Post-Colonial Feminist Interpretation of the Bible

Phyllis Trible’s Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives

Richard Horsley’s Jesus and Empire

Robert E. Goss and Mona West (Editors) Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible

Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination

Wes Howard-Brook’s Come Out, My People!”

In making Scripture dangerous again, I wanted to practice re-radicalizing it by contemporizing Psalm 146. This Psalm, in particular, spells out a distrust of princes and royalty. For the psalmist, the point was to follow God who cares for the stranger, oppressed, widows, and orphans, since the status quo have never been concerned with such matters.

A wonderful homiletician taught me that when reading a text, verbs bring us closer to our reality, while nouns keep us at a distance. In other words, Jericho or Judges do not incorporate much meaning in our everyday lives, but “testing,” “lived among,” “they took,” and “they gave” can render endless possibilities.** With the Psalm, I updated a few verbs, but mostly focused on nouns.

Anyway, I hope you like it!

Praise God, our Agitator!
Praise God, from everything that is within us!

We will praise God as long as we live;
we will sing praises to God for the rest of our lives.

Do not put your trust in capitalists, CEOs
or in politicians, in whom there is no help.

When their breath departs, they will return to the Earth;
on that very day their wealth becomes rot.

Blessed are they whose help is the God of the marginalized,
whose hope is in the God who suffers with them,

who is the creator of the universe, Earth,
oceans, and all the creatures in them;
who is faithful forever;

who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
God sets the prisoners free;
God transforms the parts in our lives that we are afraid to speak of.

God lifts up the humbled;
God loves justice-seekers.

God watches over strange ones;
God upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the powerful, God brings to ruin.

God will reign forever,
our God, O Earth, for all generations.
Praise God!

jesus of maryknoll

* I’m thinking here of passages in the Hebrew Scriptures that promote the authority of priests, especially Nehemiah and Ezra, who command post-Exiled Hebrew men who married non-Jews to divorce them. In the Christian Scriptures, patriarchy is upheld through Household codes and Paul seems to call for a respect of the State (Romans 13). As well, slavery is rarely questioned, in pseudo-Pauline letters womyn are told to keep silent, etc. Other religious texts such as Confucian texts continue hierarchy and patriarchy.

** These verbs were gathered from the first few verses in Judges 3.

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#StayWokeAdvent, Advent, Justice

what shall we cry out?: a #staywokeadvent lectionary reflection

A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.
Isaiah 40:6-8

God bless the grass that breaks through cement,
It’s green and it’s tender and it’s easily bent,
But after a while it lifts up it’s head,
For the grass is living and the stone is dead.
And God bless the grass.
“God Bless the Grass” by Malvina Reynolds

For the season of Advent, the Hebrew Bible texts arise from the later chapters of Isaiah. During this time period of Isaiah’s writings, the Judeans had been exiled for over 50 years in the land of Babylon. Their land was destroyed, their Temple flattened, and their faith was shaken. They had lost all hope (just read Lamentations), and believed that God might never vindicate them.

At the time of this passage in Isaiah, the prophet was calling them back to the Promised Land. He was calling for comfort, for valleys to be made level with the mountains, and saying that their sins have been forgiven. Then, in the middle of all the celebrating, a voice says, “Cry out!” But the prophet doesn’t know what to cry. And the question is never answered.

This sounds like our own contemporary conundrum.

What are we supposed to cry out with so many injustices? What should we call out first without starting an Oppression Olympics?

On August 9th, Michael Brown was murdered in the middle of the day by a police officer.

What shall we cry out?

Nearly 70 years ago on that date, the US dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan killing over 80,000.

What shall we cry out?

Since Michael Brown’s murder, several more young black Americans have been killed by police officers.

What shall we cry out?

After the prophet asks the question, the response given is that people are like grass. People’s constancy is like that of a weak, little flower. We fade, wither, and die. And the breath of God, which in other passages brings life, here, brings death. Surely, people are grass. Then maybe that’s it. As I’m told often enough, justice will never come about until God reigns. And so we wait. We wait for other seedling to grow and hopefully they’ll fix some of our racist and sexist attitudes, laws, and perspectives.

But that’s not the end of story. There are other prophets who have rose up and spoke about the grass’ strength. One prophet, Malvina Reynolds, disrupts the prophet’s words saying that grass doesn’t just fade and wither. Grass can also pushes through the cracks in concrete. Unwatched it can take over whole areas. In short, grass is dangerous.

seasons greetings

As we watch reports from Ferguson and around the US, we hear ever loudly the rustle of grass. The spirit of justice blows through the land demanding the end of police brutality against all people, but especially for black and brown persons. This wind knocks over systematic oppressions that haunt many black and brown communities. This wind pushes toward a new world, one just waiting to arrive.

I used to think Advent meant that we wait patiently for Jesus to be born. The kind of waiting we perform at doctor’s offices. I was wrong. Waiting in Advent means to be active in creating God’s Realm, which is always full of justice. Those protesting for the end of police brutality, for Darren Wilson to be charged a just punishment, and for the end of killing black and brown peoples are all practicing a form of Advent waiting. #StayWokeAdvent

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Justice, Liberation Theology, Scripture

jesus the riddler and the parable of the talents: a sermon

Jesus loved to work with parables. And in Matthew’s Gospel, from the 13th chapter onward, you can find them everywhere. I like to think of parables like I think of riddles. They make your mind think one way, but really the answer is flying in the opposite direction. Growing up, my mom would prepare the children’s sermon every Sunday. She’d gather all the little ones to the front, just like we do here, and usually it was the same format. She would read a short story from a book. Then, we would pray and then sing a song. These stories were part of a tradition that her mother passed on to her. So there was always an intimate sacredness present. I can even still remember some of the illustrations in those books. These stories would always push a certain moral, like obey your parents or trust God in all things. And we can get caught up in doing the same things to Jesus’ parables, making them in moral message.

What’s even worse is that we tend to allegorize the characters.
We place God as the main character and humans perform the smaller roles. And somehow we figure out something to say about God through these parables.

Traditionally, today’s scripture passage has been read as such. Jesus is the master who gives the talents to those who follow him. He then goes away; up to heaven, and during that time Jesus’ followers are making use of their talents. When Jesus returns the followers have to present what they have done with their talents. Rewards are given to those who doubled their talents and for the one follower who buried the talent; he will be cast off into eternal damnation and his one talent will be given to the one with the most. The moral of the parable is: “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

Does this sound like Jesus? The one who told the rich young man chapters earlier, “If you want to be complete, go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.”  (Matthew 19:21 CEB)

Does this sound like the Jesus who said, “When you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that you may give to the poor in secret”? (Matthew 6:3-4 CEB)

Does this sound like the Jesus who made it clear that ” You cannot serve God and wealth”? (Matthew 6:24 CEB)

Jesus teaches against the notion that the rich should get richer while the poor get poorer. To follow Jesus means to give up your wealth and give everything to those in need. Then, why does this parable sound like it’s telling us to do the very opposite?

As some of us heard last week, this is Jesus’ Second Sermon on the Mount. Although, this time it’s less about how we should live and more about how we should get ready for God’s Realm to crash on Earth.

Jesus, in Matthew’s Gospel would often start his parables by saying
“The kingdom of heaven is like this…” Strangely, our parable doesn’t start off this way; instead it reads, “it is as if.” Maybe Jesus is not speaking of the kingdom of heaven, maybe it’s about another kingdom that one should use caution living in.

We hear of the Master giving his most trustworthy and inner circle of slaves his money. It should be noted here that it’s “to each according to his ability.” Already, we know that the last slave couldn’t be trusted with more than just one talent. Which is still a ton of money in the ancient world. If one denarius was the daily wage of a laborer, then one talent was worth 600 denarii. That’s almost two years of work.

The parable continues that immediately the master leaves the slaves with the money.

The first and second slaves go off and double their talents. But how? Did they double it through opening new businesses or were they flipping houses or investing it in the stock market? When I was researching this I found that much of it was through giving small loans to farmers. Now this doesn’t sound so bad, except that the contracts were written up so that the farmers had to use their land as collateral. The idea was that eventually the farmer’s crops would fail, the farmer could not pay the loan off anymore, and the loan granter would then own that land. With 2010’s mortgage crisis, still fresh in our memory, we know that these types of situations still happen. It’s quite possible then that the first and second slaves exploited their friends and others who lived nearby with these loans.

The third slave did something very curious though he buried the talent. He did not participate in exploiting those around him. The burial of the talent looks like a bad deal, but it was his resistance.

This practice of a master giving his money to his slaves was a peculiar Roman law called peculium. The idea was that although the master was giving money to the slaves, it was never the slave’s money, but always the master’s. Because remember: slaves owned nothing. And to make sure that this was upheld, there were stacks of Roman law books that insured that the slaves gave back their master’s money.

And in my mind this is related to the phenomena of Halloween.
Every year, parents purchase or make their kids Halloween costumes. The parents decorate the house and buy candy for other costumed kids. The night of Trick-or-Treating parents chaperon the kiddos going door-to-door gathering up candy. Jimmy Kimmel, late night talk show host, started a tradition where parents take a video of their children’s reaction when they tell the kids that they ate their Halloween candy. My favorite response this year was a little boy who opens all of the kitchen cabinets angrily and then looks to camera and says, “Get out!” There are other videos of little ones saying, “That’s okay mommy. You must have been hungry. There’s always next year.” Under the system of peculium, it is perfectly right for the parents to eat the kid’s candy, it’s not like the kids did anything to deserve the candy, it was all the parent’s doing, the costume, the evening of trick or treating. But as the children in these videos remind us it may not be perfectly right.

Continuing with the parable, when the Master finally returns, the slaves present their talents. In the case of the first two slaves who doubled their talents the Master exalted them saying, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” In the sight of the Master, they did well in getting him more money through a means that harmed others.

The third slave talked back to the Master saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” He gave back to the master was he received. This friends, was a slap in the face. The Master responds with name calling with words like wicked, lazy, unworthy. And this should make our ears perk up. The slaves who doubled their talents were trustworthy, while the last slave’s worth was denied.

The Master eventually throws out the third slave into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth for resisting and talking back.

The Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 12 to “weep with those who weep, to associate with the lowly. Do not repay anyone evil for evil.” In short, we are to live as Christ lived.

This is our calling. To weep with those who are in the outer darkness. To take their hands and stay with them. To associate ourselves not with the Masters of this world, but with the lowly, the outcast. The third slave was courageous, but at the same time was afraid. There are many more in this world that allow fear to hold them back from calling out their abusers. May we be a people who keep our eyes peeled and hearts open to love the outcast and dive deep into the outer darkness even if we are too afraid of what we might find.

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Anti-Capitalism, anti-war, Beliefs, Justice

the people’s climate march and hermeneutics

I’ll admit it: I’m a hermeneutics fanatic. Whenever I enter a bookstore, I head straight for the literary criticism section. There is something enthralling thumbing through Roland Barthes’ Mythologies, Edward Said’s postcolonial criticism of Jane Eyre‘s madwoman in the attic, and the overweight, almost 3,000 page, Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. I am fascinated about the different ways one can read a text and the world.

And it’s not like this is a new phenomena. Writers and critics alike have been reading and re-reading texts for centuries coming to different conclusions. For instance, in my Sunday School class, ages 6-13, I wanted to give them a hermeneutical key to read Scripture. I offered what I called a good news model, i.e. looking for good news in every passage. After explaining it, the first question posed was why we think Jesus’ death on the cross is good news? This third grader said that it sounds like bad news. I couldn’t help but agree. A man dying/dead on a cross plastered all over our churches is not good news. The good news, I explained, is God raising Jesus from the dead. God redeemed what was made deplorable. God transformed the pitiful and made right what Roman Empire deemed wrong. That’s Good News. And in a different context, I would have explained something more nuanced.

This weekend I participated in the People’s Climate March in NYC. It was hermeneutical heaven. Everyone with a sign, unless it was massively reproduced, had a varying lens in which to approach Climate Change.

fracking: little economic gain counts for nothing if you’re destroying the Earth and you can’t drink the water.

veganism: against factory farming, the destruction of the Amazon rainforest for grazing land for cows

anti-capitalism: Global Capitalism casts a deadly shadow across the whole world. it will take, borrow, and steal anything, and re-directs climate justice discussion to neo-liberal laws

personal reasons: guilt for voting and registering as Republican (saw a sign reading, “Ashamed Republican”), concern for one’s grandchildren

Climate change

It’s these various anthems that make marches great. And even if we don’t have the same platform, we can still chant, sing, and march together. And this happens everyday and is concentrated in religious worship services. Not all United Methodists congregants interpret Scripture or even the hymns the same way. The same can be said for Muslims reciting the Qur’an, Jews singing Torah, or Hindus interpreting their sacred texts.

So what can we take away with different hermeneutical perspectives? First, that we shouldn’t make sweeping assumptions about groups of people or even individuals about the way they view the world or read. Second, humanity and the cosmos are full of contradictions, blind spots, and missteps. No one approach will be perfect, it may be complete, but never perfect. Lastly, that one should explore other traditions, while at the same time going deeper in their own. In this way, one can show respect toward others and are able to articulate their own hermeneutical lens.

Interpreting texts and the cosmos should life-giving and not a burden.

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Christainity, Justice

happy birthday, john wesley!

John Wesley Quote

John Wesley also said “Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessities for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless (and motherless); and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all humankind? How can you, how dare you, defraud the Lord, by applying it to any other purpose?”

Wesley was an advocate for social justice, emphasized grace, cared for others, and preached a radical gospel for his time.

Happy 311th birthday, John!

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Christainity, Ecology, Justice, Scripture

“remember you are compost, and to compost you shall return”: ecotheology and ash wednesday

My theology professor asked the class, “Will composting be necessary in the new heavens and new earth?” My hand shot up immediately and I answered with an enthusiastic “Yes!” Of course, I knew that compost was made of rotting, decomposing earthy matter. Yet, at the same time, I believed composting to be an integral part of God’s realm because it brings forth life out of rotting matter. The professor seemed to agree with me, but my peers were not impressed. For them, life eternal required no work, rather full praise toward God and God’s goodness.

We first find compost in Genesis 2, when God plants a garden on the east side of Eden and creates humanity. As well, God causes animals, trees, and shrubs to be birthed from this same ground. In this second creation narrative, humans work with the ground and care for the garden. Composting was involved in their very practice of creation-care. They didn’t have the means to develop landfills, or even the desire for non-recyclable plastic products. Instead, they gave back to Earth what they couldn’t use and the Earth reused it for something new.

Compost occupies an in-between stage. Sort of how plasma is not necessarily a solid or a liquid; or even Derrida’s late obsession with ghosts, understanding them as not quite human and not quite rotting flesh. Without compost, life would not subsist. In a sense, everything is compost. Our very ontology is in-betweenness. Though this is not the same as when preachers talk about the “dash on your gravestone.” Our in-betweenness is rather much more. Our bodies, along with the world, are constantly changing, either through the shedding of our skin, or dying cells, or having organs taken out. We are never static creatures, just like compost.

In Revelation, we read of the new earth, where one can see signs of composting. The River of Life flows through the middle of the New Jerusalem and on one side is the Tree of Life, which “provides healing for the nations” (22:2). “Healing” in this passage is in the present and continuous sense. In other words, even with everything renewed, everything is not yet fully healed or whole. Thus, could we not imagine that at the bottom of the Tree of Life, us partaking of food and composting it for new life, healing, and wholeness? With this reasoning, the New Jerusalem will not have landfills. What a beautiful vision of God’s realm!

On Ash Wednesday and throughout Lent, we recognize our faults, our sins, and those regretful acts we commit. We walk to the front of the church and receive a sign of our sinfulness with an ashed compost cross on our foreheads. Our bodies will become compost again after our death, at least until the resurrection. Yet, we should recognize our in-betweenness as hopeful. As Paul writes in Romans about Abraham on the resurrection, that he was and we are “hoping against hope” (4:18). Within us is the power of transformation. We have the capability to bring forth goodness, love, and hope.

Living into our compostable lives, let us make the most use of our in-betweenness for positive change in our relationships, neighborhoods, and world.

Composting

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