To Build Up and To Destroy: Day 9


So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, ‘How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ The people did not answer him a word.Then Elijah said to the people, ‘I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred and fifty. Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God.’ All the people answered, ‘Well spoken!’ Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, ‘Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; then call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it.’So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, ‘O Baal, answer us!’ But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made. At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, ‘Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.’ Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response.

 Then Elijah said to all the people, ‘Come closer to me’; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down; Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, ‘Israel shall be your name’; with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed. Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, ‘Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt-offering and on the wood.’ Then he said, ‘Do it a second time’; and they did it a second time. Again he said, ‘Do it a third time’; and they did it a third time, so that the water ran all round the altar, and filled the trench also with water.

 At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, ‘O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.’ Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt-offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.’Elijah said to them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.’ Then they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon, and killed them there. – I Kings 18:20-40


It’s really hard to read this story today. Yesterday, a man went into a Mosque in New Zealand and opened fire on the people there. He then did the same at another nearby Mosque. He did it in the name of white supremacy. He was opposed to foreigners and refugees.

I won’t be surprised if he invokes Christianity at some point.

At least 49 people are dead. 49! I can’t wrap my head around it.

We have to own how texts like these support the ideologies of those with extremists views. When I was taught this story as a child, Elijah was seen as the hero, the deaths of the prophets of Baal completely justified because they worshiped the wrong god.

We’ve used the “wrong god” argument to justify colonization and slavery. We’ve used it to justify genocide. We’ve used it to justify every manifestation of white supremacy and Islamophobia.

The “wrong god” argument must be rejected. The “wrong god” argument is evil.

I have a handful of Muslim friends, not as many as I would like, but I want them to know that I won’t support a faith that invalidates theirs. I won’t be part of a community that undermines their experience of the Divine. I won’t be silent when I see people make broad generalizations about their faith, just as I don’t want to be associated with the worst elements of mine.

This story about Elijah reminds me of those who are committed to the idea of Christian apologetics. It’s all about proving that our god is “right” and other faiths are “wrong”. I used to be one of those people and I repent of that. God, forgive me!

No one has the market cornered on understanding the Divine mystery. Certainty is the true enemy of faith.

I’m angry, sad, but not shocked. These things don’t shock me anymore and that in and of itself may be the saddest part of all of this.

Maybe it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: white supremacy is one of the things that must be destroyed if we are moving into a new world. We have to dismantle it in its most violent forms as well as its more subtle, insidious forms.

The world that we are building needs to have space for all faith expressions. No one owns the Divine.


To Build Up and To Destroy: Day 8

person holding black pen

Photo by Lex Photography on


Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.’

 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’ Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever. In accordance with all these words and with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David. – II Samuel 7:1-17


Hats off to Yahweh with the excellent play on words!

David: I need to make God a house

God: I’m going to make you into a house… see what I did there?

David’s heart is in the right place. He’s gone from lowly shepherd to king of Israel and he credits God for getting him to where he is. He wants to show God some love.

And it’s not an unreasonable idea. I have a house. God should have a house. It kinda makes sense.

David made two mistakes, as I see it.

First, he assumes that God needs something from him. I’ve been there. The arrogance to think that if I don’t do something, it won’t get done and God’s purposes won’t be met. I’ve been that guy.

God doesn’t need anything from us. God’s not dependent on us or beholden to us. God moves in total freedom, independent on the whims of humanity.

Now, God does, I believe, want things from us. And those things that God wants are rarely things. God wants us to act in love and to pursue justice. God woos us and persuades us towards those ends. But God does not need us.

David’s second mistake was believing that God could be contained. Again, God moves in freedom. God does not need a box.

I’m reminded of the lyrics of one of my favorite Gungor songs:

“Cannot Keep You” by Michael Gungor
They tried to keep you in a tent
They could not keep you in a temple
Or any of their idols
To see and understand
We cannot keep you in a church
We cannot keep you in a Bible
It’s just another idol
To box you in
They could not keep you in their walls
We cannot keep you in ours either
For You are so much greater
Who is like the Lord?
The maker of the heavens
Who dwells with the poor
He lifts them from the ashes
And seats them among princes
Who is like the Lord?
We’ve tried to keep you in a tent
We’ve tried to keep you in a temples
We’ve worshiped all their idols
We want all that to end
So we will find you in the streets
And we will find you in the prisons
And even in our Bibles, and churches
Who is like the Lord?
The maker of the heavens
Who dwells with the poor
He lifts them from the ashes
And seats them among princes
Who is like the Lord?
We cannot contain
Cannot contain the glory of Your name
Who is like the Lord?
You took me from the ashes
And healed me of my blindness
Who is like the Lord?
Our intentions are often so good. Yet in our misguided desire to be needed by God, we make God so much less than what She is.
God doesn’t need us to build the new thing. God invites us to be a part of Her building, a building of which we get to be a part.
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To Build Up and To Destroy: Day 7


grey and brown brick wall

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on

Now Jericho was shut up inside and out because of the Israelites; no one came out and no one went in. The Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have handed Jericho over to you, along with its king and soldiers. You shall march around the city, all the warriors circling the city once. Thus you shall do for six days, with seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, the priests blowing the trumpets. When they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, as soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and all the people shall charge straight ahead.’ So Joshua son of Nun summoned the priests and said to them, ‘Take up the ark of the covenant, and have seven priests carry seven trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark of the Lord.’ To the people he said, ‘Go forward and march around the city; have the armed men pass on before the ark of the Lord.’

 As Joshua had commanded the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the Lord went forward, blowing the trumpets, with the ark of the covenant of the Lord following them. And the armed men went before the priests who blew the trumpets; the rearguard came after the ark, while the trumpets blew continually. To the people Joshua gave this command: ‘You shall not shout or let your voice be heard, nor shall you utter a word, until the day I tell you to shout. Then you shall shout.’ So the ark of the Lord went around the city, circling it once; and they came into the camp, and spent the night in the camp.

 Then Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the Lord. The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the Lord passed on, blowing the trumpets continually. The armed men went before them, and the rearguard came after the ark of the Lord, while the trumpets blew continually. On the second day they marched around the city once and then returned to the camp. They did this for six days.

 On the seventh day they rose early, at dawn, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, ‘Shout! For the Lord has given you the city. The city and all that is in it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers we sent. As for you, keep away from the things devoted to destruction, so as not to covet and take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel an object for destruction, bringing trouble upon it. But all silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are sacred to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.’ So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpets, they raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat; so the people charged straight ahead into the city and captured it. Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys.

Joshua then pronounced this oath, saying,
‘Cursed before the Lord be anyone who tries
   to build this city—this Jericho!
At the cost of his firstborn he shall lay its foundation,
   and at the cost of his youngest he shall set up its gates!’

 So the Lord was with Joshua; and his fame was in all the land. – Joshua 6:1-22, 26-27

“Joshua fit the battle of Jericho! Jericho! Jericho! Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, and the walls came a tumblin’ down”

Hands down, that is my favorite song about genocide!

I think what irks me most about this story is God’s insistence on total destruction. It’s not enough that they kill all of the fighting men who might come against them, but they are commanded to kill women, children, and all the livestock. Rahab gets a pass because she helped out the Israelite spies.

That’s nice.

I’ll be honest, I don’t find this story redemptive at all. We’re supposed to admire Joshua and his army for their absolute dedication to God’s command. We’re supposed to see their faith in God to deliver the city to them as a virtue. We’re supposed to think the good guys won.

The good guys who spent a week psychologically torturing their opponents before slaughtering them. Yay.

As we build a faith that makes sense for our day and time, we have to recognize that some things just don’t age well. This story seems to not only justify war but a scorched earth philosophy to war. I think that’s heinous and it’s hard for me to get behind this as God’s will.

No wonder the disciples were confused that Jesus wasn’t sending them out to call down fire on the heads of the Samaritans. This was part of their history of what a Savior was supposed to look like.

It’s part of ours too.

This text can’t live beside “blessed are the peacemakers” in my heart. I don’t know that they can live side by side in any heart, unless you have a distorted view of what “peacemaking” looks like.

So, as I build a faith that informs the world I want to see, I leave this story to the wayside, knowing that at one time it served as tale extolling God’s faithfulness.  Some will accuse me of picking and choosing when it comes to scripture. They are absolutely right. We all do it. This story does not fit my image of who God is and I worry about a faith that accepts this as part what God would want.

Sorry, Joshua.

To Build Up and To Destroy: Day 6


Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, ‘Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth. – Gen. 11: 1-9

Oh, insecure, OT God! You and all of your shenanigans!

In this story, Yahweh is suddenly feeling legitimately threatened by humanity. Maybe it’s because total annihilation is now off the table as a tool?

God seems worried that a humanity that all speaks the same language will suddenly rise up and… do what exactly?

This is weird, fear-based logic here. It’s not like a united collective of people would enslave those different to them, degrade their environment, and move toward the large-scale commodification of the natural world.

Oh wait…

What God seems to be afraid of here is what we call civilization. Humans united in such a way that they will see themselves as without boundaries. Humanity that will trample others, turn land into a product to be parceled out, and misuse the gifts they have been given.

“let us make a name for ourselves!”

If people gathered for community, for fellowship, for the joy of sharing life with one another, then that would be one thing. That’s what we are made for. But people gathered together for fame, wealth, and power? Well… that just seems what we always gravitate towards.

Genesis is the collection of myths about human beginnings. And in this part of the story, God is opposed to the idea of a community built around human fears and the need to set ourselves above others. It’s no surprise then that when God does finally come around to the idea of civilization, the rules around how to organize such a thing are many and detailed (see second half of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy).

The Babel story is a cautionary tale about building for pride, ego, and greed. We can build in ways that honor the land. We can build in ways that honor the people who have come before us or the people who will come after us. We can build to honor God. The history of civilization has been building for the sake of making a name for a nation, a ruler, or more recently, a corporation. We build for profit and control. We build to be seen.

What would it look like to build for something more?

To Build Up and To Destroy: Day 5



The Lord spoke to Moses: See, I have called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: and I have filled him with divine spirit,with ability, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft. Moreover, I have appointed with him Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have given skill to all the skillful, so that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of the covenant, and the mercy-seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt-offering with all its utensils, and the basin with its stand, and the finely worked vestments, the holy vestments for the priest Aaron and the vestments of his sons, for their service as priests, and the anointing-oil and the fragrant incense for the holy place. They shall do just as I have commanded you. – Exodus 31:1-11

I’ll take obscure biblical passages for 500, Alex.

When we think about the book of Exodus, we tend to think that it ends after chapter 20 when God gives Moses the Ten Commandments. Oh no, Friends. There are twenty whole chapters of Exodus after Moses descends the mountain.

And what, pray tell, is in those twenty chapters?

Minutiae. So much minutiae!

There’s a bunch of more laws given, so of them just filling in detail for the Big 10. Then there are all of these instructions about vestments and incense and alters and what not.

It’s a lot.

And it should be! This is God giving instructions for a new cult worship. The Israelites are building a new society, based around God’s law and the worship of Yahweh. Building a new society takes a whole lot of work.

Okay, so why highlight this obscure passage lodged in the midst of minutiae?

There aren’t very many mentions of artists in the Bible. Of course, there are writers/poets and a few musicians, but not very many visual artists. I like this story because Bezalel and Oholiab are singled out as being particular importance in the establishment of this new order.

They are craftspeople, interior designers, welders, sculptors, woodworkers… they are artists. This new faith will have a tabernacle, an altar, ornate vestments, and an ark to carry the important artifacts, all of which should radiate the beauty of the God for whom they are being made. Other than Moses, very few individuals are singled out in this second half of Exodus.

Good art inspires. It brings us to a place of awe and wonder. It connects us to larger realities and expands our imaginations. Good art is transcendent.

I feel like whatever we are building should have good art at the center. In fact, good art should be one of the primary things that we are creating. If we want a new world to exist then we have to create a vision of what that world will look like. And while we are creating it, we need images that inspire us to be our best selves.

The new world is not just a change in politics, it is a change in aesthetics. Our world needs to feel different, more free, more open, more inclusive. more expressive. We need the creators and dreamers of all types to free us from the cookie cutters in which we often find ourselves trapped. May we be those who create new and bold representations of the world as it should be.

To Build Up and To Destroy: Day 4

fire warm radio flame

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The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground. He said, ‘Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way.’ They said, ‘No; we will spend the night in the square.’ But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.’ Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, ‘I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.’ But they replied, ‘Stand back!’ And they said, ‘This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.’ Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near the door to break it down. But the men inside reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. And they struck with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great, so that they were unable to find the door.

 Then the men said to Lot, ‘Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city—bring them out of the place. For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it.’ So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, ‘Up, get out of this place; for the Lord is about to destroy the city.’ But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.

 When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Get up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or else you will be consumed in the punishment of the city.’ But he lingered; so the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and left him outside the city. When they had brought them outside, they said, ‘Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills, or else you will be consumed.’ And Lot said to them, ‘Oh, no, my lords; your servant has found favor with you, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life; but I cannot flee to the hills, for fear the disaster will overtake me and I die. Look, that city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there—is it not a little one?—and my life will be saved!’ He said to him, ‘Very well, I grant you this favor too, and will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. Hurry, escape there, for I can do nothing until you arrive there.’ Therefore the city was called Zoar. The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar.

 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulphur and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. – Genesis 19:1-27

This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. – Ezekiel 16:49

I’ll be honest, I kinda hate everything about this story.

Lot has guests. The men of the city, say “hey, send out your guests so we can rape them!”

Lot’s response is “hey, guys! I have two virgin daughters! Rape them instead!”

It’s pretty disgusting.

Lot’s response is troublesome for our time and context and I need to believe that it would have been for his as well. However, the more problematic scenario, by his culture’s standards would be to let something bad happen to those that had been granted safety under his roof. To allow his guests to be harmed would have been so inhospitable, so shaming, that Lot was willing to offer up his daughters as an alternative.

Hospitality is a central value to Middle Eastern cultures even today. Once you offer someone a place under your roof, their needs and comfort become your utmost priority. It would also be a huge insult within the community to make threats toward a neighbor’s guests.

The writer of Genesis draws a direct correlation between this episode and God’s intention to destroy the city. This act of aggression towards a neighbor’s guests is despicable to God. To God’s credit, the destruction this time is limited to a city, not the entire of humanity.

Ezekiel describes Sodom’s sins as sins of greed, pride, and injustice. Greed really is the ultimate in inhospitable behavior. It is having more than enough to share and choosing to do otherwise. To live in comfort while others suffer goes against the value of hospitality, a value upon which the Bible seems to place a heavy emphasis. To be indifferent to someone’s suffering is just as bad as causing the suffering.

St. Ambrose is credited with saying the “if you have two shirts one belongs to you, the other belongs to the [person] with no shirt”. By the biblical standard, a people who hoard, a people who keep excess for themselves while others go without is an unworthy people. That should give those of us in the United States pause. I know how many shirts I have in my closet.

The world that must be built will ask us to go to great lengths to extend hospitality. It will ask us to go to incredible lengths to protect those to whom we have opened our doors. The world I imagine is one in which we take pride in how much we’ve shared, not in how much we’ve accumulated.

Sodom’s fate, I believe is the fate of all people who would prey on others or turn a blind eye to those being preyed upon. These are behaviors that must be purged.

To Build Up and To Destroy: Day 3

gray scale photo of trees

Photo by Ian Turnell on


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. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ – Genesis 6:5-7

The flood continued for forty days on the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters swelled and increased greatly on the earth; and the ark floated on the face of the waters. The waters swelled so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; the waters swelled above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all human beings; everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, human beings and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark. And the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred and fifty days. – Genesis 7:17-24

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt-offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelt the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. 
As long as the earth endures,
   seedtime and harvest, cold and heat,
summer and winter, day and night,
   shall not cease.’ – Genesis 8:20-22

If I were reading this story for the first time as an adult, I wouldn’t think much of this “the Lord” person. First, He (ahem!) makes humanity, then he sees that they are hella evil, so instead of just wiping out the humans (virus much?), He wipes out everything, with the exception of his handpicked guy and handpicked guy’s family and enough animals to hopefully start the process over again. They were likely unaware at this time that certain wild animals do an awful job of breeding in captivity.

Then, after wiping out all land-based life on earth (good time to be a fish), handpicked guy has a barbecue and He’s like “damn, that smells so good, I’m never wiping out humanity again, pinky swear!”

In their attempts to understand the Divine, the writers of the Hebrew scripture often gave God some of humanity’s worst traits. God comes across as fickle, temperamental, subject to fits of rage. Again, I think this says more about the writers of the Hebrew scripture and the masters they served than it does about God.

What I find most intriguing about the depiction of God in this story is the sense of regret. Regret suggests that mistakes were made and in this story, God seems to show regret twice, once for having made humanity and once for the way God chose to deal with their evil.

It’s the second regret that most intrigues me. God’s decision to never destroy the earth again comes from the realization that people gonna people… in other words, humanity is just evil. If I destroy them every time they act evil, I’ll be destroying them every few centuries.

This, to me, seems to mark the beginning of God changes God’s methods of human persuasion. Or perhaps, this is when God starts thinking about persuading humans to suck less. Humanity can’t be redeemed by hitting the reset button every time God feels disgust with them. Moreover, evil can’t be vanquished with evil.

The flood was a hideous act. We need to be able to say that a God who would destroy His own creation in such a childish act is no god worth worshipping. In our building of a new world, the destruction that must ultimately take place can’t be on the level (or worse) than the evil that needs to be destroyed. As Audre Lorde says, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”.

Even God needed to learn this lesson. And a God that learns? That’s a God I can get behind.


To Build Up and To Destroy: Day 2


See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant. – Jeremiah 1:10

The prophet Jeremiah is given a call. It is a call to do public theology. His task is to interpret what is happening in the world through the lens of what God is doing in the world. It is no small task.

It is, I believe, the task that many of us are called to as well.

I came into ministry when “postmodernism” was the word of the day. How do we do church in the midst of postmodernism? What is a postmodern church? What is truth when people no longer accept absolutes?

The work of the postmodern church leader was seen to be deconstruction. So… we tore everything apart. We dissected, we analyzed, we decolonized.

In the midst of that, many of us had a good time, seeing ourselves as “prophetic”. We stuck out our tongues at the institution and and gave a finger to the old order.

But deconstruction is easy, relatively speaking. Reconstruction is hard.

Do you know much about the reconstruction period in the United States? I don’t. We glossed over it in high school history classes. It’s only in my adulthood that I’ve learned a thing or two about that era. It was a time of previously unprecedented black wealth and black representation in government. This, of course, lead to incredible backlash. The KKK was birthed in the reconstruction.

Reconstruction is about centering new voices and creating a new locus of power. This, for my money, is also what the Gospel is about; centering the kingdom of God above any of the earthly kingdoms that claim dominion. It’s putting love, justice, and peace, over fear, inequality, and violence.

This is a political reality, of course, and that so often is where we leave it. But this is also a personal reality. We internalize the powers of the kingdoms of this world. We internalize hate, violence, greed, oppression, division, and domination. They color our day to day interactions in insidious ways, often too subtle to notice.

They must be torn down.

Much as Advent is about making room for Christ to be born into the world, Lent is about making room for the new creation to be born both in the world and in us. In order for that to happen, we have to demolish some things. That destruction, though, should always be with an eye toward the new thing that is to come.

For the remainder of Lent, I will be looking at passages of Scripture that hit on this theme of things being torn down and new things being built. Sometimes those new things are structures, sometimes they are people.

I think the time for reconstruction is upon us. What we build will come from the ashes of what has fallen. It won’t be perfect. It will one day make way for another, better thing. That’s okay. Our job is to do what we can with the tools we have at our disposal right now.

Whether that be building or destroying…


To Build Up and To Destroy: Ash Wednesday




By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.  (Gen. 3:19) 

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”.

Depending on who you ask, there are many responses to this phrase which is ubiquitous on this first day of the Lenten season. For some, it is a sober reminder of their mortality. For others, it is a reminder of the wages of sin. Still for others, and I fall in this camp, it is a hopeful reminder of the circular nature of our lives.

In the dust we find our beginning. God, seeing all that She has made, moves through the garden examining the flora, fauna, and all manor of beast. It is good. One piece is missing. All of this is good, but She is in search of the very good. She reaches down and here I imagine Her like a child with play-doh, bending, stretching, molding the form of the dirt into its perfect shape. There it is, the human made from hummus, the adam made from adamah. The dirt man. It lies there, motionless. A lump of clay. The world’s largest dust bunny. Here lies humanity, with all the potential in the world. To nurture, to steward, to care, and to love. But also to tear down, to destroy, to fear, and to insult. This is our beginning, waiting for the breath of life to enter us and make us whatever fate might have us to be.

In the dust we find our end. After the years have passed… with any luck there have been a good many years, filled with love, laughter, community, music, sex, food, play, and meaningful work. Though for far too many, those years are filled with heartbreak, abuse, loss, hunger, tears, mourning, and loneliness. For the vast majority, the years have held a combination of the two categories interspersed with moments of boredom, drudgery, and mindlessness. For some the years are far too few. “Tragic” is the word we use in those cases. Some live well into old age, and yet we still hate to see them go. In all cases, the body breathes its last, returns the breath of God to its source, and begins its journey home. Oh, we don’t like to think about this part, the decay, the entropy, the dis-integration. But this part of the journey too. When done well, we give the earth back that which it can then use to be the foundation for new life. No, it won’t be us, per se, but it will be our gift to earth, a deposit into the bank from which we have made so many withdraws. We feed the worm and the microbe who nourish the soil and make space for the new thing that will be formed from the soil, waiting for the breath of life.

The symmetry is beautiful.

The pronouncement made in Genesis 3 is one of judgment. The first people have sinned and in response, God tells them of the one inescapable truth of life: life is hard. There is toil and labor of all sorts and in the end you return to the ground which may have given you some sustenance, but more frequently gave you a sore back and bleeding fingers. You’ll have to live your days with the knowledge that your end will come. That’s hard. Yet even in this first pronouncement of divine justice, God sneaks in this little piece of grace: The dust was your beginning, the dust will be your end. Your body is finite, subject to the whims of the seasons. And yet in that finitude, you will be part of the infinite cycle of life, death, and rebirth. From today’s dust may come tomorrow’s flower. Buried in it may be the seed which gives nourishment to the next generation of things that are called good. Or even very good.

So embrace it. You are dust, marvelous, living, breathing, dancing, working, playing  Spirit-filled dust. A transport for the breath of God until It goes home. It is a glorious thing, not to be wasted.