Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Green, and full of life

Perhaps each new year
is a reincarnation of the last,
a recycling of failed days
and disappointing moments.

Throw the left-over frustrations,
the kitchen-scrap resentments,
unwanted stinging weeds and discarded
bitter clippings of the old year
into the cosmic compost bin.
Wait, then, for gentle processes
of judgement-warmth,
grace-filled mould,
welcoming worms
and the good bacteria of forgiving decomposition,
to be made complete,
reducing unpleasant corruption
to timely dark humus.

Spread it over the naked and freshly-dug year
with a quiet prayer;
trust in the divine unfolding
of seasons, sometimes painful,
always new,
and never quite expected.

Watch with wonder and delight
as hopeful shoots emerge to be nurtured,
green, and full of life.

© Ken Rookes

With the coming of Word

With the coming of Word

at the beginning of the second act,

Grace and Truth

stride purposefully to centre stage

to take up their allotted positions.

Law, having featured so strongly in act one,

is, according to the script,

directed to move upstage

and to quietly exit to the right.

Law moves with deliberate steps,

then pauses,

relishing the lingering spotlight,

which, for loyalty or fear, perhaps both,

seems reluctant to trust

the new leads to carry the show.

Law’s assured and comfortable lines

seduce and enthral,

delivered with the much-practised ease

of one who has held the proscenium for centuries.

The spectators are less than convinced

by the unfamiliar and surprising utterances

of Grace and Truth.

The play pauses awkwardly,

perplexing the audience;

some begin to leave.

© Ken Rookes

O Light who is shining

O Light who is Shining

O Light who is shining in all the dark places;
shine on me.
Radiate your hope upon shadowed faces;
let them see
the love and the courage of one who’s defying
the powers that threaten, the gloom that’s denying
the truth, grace and justice; together defining
the kingdom that’s coming to be.

O Light who is true and cuts through the night-time;
shine in me.
Let love glow warm when we’re worried and frightened
make us free;
for action to end all the fear and the hating,
to touch anxious hearts when love is abating,
to bring on the peace for which all are waiting;
where faith, hope and love abide: three.

O Light who is life for all of creation,
shine through me.
We are the offspring of Love’s celebration;
sent to be -
the flickering flames of hope where there’s need,
embracing God’s children, regardless of creed.
To gather a harvest, where love is the seed;
we make this our goal and our plea.

©2010 words: Ken Rookes

music: Judy & Jessica Chalmers

Music may be found at www.kenrookes.com.au

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

They came

They came,
according to one ancient story,
looking for a child;
they found one in Bethlehem.
Leaving their gifts with the family
they shot through, back home to the east;
conveniently dropping Jerusalem,
and its palace, from their return itinerary.
They might have guessed that the old king
would get somewhat angry
when he discovered the broken promise.
Still, they’d be out of the country by then;
so would the boy, with a bit of luck,
not to mention some timely dreaming
on the part of his dad.
But for all the other families
in the little town of Bethlehem,
there were no sweet dreams,
just a nightmare.
With the easy wisdom known as hindsight,
it would have been better for everyone
had the men we call wise,
not made the trip at all;
their gifts were of little consequence,
and even yarn-spinner, Matthew,
didn’t manage to weave them
into the rest of his story.

© Ken Rookes 2013

Micah from Moresheth

Micah from Moresheth,
in the region of Judah,
gave us Bethlehem as the location
for the birth of the Messiah.
Perhaps he stopped by at the little town
on his one-day journey to Jerusalem
to do his prophecy thing.
He posed a challenge for gospel writers,
Luke and Matthew:
how to arrange for Jesus from Nazareth
to be born in Bethlehem, three days to the south.
For the one, it was a census; for the other,
fear, a massacre, and the return to a new home
after refuge in a foreign land.
For the one, the drama of a stable birth
with flights of angels and bewildered shepherds.
For the other, a fearful escape
and the vulnerability of refugees.
They each give us reason to pause
and reflect upon the strange purposes
of an even stranger God.
I wonder, if Luke was writing today,
might it be the homeless and the hopeless,
camped beneath a bridge, who would be
the subjects of the angelic invitation?
I wonder, if Matthew was writing today,
would he write of the kindness
of the people-smugglers
who helped the Holy family
reach their place of welcome and safety?

© Ken Rookes

Massacres of the innocent

In his birth stories, gospel writer Matthew
gives us the terrible tale sometimes called
The massacre of the innocents.
It seemed plausible at the time of writing;
this callously brutal act, ordered
by a despotic monarch
for the sake of preserving his kingship.
In more recent years
historians and scholars
have dared to ask the question:
did it really happen?
They point to a shortage of corroborating evidence
beyond the scriptures;
along with the Moses story,
and the need to solve
the Bethlehem – Nazareth conundrum.
Traditionalists, of which there are a few,
point to the character, or lacking,
of Herod the Great, a ruthless tyrant
who would tolerate no limitations
to his pursuit of power.
Without doubt he was capable
of ordering such a terrible deed,
as have been so many kings and rulers since.
In the last hundred years
there has also been no shortage of tyrant:
dictators who have cruelly
oppressed their own people,
tribal leaders who express their hatred
with guns and machetes,
presidents and Prime Ministers
who declare bloody, high-tech war,
on the slimmest of pretexts.
Few have dared
to directly target children,
but  these little ones have borne
more than their share of suffering.
Historical considerations aside,
it is good that this Christmas text reminds us
how the small, the innocent, the weak
and the vulnerable, have so often
paid the price demanded
by the wealthy and the strong.
And still do.

© Ken Rookes

© 2010  Ken Rookes

Monday, December 23, 2013

a good challenge for us Christians

by Mark Sandlin

Ah, Christmas! The most wonderful time of the year. A time to gather with family and friends, and, with a smile on our faces, pretend we aren't quietly measuring who received the best present and which relative really, really needs to stop drinking. A time to hang tinsel and baubles from the tree, and time to hangup our hopes of losing that last 10 pounds this year. Such a joyous season!

The real point here is that Christmas is what we make of it. For Christians, however, there are some very specific things you can't do if you want to actually honor and follow the person we celebrate this season. So, I give you my “10 Things You Can't Do AT CHRSTMAS While Following Jesus.” As with my other “10 Things” lists (which are linked at the end of this post), this is not intended to be a complete list, but it is a pretty good start.

10) Celebrate Consumeristmas.
For many folks, Christmas starts standing in line on Thanksgiving Day. 'Tis the season for mass consumerism. Regardless of where you think it began, Christmas has slowly drifted into the bog of consumer madness. Like frogs in a pot of slowly boiling water, we never saw it coming. For Christians, this is particularly problematic because the guy we are celebrating this time of year told us that collecting stuff here on Earth is not the way to follow him.

9) Forget Those Without Food.Jesus once said that when we feed the hungry we are feeding him. Anyone want to guess what it means when we ignore the hungry? How about ignoring the hungry as we scrape the leftover Christmas ham from our plates into the trash? Maybe we need to change the name of the season to Gluttonousmas? Too many presents, too much food – too little consideration for those in need.

8) Forget Those Without Shelter.No room at the inn. One of the key moments in the story Christians celebrate is the moment when Jesus was almost born in the streets of Bethlehem. Our need to clean up the Christmas story assumes that the innkeeper told them to use the manger but the Bible says no such thing. There was no room at the inn, leaving Mary to place her newborn child in a smelly feeding trough. For that night they were without shelter. Throughout his life Jesus would spend his ministry with no place to lay his head. This time of year we celebrate a homeless man. Do our actions, do the places we place our money, honor that?

7) Forget About Immigrants.We three kings from orient are. Beside sounding like Yoda wrote a Christmas carol, there are a number of things messed up about that line. We don't actually know how many there were. They were magi, not kings. We also do not know where they were really from other than “from the East.” What we do know is they were foreigners and their revelation of the real king's plans to kill all newborn boys to put an end to Jesus turned Jesus' family into immigrants in Egypt. Our Christmas story is replete with images of people journeying to new lands. Christmas should cause Christians to recommit to embracing immigrants.

6) Miss The Message About Resisting Abusive Power.Mary and Joseph and their family had to flee their homeland because King Herod strong-handedly used his power to squash out what he saw as a threat to his power. I can guarantee you two things; One, in the house where Jesus grew up, the narrative of why they had to flee to Egypt and of the senseless deaths imposed on other families by the powerful was a story that was told time and time again. Two, the focus on abuse of power in Jesus' teaching and his constant willingness to confront it was no accident. Christmas should cause Christians to recommit to confronting those who abuse power.

5) Forget Those Without Presents.If you have two coats give one away. In announcing the coming of Jesus, John the Baptist told us what God was asking of us. Coats were just an example – a place holder if you will. If you have two Christmas presents give one away.

4) Insist Your Religious Celebration Rule Them All.This time of year far too many Christians remind me of Gollum and his Precious. (A LoTR shout out in a Christian Christmas post! C'mon Peter Jackson, give me some promo love!) One holiday to rule them all: “We nee-eeds it. They stole it from us!” Never mind that Jesus was Jewish or that there is a list of other celebrations that occur this time of year, there's a certain cultural privilege in the air that seems so very un-Christian to me. You can just about bet that the folks calling out for the dominance of Christmas would be singing a new song if Judaism were the dominant religious culture and this time of year radio stations across the land played Chanukah songs. Well,metaphorically they would be singing a new song – maybe a few even literally.

3) Get Mad About “Happy Holidays.”On a related note, you know what “holiday” is short for, right? Holy day. Do you really have a problem with people calling Christmas a holy day?

2) Think That It Is Actually Jesus' Birthday .Um. So... dang, this is hard and I'm really sorry to be the one telling you. Um, let's see. Remember how when you were growing up the Sunday school teacher told you it was Jesus' birthday? Yeah. Well, um... they lied. Yeah. Sorry about that. We don't actually know when Jesus was born. It was probably in the spring or summer because “the shepherds watched their flocks by night” – something which definitely didn't happen in the winter.

1) Confuse The Religious Observance With the Secular Holiday.
It may be that December the 25th was picked as the date to celebrate Jesus' birth to compete with or even to adopt the followers of the pagan celebration of Saturnalia, which included decorating with evergreens, gift giving and parties. (Hmmm, why does that seems so familiar?) I bring this up to make a simple point; A lot of our “War on Christmas” problems would rightfully go away if we simply acknowledged that there are two celebrations of Christmas each year. One is religious and one is not. Most of this article actually points to the issues that happen when we conflate them. So, let's stop doing it.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Romance and reality

Many years ago i wrote this in a week in which one of the members of my congregation had decided to take her own life. A tough context for Christmas, but one which i know many are in this Christmas.
...The birth stories are at the same time romantic and realistic.
In some ways the birth stories are out of this world and fairy stories. Mysterious and magical, beyond anything most of us have experienced. There are angels and strange messages and lights and a heavenly choir singing praises and predicting peace on earth., and wise men from the east, and a mysterious star.. romantic, unearthly, supernatural.
Yet there is obviously another side to these stories. Something very down-to-earth and realistic. The hard facts of human life also stare us in the face from the time to time. King herod and the massacre of the children. The refugees and no room at the inn. The birth in a stable., a preview of his life which culminates in his ultimate rejection and death on a cross, finding no room in the hearts and minds of many people.
At Christmas we are often faced with just such a strange contrast. We are called upon to behold a marvellous heavenly mystery, but are faced with the hard and often bitter facts of existence. In the Jesus and Christmas story we are faced with eternal truths that transcend time and history, but it is not so easy for us to do so.
But through it all, in this little baby born in a crude stable we have the powerful God become human. We have the message that God knows us and our pains and is one with us in them, but also that God is still God and that the power of love and grace and truth still holds and is somehow made even more powerful by becoming a weak, helpless baby in a manger in Bethlehem.

Perhaps in all of this there is a message. God is with us, and God is bigger than us. I said on Wed that I would find it impossible to sing joy to the world his year. However, maybe Joy to the world is not about being happy in this particular moment, but allowing for the enormous act of Grace and love that is Christmas to still have its life in my sadness.

a message of love and vulnerability

"We spend a lot of time listening to and singing songs about the greatness of this child that is called the Christ but I wonder how much we understand it. It is not a sort of oohing and ahhing at the cute kid but rather a profound message about the nature of ourselves and the spiritual power of the child.
I guess as we come to this day with the background noise of terrorism threats and the horror of the world news, we wonder about whether this is a hollow celebration full of smultcz. But it isn’t. The message couldn’t be more significant. The message of love and vulnerability that this child is bringing is to transform the world. It is to bring a great light into the darkness. It is to tell that the power of the divine is not in powerful structures or domination but that true power lies in vulnerability and love. This is a message about the great love of God to all of a suffering humanity and so a message of a new hope.  To quote T.S Eliot again - "You bring me news of a door that opens at the end of a corridor, sunlight and singing; when I had felt sure that every corridor only led to another blank wall."
        The way the Bible tells it, the baby worked a kind of magic on the surrounding world on the night of his birth. Here is a new image of this ‘God’ not as an all-powerful God but rather as a helpless, vulnerable infant. The traditional image of ‘God’ is still a powerful, if old man ...not a helpless baby. The magic that surrounded the baby lifted people above the misery, cold and darkness that surrounded them so that all they could think about was the birth of this child.  We can surround ourselves with all sorts of distractions on this wonderful day but if we let ourselves forget the message that we hold the holy deep within us, then we have cheated ourselves of the true meaning of Christmas... Emmanuel - God-with-us! I love the lyric of a song by Sinead O’Connor that says that “All babies are born saying God’s name.”  

Kissing the Face of God - Morgan Weistling

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Let's get married

Let’s get married
The nightmares of recent weeks
did not retreat with the decision
to allow his betrothed
to leave quietly, and have the child
in a far place among distant relatives.
There the shame
would not be so bitter.
the girl was young and pretty,
and would soon find a new husband,
and a father for her child.
The pain of her apparent rejection
was sharpened by the love
still twisting the stomach
of the gentle carpenter,
who had toiled with mallet
and chisel for many years
so that he might take a wife.
He had not seen it coming;
refused to believe it
until the swelling evidence
could no longer be denied.
So, when, in a dream, the angel
spoke of the strange purposes
of an even stranger God,
Joseph grabbed the offered straw.
Copping the nudges and the sneers,
he took Mary home to be his wife.
© Ken Rookes

How many?

How many?
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.

In a similar manner
do messiahs,
heroes, battlers,
has-beens and failures
begin their living.

A young woman,
barely pubescent,
finds herself expecting a child.
The man is surprised;
the man is always surprised.

A decision is needed.
The responsible thing,
the correct thing.
The ennobling thing,
the loving thing.

How many?
How many angels
will be needed
for the man to be persuaded
to do the right thing?

And how many tears,
Both of joy and sorrow,
will be shed on the journey
to marriage, the birthing place,
and beyond.

© Ken Rookes 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Are you the one?

Are you the one?
When John spoke,
his words fell to drench dry earth
and the desert was filled with long-forgotten flowers;
the purple trumpets of repentance
and the blue-bells of earnest intent.
Imprisoned, and presumed silent,
he summoned some friends
to report on the state of the garden.

Returning, they told of wilderness beauty:
the sprouting green of new life,
the golden flowering of good news,
the pink and white flourish
of restored skin and bone,
and the red blossoming glorious song
and rainbow array awaiting newly opened ear and eye.

Then the Baptiser knew
that the long-expected one
truly had come.

© Ken Rookes

Streams in the desert

Streams in the Desert.

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom… Isa 35:1
Raise your voices, faithful people
as you tread with determination
the kingdom road.
The journey is long and uncertain,
some say foolish,
but it is the way of promise;
with glorious Zion the destination,
and its Lord as our home.
Journey with those whose ears have been unstopped,
that they might hear the songs of the faithful.
Walk with those whose eyes have been opened
to see the surprising defiance of desert blooms.
Travel in company with leg-leaping comrades,
no longer accepting the sad label
that declares them lame.
You shall not lose your way.
Formerly this was a land of despair,
despondently arid and dust dry desert.
Now, with newly opened eyes of faith
we see the joyful springs;
water flowing among green reeds and rushes;
sparkling with life
and filled with hope.

© Ken Rookes

Monday, December 9, 2013

John knew already

"John already knew what Jesus was doing; that’s precisely what had provoked his doubts in the first place. Nor, I imagine, would John take much comfort in the rest of Jesus’ answer. “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
What kind of answer was that? Certainly it’s not what John expected from Jesus. What John most likely looked for -- and, if truth be told, what most of the time we look for too -- is a strong Messiah for a strong people, a Messiah who helps those who help themselves, a Messiah who knows how to stand up for himself, a Messiah, in short, that you can be proud of.
What he gets instead is Jesus. And measured against John’s hopes and expectations, Jesus probably falls disappointingly short of the mark. I mean, let’s face it. The people Jesus seems preoccupied with -- the lame, the deaf, the poor, the ill, and the dead, for heaven’s sake -- these folks aren’t exactly the movers and shakers of the world, rather they are those who are moved and shaken by every whim of the rich and powerful. These people weren’t going to change things. My word, but they’re the social outcasts and economic losers of John’s day, the kind of people who can barely fend for themselves let alone help anyone else.
Why in the world, then, does Jesus make such a fuss about these folks when John, apparently at the end of his rope, asks for some sign, just some little indication, that Jesus is the One for whom John was waiting? Well … maybe it’s that all these folks do share one thing in common with John the Baptist, and that is their need.
Think about it. There’s John, pacing and pondering in his cell, who suddenly, despite his earlier fame, despite his charismatic personality, despite all his followers, despite even his mighty faith, nonetheless finds himself in a position of absolute need. And in this way he discovers that he is in complete solidarity with all those in need, with the poor and lame and outcast and all others who can boast of nothing except their dependence on God’s own grace and mercy and protection."

Are you the one we've been waiting for?

"As John sat in prison facing a possible beheading on the say so of King Herod, you can’t blame him for thinking that the Messiah doesn’t seem to have sent the arrogant and corrupt fleeing quite fast enough. No wonder he’s asking the question: “Are you the one we’ve been waiting for or should we be looking out for someone else?”

I don’t know about you, but despite the fact that I’m not sitting in a detention centre fearing for my life, I can relate to the agonised uncertainty of John’s question. I can relate to it when I see greed, callousness and corruption continuing to hold sway over the lives of ordinary people in this country and around the world. I can relate to it when I wonder why the love of Christ hasn’t so transformed a nation like ours that it would be unthinkable for us to go on imprisoning men, women and children whose only crime is to try to flee even more brutal regimes in other parts of the world. I can relate to it when I read visions of world peace with swords being turned into plowshares and lions lying down with lambs, and then I turn on the news and hear of people who are willing to blow themselves to pieces in order to kill a handful of innocent people. “Jesus, are you the one we’ve been waiting for or should we be looking out for someone who can make a bigger difference?”"

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Jesus Prophet

a hopeful imagination

Each one of us is a prophet. There is a prophet within, and it is not the part of us that tends to say, you have been bad and you need to beat your self up. It is a part of us which can leave us feeling uncomfortable if we are spending our lives living only for our own profit, with no reaching out to others, especially the poor; it is a part of us which we tend to try to squash/repress if we are too comfortable. The prophet is the part of you who longs for change, (in us and around us) and sees its possibilities. The prophet has a vision of how things could be and urges us on to that sacred place. They have what a theologian called Brugemann called, a hopeful imagination. God calls us to have just such a hopeful imagination. God sends you and me as prophets to witness to hope and God's unfailing love. Like the prophets before us, may we never be silenced.

El Greco, john the Baptist

I love the earthiness and depth in this painting. He is not depicted as mad but reflective and sincere.

Che Jesus

Che Jesus,
They told me that you came back to be born every Christmas. Man, you're crazy!
... with this stubborn gesture of coming back every Christmas you are trying to tell us something:
That the revolution that all proclaim begins first of all in each one's heart,
That it doesn't mean only changing structures but changing selfishness for love,
That we have to stop being wolves and return to being brothers and sisters,
That we ... begin to work seriously for individual conversion and social change that will give to all the possibility of having bread, education, freedom, and dignity.
That you have a message that's called the Gospel,
And a Church, and that's us­
A Church that wants to be servant of all,
A Church that knows that because God became human one Christmas
there is no other way to love God but to love all people.
If that's the way it is, Jesus, come to my house this Christmas, Come to my country,
Come to the world of men and women. And first of all, come to my heart.
Anonymous, Cordoba, Argentina, at Christmas, 1970

The storm

Haiku of stillness After a long day telling stories, parables, Jesus needs a break. Suggests a boat trip. Let us cross the lake; ...