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What I'm Reading Today: Leviticus 24-25

I'm usually someone who goes barreling through life at full speed. I rarely take opportunities to stop, look back, and reflect on what's happened between Point A and Point B. In fact, in my entire life I've probably done that just twice: on the occasion of my 10th high school reunion and on the occasion of my 25th high school reunion. Other than that, I've pretty much kept my nose to the grindstone and focused on either what's currently happening or what lies ahead.

Today's passage from Leviticus presents quite a challenge for people like me because it suggests that both the individual and community organize their lives in recognizable periods of seven years. That's especially true when it comes to major things like purchasing land and acquiring help. And not only is the individual supposed to keep track of seven year periods, the individual is also supposed to keep track of how many seven year periods have gone by – for on the passage of the seventh collection of seven-year periods the community is supposed to declare a year of Jubilee! The Jubilee represents a time of renewal and return for individuals throughout the community.

I can certainly see the wisdom in organizing one's life around identifiable blocks of time and taking the time to evaluate one's life in relation to such periods of time. It's just hard for me to slow down and actually do it.

As I think ahead to significant events that will be happening in the next couple of months, I realize there are some wonderful mileposts ahead. On Wednesday, for instance, our oldest dog Biggie will turn 7; on the 29th of this month, I will mark the 9th anniversary of when Mike and I met; and on January 25, I will observe the seventh anniversary of my ordination. These events are wonderful opportunities for me to slow down, pay attention to what has happened, and use this time to spark a period of thanksgiving and renewal in my soul.

Of course it's not just the Israelites and people like me who can benefit from taking the time to acknowledge such mileposts – you can certainly benefit from recognizing such mileposts as well. Today I would invite you to make time to review your life and see if there are any significant markers ahead that could be used to invite you into a period of reflection and renewal.

Til next time ….


What I'm Reading Today: Leviticus 21-23

If I were to tell you that I was born with a sense of being different, a lot of my regular readers would assume that I was referring to the fact that I was gay. That is not exactly what I mean. You see I was born with a more obvious sense of difference that was apparent from day one: I was born with club feet.

In case you aren't familiar with that term, it meant that I was born with "deformed" feet. In my case, my feet were turned backwards. I underwent a couple of procedures at the local Shriners' Hospital in Spokane during the first year of my life to get the problem fixed. First, they spliced both of my heel cords in order to bring my downwardly turned feet up a bit. Then they broke my ankles so they could turn my feet forward. I ended up wearing casts and corrective braces for a good deal of my first year or so.

By the time I reached the end of my second year, I felt as normal as any other child. Few of my classmates in school even knew about my "problem" from kindergarten on. That's because by third grade I was wrestling, by fifth grade I was playing tennis, and by sixth grade I started playing football. I excelled in each of these sports. It wasn't until I reached my sophomore year of high school - when I had to go through another series of corrective surgeries - that many of my classmates learned about my secret.

During those formative years of my life between the ages of two and fifteen I learned an important lesson about life. I learned I didn't have to be defined by what some might have called my disability (or what others might term the fact that I was differently abled). I gave everything I had and accomplished as much as I could.

You can imagine my surprise when during my sophomore year of high school – about the time when I had my last set of corrective surgeries on my foot – I embarked on a program to read the Bible in a year for the first time. It wasn't long into that reading program when I stumbled upon today's passage which goes to great lengths to talk about the limitations that should be placed upon those who are "defective". "Tell Aaron," God is quoted as saying, that "none of your descendants, in any generation to come, who has a defect of any kind may present as an offering the food of his God."

Reading that passage was a deeply traumatic experience for me since I had spent 15 years trying to prove to others (and myself!) that I was just a good as everyone else. Then along comes a passage of Scripture that would seem to suggest that I wasn't!

So how did I resolve that inner turmoil that came from such a passage?

Well, over time I realized that the intent of the passage was to suggest that God's desire was to call forward our very best. In communicating that intention, the human vessels who conveyed that message assumed that "the best" meant simply one's physical condition. I came to believe that "the best" had more to do with one's heart and desires than simply one's physical appearance. While I may not be considered perfect by the standards of orthopedic surgeons, in my spiritual journey I could aspire to be authentic and whole – and in that way I could offer my best, club feet and all! That gave me a great deal of comfort.

You may not have been born with club feet, but chances are there is perhaps a way in which you have been made to feel "defective". That defect might have an external manifestation, or it might just be internal. Regardless of how that "defect" manifests itself, today I would encourage you to work on coming to terms with that. Know that whatever condition you find yourself in, all you need to do is be willing to offer the fullness of yourself (exactly as you are). You can then rest assured knowing that that offering (and the one who presents it) is just fine.

Til next time…


What I'm Reading Today: Leviticus 18-20

Today's reading contains some of the most familiar (and most misused!) words in all of the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament. In the debate regarding the rights of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual (LGB) individuals, for instance, some individuals have used Leviticus 18 over and over as their primary reason it's okay to deny LGB individuals their basic human rights. Leviticus 18:22 reads: "Don't have sex with a man as one does with a woman. That is abhorrent" (The Message). That is perhaps the most familiar passage in today's reading.

Many of the same individuals who quote Leviticus 18:22 in the debate over LGB people COMPLETELY ignore Leviticus 19:33 in the debate over the rights of "illegal aliens". Leviticus 19:33 reads: "When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born" (NIV).

So what are we to make of the 630 laws contained in the holiness codes? Are the edicts simply words intended for us to pick and choose to meet our personal agendas?

No. I don't think that's it at all.

"If not, then what's the purpose of those words?" you might wonder.

Well, I think the answer to that question lies in Leviticus 20:7. That verse reads: "Set yourselves apart for a holy life. Live a holy life, because I am God, your God."

To use a concept I talked about earlier this week, I tend to think of holiness more in light of righteousness (i.e. right relationship) more than I do in light of purity (i.e. right behavior). To use the passages I quoted above, does abstaining from same sex behavior automatically mean a person is in right relationship with God and others. No. Does treating a foreigner well automatically mean that you are exhibiting healthy relationship with God and others? No. You could simply be profiting from the foreigner by using the foreigner as a source of cheap labor. In other words, I believe living into a sense of holiness is much more complicated that most folks on talk radio who toss around passages from Leviticus would like us to believe.

Today, I would invite you to think about the issue of holiness? Do you define it primarily in relationship to behavior, or do you view it more in light of one's relationship with God and others?

Til next time?


What I'm Reading Today: Leviticus 16-17

Contained within today's chapters from Leviticus lies the origins of the concept we know today as scapegoat. "When Aaron finishes making atonement for the Holy of Holies, the Tent of Meeting, and the Altar," the passage explains, "he will bring up the live goat, lay both hands on the live goat's head, and confess all the iniquities of the People of Israel, all their acts of rebellion, all their sins. He will put all the sins on the goat's head and send it off into the wilderness, led out by a man standing by and ready. The goat will carry all their iniquities to an empty wasteland; the man will let him loose out there in the wilderness."

Some folks might listen to this verbiage and say, "What a strange and unusual concept for a primitive people to practice!"

I don't think the concept itself is all that strange and unusual. And I definitely don't think the practice is all that primitive. I say that because here in the United States we have a similar practice in which we engage. The only difference between the way we and the early Israelites engage in the practice is that we don't use a goat – we use our elected officials to serve as our scapegoats.

Every so often, we gather in voting booths; assign blame; and then send the designated scapegoats off into the wilderness in hopes that the act will absolve us collectively of our responsibility for the problems we are facing. We hope the next batch of elected officials will meet our expectations. When they don't, we simply repeat the cycle all over again just 2 years later.

Lost in the process of sending out the goat/elected officials into the wilderness is important soul searching about the ways in which we have contributed to the problems we face.

Today, I would invite us all to examine the circumstances of our lives (and the condition of our world) and ask ourselves, "Are there situations in which I have preferred to identify a single scapegoat on which to heep the blame in order to absolve myself of all responsibility?" If you find such a situation, use that awareness as an opportunity to step in and break the cycle of blaming. See what you can do yourself to restore health and vitality to the systems in which you participate.

Til next time …

Individual & Community

What I'm Reading Today: Leviticus 13-15

Every Election Day I grow a little nostalgic because it takes me back to the year 1998 when I ran for the Washington State House of Representatives (the equivalent of California's State Assembly). I had been a political junkie since I was 12 – so the experience of running for office was quite an adventure!

There were so many lessons I learned from that experience. One of them had to do with the important of balancing the needs of an individual with the needs of a larger group/community. Let me tell you a story about how I learned that lesson.

Very early in my campaign, a woman got involved with my campaign. For the sake of anonymity I'll call the woman Susan. I knew early on that Susan had very strong feelings for me. She knew I was gay, but on some level it never seemed to register with her. As a result, she sought out every opportunity possible for us to be together.

I have never in my life seen someone as devoted to an effort as Susan was. She poured hundreds of hours into the campaign. While I always tried to be careful and certainly do nothing to lead her on, I also never directly confronted Susan about the situation.

As time passed, I was confused why the campaign wasn't generating more volunteers. I occasionally talked about it with Susan (who by now was the campaign's volunteer coordinator), and she said she couldn't figure it out either.

While we had a great run and a respectable showing, my biggest regret from the experience was that we never were able to get the number of volunteers I had hoped for.

After the election, I learned why that was.

Susan would tell many potential volunteers that their help wasn't needed; we had the work covered. "If we ever had a need for your help," she would say, "I'll get back to you."

She didn't.

Throughout the months of the campaign, she used the lack of volunteers as an excuse to create time for us to be together.

What I learned from this experience is that by not dealing with one person's issues (and accompanying behavior), I was not only being irresponsible. That's because one person's issues can be so deep that they affect the life of many others. A good leader knows that and deals with that. I wasn't a good leader - as I chose the path of least resistance and tried to look the other way.

In this day and age that emphasizes the supreme importance of the individual; it's so easy to forget the basic truth that one life often affects the wellbeing of others. That's why it can be so important to deal with individual circumstances. If you don't, the situation can get out of hand and impact the lives of others.

That message comes through loud and clear in today's reading where we read a long list of ways to deal with situations where one individual becomes ritually unclean. As you read about the various situations, it eventually becomes clear that the author(s)' goal isn't simply to isolate one person during their time he or she is unclean; rather, the goal is to ensure the individual's issues don't spill over and infect the condition of others.

I would invite you to carry that learning with you today. When you encounter situations with individuals that are challenging, be aware that the situation has implications that will touch the lives of others. Use that awareness to inform your response to the situation.

Til next time …

Purity & Righteousness

What I'm Reading Today: Leviticus 11 & 12

When I was in seminary, I learned an important lesson about two different streams that were contained in aspects of the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament.

The first stream had to do with the pursuit of purity. The emphasis of such passages had to do with preventing individuals from coming into contact with those things that would defile the individual's body or mind. If you did (or in some cases, did not) do certain things, you were considered pure; if you did not (or in some cases - did) other things, you were considered impure. Once lines were crossed, very specific rituals had to be performed in order to restore an individual to a condition of purity.

One of the primary characteristics of such passages is that they are incredibly directive since everything was black and white. If you touched an object, you were impure: so DON'T touch it. If you did not wash your hands after encountering an object, you were impure: so WASH YOUR HANDS. That's the way passages dealing with issues of purity were handled.

The second stream of Scripture had to do with the pursuit of righteousness. This stream has a very different feel to it. Instead of being linked to a physical condition like purity, passages focusing on righteousness had to do with a state of being – or perhaps I could say - a quality of the heart.

You might, for instance, not touch a forbidden object (meaning you were pure) – but in your heart you are consumed with lust or desire for the object (meaning you aren't exactly righteous).

Issues of righteousness are much more complex for an individual because they involve one's inner life. Those issues prevent complexities for the community since it is difficult for one person to make judgments about issues involving righteousness involving another since they can't fully know the heart of the other person.

Lots of Jesus teaching tended to emphasize the latter stream of Scripture – the emphasis upon righteousness. One of the best examples would be Jesus' teaching about adultery. There Jesus suggested a person might not actually physically commit and adulterous act (meaning the individual is still technically "pure") – but if the person looks at another with lust, the person is in dangerous territory. Same with Jesus' teaching on killing. You might not actually have taken someone's life, but if you have hatred in your heart toward another, you are on shaky ground.

If we are not careful, we can lose ourselves in the academic aspect of the discussion/debate between purity and righteousness and forget what really matters: both streams of Scripture were intended to draw us into a healthier relationship with God. They simply represent different approaches to getting there.

Today, I would ask you which stream you find yourself identifying with/gravitating toward. Are you someone who focuses on right relationship with God as established through the principles of purity, or do you seek right relationship more through the principles of righteousness?

Til next time …