Thursday, October 18, 2018

in praise of courageous women: a prayer of the matriarchs

Art by Mary Therese Streck. "Miriam Leading the Women Across the Sea"


Recently, I had the privilege of speaking on the exodus. We often associate Moses with the account, but in my study of the text, I discovered a through-line of courageous and inspired women that play just as prominently in the story as Moses.

First, two midwives named Shiphrah and Puah defy the mighty Pharaoh by sparing Moses’ life.

Then, Moses’ mother Jochebed and sister Miriam, hide him away in the Nile (the river in which he was supposed to be terminated).

Then, the Pharaoh’s daughter rescues him and gives him his name, which means “drawn out.” She named him thus because she “drew him out” of the water.

Years later, when Moses is on the way to tell Pharaoh to let God’s people go, Moses’ wife Zipporah saves his life.

Finally, once the Israelites have passed through the Red Sea, Miriam has the last word in the celebration. She is referred to as a prophet in the text.

Thus, the first major section of Exodus is presented to us through a literary device known as an inclusio, where a text ends on the same note by which it began. Just as courageous women inaugurated the new life God was bringing into the world by the birth of Moses, so a group of courageous and inspired women (led by Miriam) celebrated the new life God brought into the world with the birth of the nation Israel. From first to last, then, the exodus is a story about women just as much as it is a story about Moses (if not more!).  

Christians often refer to the patriarchs when articulating the high points of salvation history. We note  the common expression: “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” And we add people like Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and David to such a list.

But the fact is: the book of Exodus also skillfully reminds us that, without the actions of courageous and inspired women, there would have been no patriarch like Moses.

Because of that, when I spoke weeks ago, I concluded my sermon with a prayer devoted to these incredible women. I call it “The Prayers of the Matriarchs.”[i] I invite you to pray it with me.


God of Jochebed,
give us ears to hear
the pain of those crying out
all around us,
those who are burdened
with the threat that the new life
that has been growing inside them
will be taken and murdered
by forces beyond their control.

God of Shiphrah and Puah,
give us courage,
make us willing to lose our lives
for the sake of the new life
you are birthing.
Make us midwives
of what you are bringing forth.

God of Miriam,
make us prophets,
give us a new song,
set our feet to dancing
the dance of freedom,
move us to the joyful work,
the worship-work of liberation.

God of Pharaoh’s daughter,
help us to see that those
we think don’t know or revere you
can surprise us with their recognition of you
by the way they live and cherish life.
Help us not to see others
from an “us-and-them” place,
but send us to be present,
to see what you are already doing in the world,
and to look for, and cooperate with,
the way you deliver by name.

Amen.




[i] Regrettably, the prayer does not include a section on Zipporah. This is because I did not have time in my sermon to talk about the Zipporah scene, so when I concluded it would have been confusing to my original listeners to add a line about her. Perhaps later I will add a Zipporah section in the prayer, but for now, I think you get the gist of it! 


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

chabad: the weight of glory

today the Hebrew ancients
reminded me of the
correlation between
an object’s weight
and its glory;

Pharaoh,
possessive of his own glory,
laid upon the Hebrew slaves
a weight they could not bear,
a quota of brick-making they could not keep—
the more glorious he thought himself,
the more hardened his heart became;

Yahweh,
whose very Face
radiates glory,
looked upon the weak ones
with compassion,
bore the weight of their sorrow
and gained greater glory—
Yahweh, the One we know by Name,
regarded the small ones
whose names we have forgotten
and so became bigger
as they bear that Name,
their freedom and tether;

Christ,
bearer of burdens,
grow in my heart,
make me heavy with love,
slow me down
to be present
to suffering,
to listen to the voices crying out
their ancient wails
outside the portable walls
of these tabernacles
weighted with glory,
these tabernacles
of tangible souls,
sufferers begging
to be believed,
panting for relief
from the skeptics
chasing after them
in the midst of the Red Sea.

……………….

chabad: the weight of glory
by troy cady

for all the suffering ones
longing for exodus,
sukkot 2018





Thursday, September 20, 2018

images of God on my street

Images of God on my Street
by Troy Cady


When I look at you
I see God’s image in you—
and here is what I see:

I see a people of noble work—
teachers and healers,
artists, mothers and fathers,
designers who make beautiful places,
cooks and historians,
scientists and students,
carpenters and ethicists,
actors, directors and costumers,
players with children
and organizers who keep things running smoothly,
innovators, pastors and music-makers,
gardeners, animal-lovers and accountants,

lovers of the world,
her people, plants and animals,
sea, sky and the great beyond,
held together by invisible, vibrating strings,
like music’s singular living spirit.

I see God in you.
You look out for the dignity of others.
You enjoy color.
I see hope and joy in you,
heartache sweetened by resilience.
I have seen laughter
in your chest, eyes and mouth,
tongues savoring delicious food and drink.
I have been with you
in the blue sky, over the lake,
and I have seen your beautiful feet
flattening the grass of my front lawn
and I imagine those feet as
Jesus’s, the good shepherd,
who gathers all those he loves—
those who gather just because of love,
just because it’s good to gather,
to know and be known,
to enjoy and share, like God,
like images of God.

……………………..


neighbors: for people whose names you know








Thursday, September 13, 2018

for Jenny

while I sit at my desk working
I have a few moments to create
this just-for-the-fun-of-it poem

the leaves out front
barely disturbed by the wind,
each face kissed by the
late morning sunlight

last night I was a failure
but this morning
our tall friend
from long ago
and far away
sits out on our front porch
in our rocking chair
making herself at home
while I work
on the other side of the window
within easy eyeshot
as I glance to the right.

all at once she is our sister
and our daughter

Heather and I call her
“our Jenny”
with hearts softened
by the mere thought of her

and I am a leaf
on God’s great tree
barely disturbed
after last night’s fall
my soul kissed
by God’s grace
in the face of our Jenny.

…………..

for Jenny
by Troy Cady
with warm, friendly affection
September 13, 2018


Monday, September 10, 2018

what Grace says

Is there anything more refreshing to a weary heart, more enlivening to the tired soul, than the simple experience of no-questions-asked grace?

Grace is that person who says to you: “I am not going to ask you what you’ve done or what you are going to do. I just want to be with you, to enjoy you. You don’t have to say anything. You don’t have to be anything other than who you really are. I love you, no-questions-asked.

“When I think of you, I only think well of you. I have no agenda. I’m not here to get something out of you. I’m not here to convince you to think a certain way. I just want to offer you friendship, to be glad together or to share your sorrow, whatever will help you best. I’m here to listen if you need to talk; I’m here to keep silence, if you have no words.

“I’ll keep hoping when you feel hopeless. I’ll see you when you feel overlooked and give you solitude when you feel scrutinized.

“You don’t have to measure up when you are with me. I know you’re imperfect—and that’s okay because God’s unrelenting love is able to be your perfection.

“I see you crying inside. I can see you are hurting and in need of a breather. Let me be your breath. Just let me breathe new life into you. I’m here. Grace is here. It’s going to be okay.”

Saturday, September 8, 2018

the Grace in my mess

do i appear to you
as one who
has it all together?
do i strike you
as one who
has it all figured out?

don’t let appearances
deceive you.

i have doubts and fears,
insecurity won’t seem
to leave me alone.
i have hurts
i like to nurse.
i envy and scrape
for fame.
i worry and obsess
over things i cannot control.
i have enemies i want to remain so.
i have an image i want to project
and i have pride i want to protect.
i have days when all i want is to be left alone
and other days when all i want is to be noticed.
confusion grips me.
i get anxious about work and family,
friends and retirement.

this is why i need Grace.
Grace is the strength i don’t have,
the peace that won’t leave.
Grace protects me
from myself.
Grace forgives me, heals me
and reveals to me
that nothing
absolutely nothing
can make God stop loving me,
caring for me,
guiding and abiding with me,
seeing me, singing over me,
dancing and inviting,
embracing and facing me.

Grace is the reason
when i’m irrational,
the season’s change
after a dark, strange winter.
Grace holds me together
when i’m falling apart.
Grace binds the wounds
that cut deep into my heart.
Grace introduces me
to my own humanity
and bids me make peace
with my own limitation.

do i seem to you
as one who
has it all together?
look deeper.
see the Grace
in all my mess.



……………


the Grace in my mess
by troy cady






Thursday, September 6, 2018

Christian Come-Backs and the Cross



Christian Come-Backs and the Cross
by Troy Cady

The latest craziness to emerge in the culture wars of America could be dubbed Kaepernick, Part Deux. The regular season of the NFL has just begun and, with it, everyone is wondering what will become of last year’s brouhaha as to whether players should be allowed to kneel in protest during the playing of the national anthem at the start of each game. The (now-former) quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick was the first to get it going and he was willing to give up his job (read: fame and riches) for it.

Capitalizing on this narrative, Nike has made Kaepernick (and his cause) the face (and message) of their latest ad campaign:  “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

While it is true Nike likely compensated him handsomely for the ad, it is also true that through it all Kaepernick has traded fame for infamy in the eyes of many. While some regard him as a hero, others consider him an object of scorn. The court of public opinion can mete out merciless judgments on individuals who dare stick out their necks and, here in America, a not-insignificant segment of the population appears eager to drop the blade.

Whenever publicity like this hits the news cycle, it becomes prime time for America’s polemicizing populace to claim a bigger piece of meat in the raw debate of cultural supremacy: time to sharpen the knives of rhetoric, people. As the sun sets, we lick our chops for another round of what we love best: feasting on the flesh of our enemies.

…………………………………………………….…….

I consider myself a classic evangelical even though that word in today’s world spells anything but good news to most people. As a classic evangelical, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among the latest brand of evangelicalism.

I call it the
Bugs Bunny-Daffy Duck Syndrome.

See, it was hunting season and Bugs decided to play a little trick on Daffy by convincing the hunter that, instead of it being rabbit hunting season, it was duck hunting season. Bugs pulled this prank on Daffy on more than one occasion, but each time Daffy would get indignant and scream: “It’s rabbit season!”—to which Bugs would reply: “No, it’s duck season!” Of course, Daffy would instantly retort: “Rabbit season!” And Bugs would say: “Duck season!”

Back and forth like this, they’d go several times until Bugs would switch up and say “Rabbit season” instead. Daffy, intent on disagreeing with whatever Bugs said at all costs, would instantly blurt, “Duck season!”

And Bugs would smirk as the hunter shot off Daffy’s oversized yellow yap.

……………………………………..…..

I hadn’t seen the Nike ad until just a few hours ago, but on Tuesday (?) I saw a piece in the news about people burning Nike products. I had no idea what it was about and didn’t have time to look into it, but over the past couple days I’ve noticed more and more references to what was going on and figured it out. (I can be a little slow on the uptake, don't ya know!)

Actually, I knew something was up not by seeing the original ad, but rather by seeing various spoofs, each touting its own (humorous or in-your-face) retort to the Nike-Kaepernick message.

As soon as I saw what the original ad said, I thought: “I wonder how long it will take 'til I see one of these spoof ads from one of my fellow Christians?” Sure enough: it wasn’t long at all—as in, within the hour.

……………….…………………………………..

Evangelicals today have become the Daffy Ducks of a Bugs Bunny world. It doesn’t matter what the world says or how valid it may be, we seem intent on trying to one-up and disagree with whatever others say without so much as pausing to listen to what “they” are really saying.

The upshot of it is: we make people feel like blowing our big yellow yaps clean off of our face.

Even if modern evangelicals are right…even if “we” are being “hunted” by “them”…for all our cleverness, I maintain that we will not convince anyone our retorts are worth hearing--especially if we will not take the time to really listen to what is being said. Because of love, we must make every effort to humanize those whom we feel compelled to correct.

…………………………………………………………..

It’s hard to just listen.
It takes trust to

 just listen

and resist the temptation
to add what you think
someone else should think.

Last year, I took a class in which we spent part of the time practicing a form of conversation called “listening circles.”

The rhythm of a listening circle conversation goes something like this:

1. The facilitator offers a prompt to focus the conversation.

2. The participants observe silence to think about their response to that prompt.

3. The facilitator then invites the group to share, one person at a time.

4. One person shares for 3-5 minutes. During this, the rest of the group just listens carefully…observing both verbal and body language, emotion, tempo, pitch, volume, verbiage, and phrasing. In others words, each person looks for what is being said with words and…what is being said without words.

5. After the person shares, there is another moment of silence for listeners to consider what struck them about what was shared. 

6. After the moment of silence, the listeners (one at a time) express to the sharer what they saw, heard, or felt…with the singular goal of helping the sharer feel they have been “heard.” The goal is not really to ask for more information or to add to what was shared. Listeners are instructed NOT to say something like: “That reminds me of when I…..” The intent is to keep the focus on the sharer. It is just to give the other person the gift of feeling that someone has listened to them without judgment, in an attempt to understand. That is all.

7. After each listener speaks, the sharer has an opportunity to respond or clarify.

8. The process repeats until each person in the circle has had an opportunity to be a sharer—and, more importantly, everyone has had plenty of practice…just listening carefully.

How hard it was for me to practice this. But how good it was for my soul!

…………………………………………………

Many years ago, a gay friend of mine shared with me his story, filled with so much pain and discovery. He did so because he trusted me as his friend. When he finished his story, he looked to me for a response.

I am sorry to say I did not listen to him very well. Instead, I offered him platitudes. To be sure, I did so (I thought) in "love" but his reaction to my feedback should have given me pause. It was clear that what I said was not very loving. So, today I look back on the encounter with regret.

I realize I was not very loving 
because I did not really listen. 

Take two: sometime later, when another gay friend of mine finished sharing with me some painful experiences in his past, he looked to me to see what I would say. He looked to me because, for some reason, he saw me as his friend. (Grace tends to give stupid people like me second chances; how wonderful!)

In those moments, it would have been easy to offer words of advice or platitudes.

Thankfully, I trusted the practice of listening and simply said: “Thank you for sharing honestly. You have offered a great gift…I noticed when you shared about God that you have hope God loves you. It seemed to me there was the hope of being loved in what you shared. Is that right?”

Rather than trying to detract from what he shared, I wanted to offer my friend the gift of reflecting more on his story—and returning to him the gift of his own story. After all, the story was his, not mine. Were I to try to make my friend’s story conform to the way I want it to turn out, I would, in fact, be subjecting the holiest place in his inner temple to an unjust act of desecration.

Holy places,
those places that come
from deep inside,
are fit for silent reverence and respect,
for therein lies the very mystery of God.

As it turns out, later in the conversation, my friend did hear my story of pain, too. I like to think it is because we practiced paying attention to and honoring the mystery of God in each other’s stories.  

Oh, that we would simply become…
better listeners!

In fact, I’m convinced if we could become expert listeners, we wouldn’t need our clever retorts shouting down the important things others are trying to tell us.

……………………

So that I can be more clear about this pattern (which I also call “The Christian Come-Back Compulsion”) let me identify some instances I see in which Christians commonly play the role of Daffy Duck in a Bugs Bunny world.

Happy Holidays//MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Black Lives Matter//ALL LIVES MATTER!
Guns Kill//PEOPLE KILL!

Our retorts garner many “likes” on Facebook among those predisposed to like our retorts. And so we add to history’s great sound and fury, while God’s Spirit prays in a still small voice--which we can hardly hear anymore. We are retorting ourselves into oblivion:

Lord, save us 
from our own 
quick-witted cleverness!

………………………………….

In a world of quick come-backs,
the cross of Jesus
should stop Christians in their tracks;

in the rush to prove our points,
the cross slows us down,
keeps us fixed in place,
looking long and hard
(towards those who hate us)
in love.


Historically, the cross is an incredibly powerful and subtle symbol of quiet resistance. I assert, in fact, that it is history’s most prophetic symbol.

Often, prophets are those who draw attention to injustice in the world. They do this sometimes by words, but the best prophets are those who use few words: they rely on demonstration.

Prophetic work is a work of action more than rhetoric. It is a work of presence. And what the cross says is: God came close. God came so close he identified with us in our suffering. He came so close (he identified so closely with our humanity) that he died.

He didn’t deserve to die, especially the way he did. He was crucified—a punishment reserved for the worst possible criminal—a punishment designed to humiliate and make an example--to strike the fear of God in whoever has the misfortune of seeing such slow suffocation.

Jesus, hanging on the cross, showed us our own injustice. In his life and teachings, I wonder how many really heard what he said? Did he not tell us we wouldn’t listen? Did he not quote the prophet who predicted we would be “ever hearing but never understanding”, ever seeing but never really perceiving…blind and deaf with eyes and ears wide open?

Is it any wonder he said, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear"?

He was a prophet and he was more than a prophet. That's why his demonstration still speaks loudly today, without words.

My appeal to those who call themselves Christians: our words are not what will convince others to see things our way. If you really want to get someone’s attention, get close to them. Make friends with them. Listen to them…as in face-to-face. (Hint: you can’t really do it on Facebook). Then,

…lay down your life for them. Yes, the ones who would kill you. It’s what Jesus did. It’s your symbol. It’s your quiet little come-back...slow, loving, patient, sacrificial, eternally and extravagantly generous.

The ancient Christians understood this, so they adopted it as their symbol. (What a come-back!)

Aha! The cross! Oh, how that cruel instrument…an instrument of the empire’s torture…has been subverted by God who knows how to play a good joke in the resurrection on a world filled with take-yourself-serious folk!

We don’t even need to change the symbol. We can leave it just as it is. No need for a clever retort. The twisted thing itself is its own retort! In fact…look closely…ah, yes! There it is: the Gospel.

Hold on, now. Hold on. Just be silent.

Yes, silence is fitting.

Let it speak for itself.

Listen to it.

Honor its mystery.

Just let the cross get into your body. Live it.

Get so close to love it kills you.
You can trust the love of it. 
It’ll give you new life.

Believe in it. 
"Even if it means 
sacrificing everything. 
Just do it."