27 July 2014

Weekly Gospel Reflection—27 July 2014

He told another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and planted in his field. It’s the smallest of all seeds. But when it’s grown, it’s the largest of all vegetable plants. It becomes a tree so that the birds in the sky come and nest in its branches.”

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, which a woman took and hid in a bushel of wheat flour until the yeast had worked its way through all the dough.”


“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that somebody hid in a field, which someone else found and covered up. Full of joy, the finder sold everything and bought that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one very precious pearl, he went and sold all that he owned and bought it.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that people threw into the lake and gathered all kinds of fish. When it was full, they pulled it to the shore, where they sat down and put the good fish together into containers. But the bad fish they threw away. That’s the way it will be at the end of the present age. The angels will go out and separate the evil people from the righteous people, and will throw the evil ones into a burning furnace. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.

“Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.

They said to him, “Yes.”

Then he said to them, “Therefore, every legal expert who has been trained as a disciple for the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings old and new things out of their treasure chest.”

The “Kingdom Parables” or, “The Stories of G‑d’s Realm.” I love these stories. They offer to us little glimpses into G‑d’s Realm.

One of the things that some people trip up on is Matthew’s use of the phrase “kingdom of heaven.” The other Gospels use the phrase “kingdom of G‑d” (see Mark 4 and Luke 13). Some people interpret this to mean that Matthew’s meaning something else; that Matthew means something different.

That’s not the case at all.

Following a tradition that’s still relevant today, a lot of Jews wouldn’t write the name of  G‑d in a way that might be defaced or destroyed (see this article for more information). So, instead of using G‑d’s name, Matthew used G‑d’s realm (or Kingdom).

Another mistake (in my opinion) some people make, and it’s directly linked to the misunderstanding of the word “heaven,” is the understanding that the Realm of G‑d, is only referring to something that happens when we die. That is, “heaven” is about someplace one goes after this life is over.

Because of this, many people thought that G‑d’s Realm would come at the end of history. Even today, a lot of people think something like that. Because of different prophecy “experts,” many think that G‑d will destroy creation and start over. This “new creation” will be, it’s thought, the “kingdom of G‑d.”

Again, that’s not quite right.

Jesus clearly taught that G‑d’s Realm was being planted through his ministry — that G‑d’s Realm was breaking into our realm through him, “Now is the time! Here comes G‑d’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news! (Mark 1.14-15 CEB, emphasis added; cf. these translations). And that understanding is the key to these stories about G‑d’s Realm.

Notice in the stories above that G‑d’s Realm is in the middle of our realm. In the story of the yeast, the yeast (meaning G‑d’s Realm) isn’t added after the bread is finished baking. It’s added while dough is being kneaded.

In the story of the fish, the “good” fish are mixed up along with the “bad” fish. In the story about the “mustard seed,” the seed is planted among the other existing trees. The story of the buried treasure is a story about hidden treasure that’s available in the present time.

All of this points to the idea that G‑d’s Realm was “planted” during the time of Jesus, “grew” through the age of the apostles, and was fully established at the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

From then til now and on into the future, the Realm of G‑d continues to spread throughout creation. It continues to permeate all of life — not to destroy it but to preserve that which is good and bring new life.

Notice the “job description” in the last paragraph above:

“[Every] legal expert who has been trained as a disciple for the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings old and new things out of their treasure chest.”

Too often, the community of faith has thought that the job description of a follower of Jesus was to destroy everything that didn’t line up with our interpretation. But Jesus said there are some “old...things” that are good.

The “head of the household” doesn’t just bring out “new things.” She will recognize the good in some of the “old” things, preserve them, and bring new life to them.

G‑d’s Realm, therefore, is a current reality within our world. Like yeast, it’s permeating all of creation bringing new life to the good “old” things and creating new things along the way.

Our job as “trained disciples” is to be treasure hunters. To dig past all of the layers of falseness within our world to find the “good” that’s buried there. Once found, we’re to excavate it, clean it up, and make it ready for use in G‑d’s Realm today.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

19 July 2014

It's Not What It Looks Like

Is it just me, or do many of us read the works of others and think either —

“Gosh, this author sure has her life together.”

or —

“What a load of crap! I’m sure he’s just as messed up as the rest of us.”

In reading a post recently about lectio divina (Latin for “divine reading”), I had the latter thought. And then it hit me, do any of us writers have our practice figured out? Or, does it just come across that way?

I think it just comes across that way.

I know that, for me, I definitely don’t have it all figured out. In fact, being as transparent as possible here, I fail more than I care to admit. Just maintaining my own spiritual practice can be a chore (and “maintaining” might be too strong a word). I’m no different than most of us. So what gives? Why can’t we succeed with the disciplined life? Are we afraid? Is that it? Do we “just” need to overcome fear?

I don’t know.

I’ve said time and time again one of the things missing from following Jesus is mentoring, discipleship, soul friending. That is, too often when one starts to follow Jesus, one’s given a Bible and told, “Pray. Read the Bible. Go to church. Pay your tithe. Witness.” Well, at least that’s what I was told in so many words and actions.

But notice there’s nothing there about direction; about discipleship. There’s nothing in those statements that leads one to seek a spiritual mentor.

And there most definitely should be.

I think we all need to have an anamchara, a soul friend. Someone with whom we can be “as transparent as possible.” Someone willing to walk with us. Talk with us. Listen to us. And, yes, even to “correct” us. Or lead us to correction and enlightenment.

Anyway, I just wanted to let others know that, when you reading someone’s work, be it a book or article or a blog post, realize that most of us struggle just like everyone else. Maybe even more so. It just doesn’t come across that way in print.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC


PS: I have one caveat, though I’m certain this person would say the same thing as I’ve written here. I’ve been re-reading Thomas Merton’s book, Contemplative Prayer, and, let me just say, I think Merton was someone who actually lived what he wrote. It just comes across differently on the page. He may say the same things as someone else, but one gets the sense that it’s coming from a lifetime spent of doing it and not just saying it should be done.

12 July 2014

Shaving with a Safety Razor

Recently, I saw an info-graph about the upsides to using a double edge (DE) safety razor. You know…the type our grandfathers used? Yeah, those. According to the information, the average user will spend upwards of $300 annually on cartridge razor refills.

Then there’s the issue with recycling. That is, cartridge razor’s can’t be recycled. And those chemical-ridden shaving gel canisters aren’t too keen on the environment, either.

And those gels lead to the last piece: facial bumps, nicks, cuts, etc. Just plain irritation of the face and neck because of the cartridge razor and the other products.

For years I thought that this was normal. That is, you dealt with it. Or bought an electric razor. For me, the electric was worse — pulled hair, skin irritation, red whelps and bumps on my neck.

I switched to cartridge razors a long time ago and have used them almost exclusively. However, as my skin is sensitive, I had to shave about every-other-day. Once I saw that infograph, however, I started looking into DE safety razors.

The graphic went on to explain that while DE razors may be more of a cost up front, in the long run, they’re a lot cheaper. Blades for a DE razor run next to nothing (an average price of a packet of 5 blades is roughly less than $2, but you can get better blades for a little bit more). And each blade, being much sharper than cartridge blades, averages about 5-7 days before needing to change it out.

Furthermore, instead of buying canned gels and creams that are loaded with chemicals, one can opt for the traditional shaving creams (in a tube) or soaps (in a tin). Most of the time, these creams and soaps are made with natural ingredients and are much gentler on the skin. And they last a lot longer. Several months, in fact.

Plus, the use of sharper blades and better creams or soaps equals less irritation on your skin. No nicks or cuts. No red bumps or ingrown hairs.

And both are much better on the environment. Blades are stainless steel and can be recycled. The all natural soaps and creams are, well, all natural! They just wash out in the sink.

Well, I was hooked! I started looking around for a razor, some blades, a synthetic brush (not animal hair), and soap. Right off the bat, I found some great bargains on the soap. A local organic store was moving locations and needed to make room so they were liquidating some of their slowest sellers. I picked up a soap and cream for half their regular price!

Next, I discovered Maggard Razors. They offer a wide variety of shaving products. While looking at the DE razors they offer, I found their own razors. Their razors are a fraction of the cost of the others they sell. The razor I picked out was their MR18. It has a longer handle and the weight is more of a middle of the road when compared to the others.

I also picked up the Omega Hi-Performance synthetic bristle brush. It’s a beautiful brush. It has a nice weight and it’s really soft.

After my order arrived (I forgot to order blades and they threw in a 5 pack for free), I prepared for my first shave.


The discounted shaving soap I got just didn’t seem to lather like the videos I watched (I don’t know what it is about watching a guy shave, but it’s therapeutic). So I did some research. It seems that’s a problem with this particular brand and, if I’ve learned anything about this process it’s that one needs a good lather for shaving.

According to some of the videos, Mike’s Natural Soaps are very good. So, I gave it a shot. I ordered the unscented one. And let me tell you, those reviewers weren’t kidding! Mike’s Natural Soap is amazing! It lathers up very quickly and stays on one’s face. It’s “slick” and the blade just glides over the whiskers leaving a great close shave.

I also purchased a sample pack of blades from Maggard Razors. From what I’ve read and observed on the videos, finding the best blade for your shave is as important as finding the right soap or cream. After trying about half of the blades, I shaved with the Feather blades.


Feather blades are made in Japan and are supposed to be some of the sharpest blades made today. I can certainly testify to that. I had a couple days of growth and used a Feather blade. It glided across my hair like...well…like a hot knife through butter! It cut cleanly. No nicks. No irritation. Just a nice, close shave. It truly was the best shave I’ve ever had.*

So, if you’re looking for a change of pace; if you’re wanting to get out of the consumer market rat-race; if you’re wanting to make life a little simpler; if you’re wanting to be a better steward of the planet; if you’ve only had mediocre or sub-par shaving experiences, I would highly recommend making the switch to a DE safety razor. Shaving with one of these razors not only has a nostalgic feel, it’s also meditative and probably the best shave you’ve ever had.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

* This is compared to another shave with blades by Shark. This shave had a couple of days growth, too. And I was using Mike’s soap. So, the only difference was the blade. It pulled a bit while it was cutting.  It wasn’t a good experience. It wasn’t too bad mainly because I had already had some good shaves to compare it with. So, I knew this wasn’t the norm. However, if someone was just starting out, and this was the first encounter, it would most likely be a turn off and result in not trying it again.

07 July 2014

Theology From Exile Volume II: The Year of Matthew—Review

This month I’ve been reading Theology from Exile Volume II: The Year of Matthew, by Sea Raven. I was really excited to get this book for review. My main purpose was selfish — this book comes with different liturgies.

Now, I’m becoming somewhat of a liturgy junky. I love them! I like the cadence (rhythm). I like the phrasing. I like the movement (flow) from one piece to the next. I’m always on the lookout for more. When I got the email for this book, it stated, “Appendix One contains reimagined rituals of Holy Communion that reflect an invitation to commit to the ongoing salvation work of nonviolent, distributive justice-compassion.”

Well, that’s what the email said for volume I, the year of Luke. What was offered was volume II. Either way, “reimagined rituals” are right up my alley, so I downloaded the ebook and got started.


What a hard read. Not from the standpoint of it being too deep or over my head, but it’s just plain abrasive. In the introduction, Raven states, “A clergy friend (now retired) describes the cherry-picking among the various portions of scripture as having been put together by ‘drunken elves’” (pg. 11). Therefore, throughout the book, she continues to call the contributors to the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) as “Elves.” She goes on to state, “While ‘the Elves” may seem to be subject to quite a bit of abuse here, no individual disrespect is intended” (ibid.). With a little tongue-in-cheek, Raven adds, “In addition, it is by no means an insult to the nobility of the Elven Race (as described by J.R.R. Tolkien) who long ago abandoned Middle Earth to its fate — a caution to those who use proof-texting to justify compliance with Empire” (ibid.).

Now, if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I’m all for pointing out the errors of the Empirical Religious Business called “church.” But, I hope, that I don’t do it with such a snarky attitude. Calling the contributors to the RCL as “Elves” leaves a bad taste in the mouth. She may claim that there’s not disrespect meant, but it sure comes across that way.

Furthermore, she sets up a false dichotomy, in my opinion. She states that the “underlying framework” for this series is four questions:

  1. What is the nature of God? Violent or nonviolent?
  2. What is the nature of Jesus’ message? Inclusive or exclusive?
  3. What is faith? Literal belief, or trust in God’s realm of distributive justice-compassion?
  4. What is deliverance? Salvation from hell or liberation from injustice?

My problem with these questions is not so much the questions themselves but the “either / or” answers. If one wants to make a case for the “correct” answers as outlined here, one should be at least open to other possibilities. Furthermore, as I stated above, Raven’s “either / or” answers create a false dichotomy. That is, one could argue that those answers are two sides of the same coin. One could have “literal belief” and “trust in God’s realm of distributive justice-compassion.”

And that, to me, is the issue throughout the whole book. Over and over again, Raven paints the readings in a very dual way — with only her interpretation as the “correct” or legitimate interpretation. This, coupled with her derogatory view of the collaborators of the RCL really rubs me the wrong way. Granted there are some beautiful things in this book, here’s an example:

Approaching John’s metaphor [of testifying to the light; John 1.7 — j+] to postmodern mythological experience, if we embrace Jesus as the bringer of spiritual light to the world and we take into ourselves Jesus’s radical, if we embrace Jesus as the bringer of spiritual light to the world and we take into ourselves Jesus’s radical, nonviolent abandonment of self-interest (love), then we also become bringers of the light. We also participate as word and wisdom in the realm of distributive justice-compassion. (pg. 27).

Brilliant stuff. Here’s another one:
Jesus was born during the Roman occupation of Palestine, under the rule of Caesar Augustus, somewhere between the years of 4 B.C.E. and 4 C.E. It was a time of repression, oppression, extreme poverty, and constant rebellion against Roman rule. The Jewish people had a long history of wars and occupations. Nevertheless, they believed that God is just, and the world belongs to God. So whenever they experienced injustice and political turmoil, they knew that God would act to restore God’s justice to the world. Otherwise, God would not be God. Matthew’s story shows that Jesus is the one sent by God to set things right. God has acted, through the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus (pg. 29).

Again, brilliant.

Unfortunately, one has to slog through all sorts of deprecatory gunk just to get to some good points. Those few nuggets don’t outweigh the rest of the book, sadly enough.

As I stated above, I was really looking forward to this book, and the reworked liturgies based on a post-modern worldview are great, but they’re few and very far between the rest of the book. I’d rate this two stars on Amazon’s rating system. And it only gets those because of the “reimagined rituals.”

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.