Thursday, March 20, 2014

Is it even possible?

Last night, I was in an Administration and Finance Committee meeting and I believe I left with a question that will keep me pondering for some time.  We were citing some of the verses in scripture, particularly those that deal with outrageous generosity and the call of Jesus to give and give some more.  We noted that these verses were difficult to reconcile with church budgets and our responsibility to be good stewards and plan for the future.

That got me thinking about not only the financial things that Jesus said...but all of the hard things that Jesus said.  Was he serious?  And, can the institutional church really live by the principles of faith that he put forth?

If someone strikes you on the cheek, can we really turn the other also?  How does that apply to national security?  How does that apply to protecting ourselves and our stuff?

When he tells us not to worry about our life or what we will eat or drink, what does he mean?  Should we not plan?  Should we not be responsible?

Was he serious about cutting off your hands and feet if they cause you to sin?

Was he serious about forgiving people 77 times...and how do we keep track of that?

Was he serious about "go, sell your possessions, and give your money to the poor?  And, if so, what does that mean for us as individuals?  Does it suggest anything about how big our houses should be or how many cars we should have or how many vacations we should take?  Does it suggest anything to our churches about how our buildings are used, how we address needs, and what our priorities are?

And, perhaps the question that haunts me most of all is "Is the institutional church capable of living the faith that Jesus laid out?"  I honestly don't know the answer to that.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Friday Five Again!

Here are the Friday Five questions...and I might be taking this one with a little frivolity.

1) Is there a film that so captured your imagination that you couldn’t stop thinking about it? In what way(s) did it affect you?

Sound of gave me a lot of songs to sing when I have had too much coffee...nothing says "caffeinated" like The Lonely Goatherd.

2) What religious/spiritual film has touched you? This could be something overtly thematic, like The Last Temptation of Christ, or something more subtle, like Enchanted April.

Sound of Music...climb every mountain, baby!

3) When the going gets tough, is there a film you turn to for distraction and/or to help shift your mood?

Sound of Music...I simply remember my favorite things and then I don't feel so bad!

4) What is your all-time favorite movie?

Um, Sound of Music.

5) If you were to choose a film for viewing and discussion with your congregation, what would you choose?

Sound of Music...and we would have the discussion in costume.

Bonus: If your life were to be made into a feature film, who would you want to play you?


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Sorry for the rant....

I've been following a story in western N.C. about a high school student, Kalei Wilson.  Kalei is an atheist who wanted to start a club for like-minded students to organize and do community service.  I guess this is similar to what groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes do.  At least a dozen students had expressed interest in joining the club.  Anyway, this was posted on Kalei's page this week:

"It saddens us to report that due to the numerous threats and the verbal attacks on Kalei along with the vindictive witch-hunt to hurt the reputations of affiliated local groups and our own family , Kalei will not be continuing with the group.
We have contacted GoFundMe and requested they return your generous donations. They have assured us that your funds will show back up in your respective accounts within 3 to 5 days.
Your love and support are priceless and we apologize in letting you down. It was our single goal to support Kalei in her efforts to start the much needed SSA club.
However, we never expected our family and friends to be sought out and demonized. Please know that we recognize the importance of the club but we can not justify our involvement with the risk of our families safety and well being."
It does not take many clicks to find the text to some of these threats or to find the unbelievable vulgar language that was directed toward Kalei.  It makes me so incredibly sad and infuriated at the same time. What are churches teaching children that would cause them to think that this kind of threatening behavior is not only appropriate, but it is "Christian."  Seriously.  How does that square off with the life of Christ...yes, I guess you could say that Jesus called people names.  He called a group a "brood of vipers."  (Matthew 12:34 and 23:33).  And, yes, he got mad and a little violent when he turned over a bunch of tables (Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15, John 2:15).  And, guess what?  His anger was not directed at unbelievers.  His anger was directed at the religious people whose attention to self-righteousness kept them from being decent human beings.  That is a call to repentance for all of us in the church.

And, in Matthew 25, when Jesus does indeed talk about the final judgment, he does not talk about belief and getting the beliefs right.  He is much more interested in how we care for others. He says that those who will be welcomed into paradise will be those who fed the hungry, gave the thirsty something to drink, clothed the naked, took care of the sick, visited the prisoner.  That was his deal.  He took care of people.  He welcomed people that nobody else wanted to be around.  He allowed them to touch his life.

Sometimes I am just overwhelmed by how far Christianity (at least the Christianity that gets all of the publicity) has fallen from those behavioral covenants.  We'd rather bully a non-believer than understand her.  How arrogant!  We'd rather bully a non-believer than show her the love of welcoming her, by practicing radical hospitality, and maybe by working side by side with her in projects that could benefit an entire community.

Think of the witness THAT would have given.  That would have shown a group of Christians so secure in their faith, so moved by the love of Christ in their own lives that they don't have to bully others who do not believe the same.  They don't have to use strong vulgar language "in the name of Christ."  They don't have to draw the line in the sand and refuse to budge.

They can welcome others into the love of Christ by welcoming them into their own lives.  They can get on with the business of feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty something to drink, clothing the naked, etc. What a witness we could have if we stopped our obsession with judging others and left that up to God.

Sorry for the rant - but that article got to me.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday Five

A long while back, I used to be a faithful player to the "Friday Five."  That's five questions posted on Fridays for RevGal bloggers, and we respond and post our thoughts.  Feeling the urge to play today, so here are their questions and my answers!

1. A color that you enjoy (and where you find it) - maybe it's because I was recently on vacation, but I enjoy the color blue...specifically Caribbean blue found rippling around the U.S. Virgin Islands.
2. A food or drink you have discovered recently that is just da bomb!  Last October, I discovered (through the generosity of a friend) the Spiced Caramel Apple Cider at Starbuck's....taste of world peace, people!
3. A simile for tiredness - Tiredness is like a slow leak in your tire.
4. A random picture from your phone, camera or computer - hard to choose, but I love this pic of a little boy in our church and me.  Somehow, we both ended up looking at the camera and smiling at the same time...a rare occurrence indeed.

5. Your least favorite bill: car mechanic, dentist or plumber?  Car mechanic!
BONUS: If you are going to have a Lenten practice or discipline, what is it? If you have a book or on-line resource, be sure to share it!
This one is a little scary because if I write it, I will have to do it.  I've got a few things happening at church, but for me personally, I will be participating in a book study on-line (I hope with the facebook group called New Benedictine Community).  We are looking at a book called "Awareness" by Anthony deMello.  But, the practice that will likely be hardest is keeping my mouth shut.  I very much want to cease and desist saying negative things about individuals.  
So, that is my Friday Five!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

I can only do so much

Sometimes, I look at the CNN news web-site, and the stories of cruelty that I find there are overwhelming.  It can be human to human cruelty, and this week, it was human to animal cruelty.  I realize that there are many differing opinions on what defines cruelty, but between the stories of the stray dogs in Sochi being rounded up and killed and the giraffe in the Copenhagen Zoo being shot and fed to lions due to overpopulation...well, those stories literally turned my stomach.

We live in a disposable society where it is deemed appropriate to kill something to get it out of the way.  Not only is it deemed appropriate, sometimes spectators show up for the show.

This morning, one of my Sunday group participants lamented that the news often made her feel helpless because there was only so much that she could do.

And, I guess these stories make me feel the same way.  There is only so much I can do.  Now, the question is....does that cause me to give up?  Or, does it cause me to do what I can with a renewed spirit?

Time will tell.

Friday, January 31, 2014

What does it mean?

Today, I heard someone talk about being engaged to a "Christian" man.  That started me thinking.  What do we mean when we say someone is Christian?  That they pray?  That they are an active part of a community of faith?  That they go to Bible study?  Or, do we mean that they hold a certain belief about Christ?  Or God?  Or salvation?  Or do we mean that they behave a certain way?  With kindness?

I suppose many would say that being Christian has to do with belief.  But, I don't know about that.  I mean, a person can believe in Christ and do terrible the name of Christ.  The Crusades.  Slavery.  Oppression.  So, I don't think belief quite covers it.   I think Christian in its purest form means relationship with Christ.  It means responding to people in ways that love him.

That's hard.  It is much easier to go to church, go to Bible study, and believe.  It is harder to love him when it comes to our dealings with others.  The poor.  The mean.  The aggravating.  It's harder to love him when it requires me to put someone else first.  We talked about that this week in my little ministers' study group and the notion that we should consider others as better than ourselves.  That is so counter cultural.  And, yet relationship with Christ provides so much love that we don't have to compare ourselves with others to make sure that we are ahead of them.  We don't have judge the behavior of others to make sure we are better than they are.

Just some ponderings I had today.  What does it mean to be called Christian?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

You never know

I write a lot of notes.  Well, maybe not a LOT, but I am definitely a note writer.  I like to write notes.  I like the personal feel of a pen between my fingers.  I like knowing that the card or paper that has touched my hands will soon be in the hands of the intended recipient.  And, I like the intimacy that a written note brings - it just seems warmer to me than a typed email.

So, I try to send thank-you notes when I receive a gift.  I try to send notes to people in the congregation when they are going through a difficult time, or when they have agreed to serve in a new capacity, or when I simply think about them and want them to know it.  I send notes to visitors, too.

Today, I was at the post office, and I ran into someone who attends another church but who visited our church about two years ago.  I wrote her a note.  She thanked me for her note, and said she keeps it in her Bible and moves it as she reads.  Wow!  Who knew that a note from two years ago would still be in circulation...and still appreciated?

I should know that.  I keep notes that I receive.  Some are tucked in my Bible.  Some are tucked in a drawer.  Some are tucked in notebooks and journals.  But, I turn to them often when I need encouragement, or when I need to remember that no matter how frustrated I may be, the work is important.  It makes a difference.  Sometimes, rereading a note feels like a little whiff of Holy Spirit and it fuels me for what is to come.  You just never know.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Judgment Day

I've been thinking a lot lately about, not judgment that involves hell fire and damnation, but the kind of judgment that can be so flagrantly present in our thoughts and conversations.  I am tempted to continue on saying that "we do this' and "we do that" but I'll refrain from that judgment and speak only for myself!

Something happens.  For example, a car pulls out in front of me.  Or, I have to make more changes in my dissertation.  Or, I can't get my gas logs to work.  Or, it rains, or the sun shines, or it is cold, or it is hot.  Something happens, and I assign a value to it.  This is good.  This is better.  This is bad.  This is worse.  Often, I will think it necessary to express my judgment with a few more opinions thrown in, just in case my point did not come across clearly.

A colleague recently said, "I am learning that I don't have to have a judgment for everything."  Wow!  He is right.  I don't have to have a judgment either, and even when I do, I certainly do not have to make it public.  Can you imagine keeping an opinion to yourself???  Who does such a wild and crazy thing?

But, the truth is, when I judge something as good or bad, I feel either good or bad.  When I make my judgment public, I bring you into my feeling, for better or for worse.  And, sometimes things are not so easily labeled.  Somethings things just ARE.  "It is what it is" is a saying that holds much truth.

It is not good.  It is not bad.  It simply is what it is.  I am going to try to remember that.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Breath of Fresh Air

Two local ministers and I meet for lunch and every now and again.  We've been meeting like this for a few years, and I always feel a little lighter after we've been together.  Sometimes we talk about church stuff. Sometimes we talk about personal stuff.  Sometimes we talk about upcoming services, or decisions we have to make, or difficult situations that we are trying to faithfully navigate.  And, sometimes, we just talk about Downton Abbey and cats!  Our little fellowship has been very important to me as a source of support and friendship.

When we got together prior to Christmas, one minister gave us a beautiful commentary called "Dwelling with Philippians:  A Conversation with Scripture through Image and Word."  You can see that my cat is enjoying the book, too.  When I say that it is "beautiful," I mean that it is full of art, poetry, prayers, reflection, and the obligatory good scholarship.  I love it.  We made plans to meet as a threesome to study it together.

Our first meeting was yesterday, and wow, I had forgotten how much I enjoyed engaging the scripture as a participant and not as a leader.  I think we were all hungry for that because we talked non-stop!  But, it was helpful to hear how they read scripture as it applies to specific work things and things that we've learned along the way. I was so relieved when we scheduled our next meeting for next week instead of next month.

It helped today as I began to prepare for Sunday's sermon.  It helped me as I interacted with various people. It helped me to know that I've got good peers even rural JC!

I start 2014 very grateful for that.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Red M & M

Tomorrow is Epiphany which means that the official Christmas season is coming to a close.  I did not get my tree up until much later than usual this year, so I have been thoroughly enjoying the season after December 25.  In fact, I think my favorite time of year might now be those days right after Christmas Day when the pace slows, and I have time to try out new recipes, read books that interest me, look at the lights on my tree, go to movies at the cheap theater (and eat popcorn) and putter around in my house.

But, it always makes me a little sad how quickly my neighborhood takes down its decorations.  Of course, they put them up before Thanksgiving, but still, it seems a shame to pack everything up so quickly.  I mean, what better way to ring in the New Year than to still have tangible reminders around your home that the light does indeed shine in the darkness?

So, over the weekend, I was driving home after dark feeling a little glum that Christmas had already been boxed up for next year.  Then, I saw it.  The inflatable red M & M - glowing, moving a little bit in the breeze, and just being festive.  Yes, I know that inflatables can be tacky, but you know, I believe that Baby Jesus would really have enjoyed that big M & M.  Smiling and waving around in the darkness.

And, I thought, "We still have cheer.  We still have joy.  And, I am thankful for this big M & M to remind me."  This year, I think I'll look for those reminders all year long...the places where God's love meets our cheer...and even our sadness.  They might come in the official holy places like church.  But, they might show up in inflatable yard decor.  One thing is certain, I will smile every time I open a bag of M & M's.