Thursday, January 23, 2020

Perspectives: Fortune



It just made me laugh.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Expectations


I was riding the elevator this afternoon.  There are expectations about elevator protocol, aren't there?  Are you like me, and I suspect like many other people, who expect that when there are a few people in the elevator, we all spread out in the available space so that no one is too close to someone else?  When more people join the elevator crowd, we adjust, so that we are all evenly spaced.  We're closer together than before, but that's OK, because there are  more of us.  When someone exits, we adjust again.

Expectations.

Today, on the elevator, there were three of us.  The woman in front of me didn't adjust her spacing and was standing too close, and there was a bunch of empty space in front of her.  

I think we assume that everyone has the same expectations.  In an elevator, and in life.  But the truth is, we don't. And that isn't good or bad, it just is fact. 

We all don't approach life in the same way, we all have very different experiences in life, and different preoccupations and distractions.  

We need to remember that - in the elevator, and everywhere else.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Breaking News


I was in a meeting yesterday that involved our Bishop.  She said that while she was in the Atlanta Airport, she saw a person wearing a t-shirt that said, "Breaking News: No one cares."  Reading the t-shirt made her sad.  How does it make you feel?

I have two thoughts about the message on the shirt, and they are opposite sides of a coin, so to speak.  I'm not certain what message the wearer of the shirt wanted to convey.  Did she mean that no one cares about anyone, including that no one cares about her?  That is doesn't matter - she and no one else are beloved, and no one cares about her or about you.  Breaking news.  Or does she mean it as a more personal message? Does she mean that she hears you talking, but, really, no one cares what you are saying, especially her. Breaking news: no one cares.  Stop talking.  Stop sharing. Stop.  No one cares.

Either way, it is a failure of the church, don't you think? If she believes no one cares about anyone else, then she hasn't experienced that anyone has cared for her.  If she wants to convey the message that she doesn't care about anyone else, then she hasn't been taught to love. 

For us, the people who believe that everyone is beloved of God, this is an issue, and it calls us to action.  The only way to change the world (and the message on the t-shirt) is to love the people we know, and the people we don't know.  To love, as we have been taught to love.

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Monday, January 20, 2020

Book Review: Genesis for Normal People


A few years ago, I tried posting book reviews.  A good idea, but not much follow through on my part.  I posted three of them.  So, let's try again.

Information about the Book
Title: Genesis for Normal People, 2nd edition
Authors: Peter Enns & Jared Byas
Publisher: The Bible for Normal People
Copyright date: 2019
Links:
I purchase the book from Amazon - here is the link

Summary
The book has eleven chapters, an introduction, and a conclusion.  Each of the chapters focuses on a set of chapters from Genesis.  The book also contains a Study Guide, and could be used for group study.

The authors stated purpose is NOT to write a book for scholars or seminary students, but for "normal" people - and I guess normal people are those who are not defined as scholars or seminary students.  

Impressions
  • The book is very readable.  It engaged my curiosity and attention.  The Jared and Peter write well. 
  • While it was not written for scholars or seminary students, I think they should read it.  It doesn't include the deep, scholarly background that I assume seminary students read, but it does seem well grounded in scholarship.  
  • Most of all, for me, the book was full of ah ha moments.  Jared and Peter engage the scripture in new (for me) ways.  Readers are challenged to let go of presuppositions, and look for new insight.  I knew from the first chapter - reading Genesis as an ancient text - that the book would lead me to growth in my understanding of Genesis.  By the time I got to Chapter 3 (the creation stories), I was already planning a Sunday school lesson so that I could share some of the insight I was experiencing.

Recommendation
Yes yes yes.  Go read this book.  On the back cover, Rachel Held Evans is quoted as saying, "The authors manage to simplify without dumbing down, challenge without confusing, and dig for deep truth without compromising their intellectual integrity A must-read for anyone who cares enough about the Bible to want to read and understand it on its own terms."  I can't say it better myself.


Posts
Here are posts I've written that were inspired by the book.

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Saturday, January 18, 2020

Poetry from 2019

Each year I organize my poetry poets into a single posts with links to each one.  You can ignore this post - it's just for housekeeping purposes.

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Thursday, January 16, 2020

Drumbeat of Joy, Part 4

Completely the posts of the sermon from this week

Think of the world today.  We are divided in more ways than I think are imaginable.  We are divided by politics, by faith beliefs. There are those of us who have money and power, and there are those of us who have nothing.  There are those of us who have nothing to wear, no job, no hope. In West Virginia, 1 in 7 people struggle with hunger. 20% of West Virginia children are hungry.  Approximately 20% of adults in West Virginia cannot read above the fourth grade reading level. 

We are at the epicenter of the opioid crisis.  I spoke to one gentleman I know whose daughter is fighting against drug addiction.  Her struggle was so deep and so real to him that he said that drugs were the devil – evil surrounded her.  Knowing him, it was the last thing I expected to hear him say, but he was completely serious.

Setting that aside, you and I both know people who are struggling with illness, grief, despair.  We live in times that are dark for many.  Where is God in this?

In 1944, a Methodist minister in London, Rev. Leslie Weatherhead, was trying to help his people through a terrible time.  Think about what was happening there in 1944.  It was the last year of World War II.  The city was under constant siege – they were seeing death and destruction all around them.  Weatherhead preached about the will of God, and he told his people that what they were seeing was not God’s will.  He reassured them that the ultimate will of God will prevail – and it would not look like what they were seeing now.

It is not God’s will that we would live in a world of darkness.  The entire Bible is the story of God breaking into God’s creation to bring salvation to us – forgiveness, grace, and freedom from present circumstances.

We’ve talked today about the word of the prophet Isaiah, and the word of Mary in her Song.  During Advent, we intentionally slow down so as to remember that God has sent the Word – Jesus – into the world.  We are not alone. We live in a time where the space between us and God is always thin – a perpetual thin place.  God has cleared the Holy Way between us.  We are not in exile.  We are at home in God.  Advent is the time when we open our lives – again – to that reality, and know the joy of it.

But what is the witness to it? What difference does it make in the world?

Mary sang, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” 

How do we magnify the Word? How do we multiply that joy so that others besides ourselves know of it? How do we shine God’s light in the world so brightly that the darkness cannot overcome it, and the world is changed?

How do we do the work of Advent and prepare the way for the Lord?  Not just for ourselves – but for the people around us?

Speak the Word – tell of God’s presence in your life – and then do more.  Be the Word. Be the hands of and feet of Christ. Feed the hungry. Teach children to read. Love your neighbor.  Visit those who are sick.  Comfort those who are hurting. Give of your gifts, your time, your money; give your love to others.  God is close – not only to shine a light in your own life, but so that you will shine that light in the lives of others.

Beat the drum of joy. Change the world. Magnify the Lord.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Drumbeat of Joy, Part 3

Continuing the sermon from yesterday

Listen to this scripture from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, verses 46-55.  We call this passage the Magnificat – it is Mary’s song after she has a visit from an angel telling her of Jesus, and after her visit with Elizabeth, who is pregnant in her old age.

Think for a moment about the circumstances the Jewish people were living in.  They were under Roman occupation and living in a time of political uncertainty.  There were those who wanted to create a politically and religiously free Israel again, and the zealots were willing fight in order to achieve that.  King Herod was an extremely violent, power-hungry, and unpredictable ruler.   The people were heavily taxed and the money used to build monuments to the King.  Mary lived in these uncertain and dark times; she was poor, oppressed, young, and powerless.

And then the word of Mary comes in her song.  She is praising God – not just in hymns and prayers, but with her whole being.  With her entire soul.  She is magnifying God.  She is definitely in a “thin place” – close to God, visited by an angel.  Her cousin Elizabeth has just declared that Mary carries the Lord.  She is in relationship with God, and she sings of salvation.  She sings about a transformation of the world.  The poor will no longer be hungry.  The powerful will be brought down.  God is remembering his promises to God’s people. 

And if you look carefully at the words of the Magnificat, they are in presence tense.  Mary is not just singing of a future far away, but she is telling of her present time.  God was with them right at that moment, and would change the world. These are words of joy.  Can you hear the drumbeat of them?

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Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Drumbeat of Joy, Part 2

Continuing from the sermon...

The first scripture I want us to read is from Isaiah 35:1-10.  As I read it, listen for the joy in it.  It is a poem written to provide hope to those in exile for their return to Jerusalem.  (Scripture can be found here)

Think for a moment to whom these words were written.  They are part of what scholars call Second Isaiah, and were written about 45 years after the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem by the Babylonians, and the people’s exile out of their land.  Consider their circumstances – they had been God’s people, and now they were doubting that.  They had lived in the land God had given them, and now they were away from that.  They had lived close to a powerful God who inhabited the Temple, and now the temple was gone, and they were doubting the power of God. They were far away from home, captive in another land, and they had been there a long time – 45 years means that many of them wouldn’t even remember what it was like to not be in exile.  It was a dark, hopeless time.  Had God forgotten them?

And then the Word of the prophet comes, speaking of hope and joy.  Remember, words of prophecy are often truth-telling, not necessarily fortune-telling.  Isaiah is telling them a truth they should know already.  The prophet speaks to them of the presence of God, so clear that even the earth knows the difference.  The prophet speaks to them of salvation.  We think about salvation as God bringing us forgiveness and eternal life – and it is, but there is more.  Amy Jill Levine, in her book Light of the World, says that “salvation means freedom or release from current circumstances: slavery, poverty, ill health, hunger, and thirst.”  Isaiah speaks of a Holy Way, along which even those whose sense of direction is terrible will not get lost. It will be a holy way to the Holy City of Jerusalem.  And it is not only a return to the place where God is, but also a return to relationship with God.  These are words of joy.  Can you hear the drumbeat of them?


A few years ago, Steve and I were youth counselors at our church.  With another couple, we had taken the youth to Spring Heights for a retreat.  At the end of the weekend, the vans were packed, and we were ready to leave, but we circled up in the field that is there and prayed together.  Steve led the prayer of thanksgiving for the weekend, and the as he did, the wind picked up and blew around us.  I don’t know how to explain it, but it felt like the holy spirit was blowing around and among us, circling us as we prayed together.  Have you ever had an experience where God was so close in the world around you, in the nature around you, that you just know it.  There is joy in that.  Isaiah was giving the exiled people – people in darkness who are doubting God’s love and power – doubting God’s presence with them - words to reassure them that God was there with them, and that God would lead them home. 

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Monday, January 13, 2020

Drumbeat of Joy, Part 1

This post, and several following, are from a sermon I preached the third week of Advent.

Year ago, friends of ours who attend our church were overjoyed to hear the news that their daughter was expecting a baby.  Their daughter, Megan, was young, married, living in North Carolina, and was starting a new family. 

Her pregnancy proceeded as normal, and ended with the birth of a new little girl, Diana.  Everyone was happy.  Until Megan noticed health problems.  She went back to the doctor, and after some work to diagnose the issue, it was determined that Megan had cancer.

She fought very hard, traveled for treatment in Washington State, and suffered through the disease and what was meant to cure it.  In the midst of all of this, when she and her family were starting to come to grips with the idea that this was a battle they might not win, she said to her mother, “Mom, it’s OK.  I will be OK.  No matter what happens – whether I live or whether I die, I will be OK.”

Megan did die, and even though her parents – our friends from church – grieved (of course they did), they still have a strength and optimistic nature around them that has lasted through all of it. They are amazing. 

This is the third week of advent, and traditionally, the theme of the third week is joy.  The title of this sermon is The Drumbeat of Joy.  So, why would I tell you a story about a new, young mother who lost her life at a very young age to cancer? Because, while it is not a happy story, it is a story of joy. 

If I right click the word happy in Word on my computer, the synonyms include the word joyful, but I don’t think that is correct. I don’t think happy and joy mean the same thing.  Happiness is based on circumstances.  A movie can have a happy ending if everything works out for the best - no one important dies, and the villain meets his just end.  Happy.  Joy is something else.  I think Megan had joy, even in the middle of dying, because of her relationship with God.  I think her parents are joyful – and you can look at them and see that they are – not because of a happy ending, but because of the presence of God in their lives. 

Think about those times in your life when the distance between you and God was small.  Sometimes we call those mountaintop experiences, or we call them a “thin place” – when the distance between us and God is so small that we can sense God’s presence.  There is joy in that. That can happen during times of happiness, but I’m sure you know that it can happen even in grief, or pain, or suffering.  God is there. 

Do you think that is part of what advent is about? If advent is about preparing for the return of Christ, then isn’t part of it preparing the way for God to reach us?

I consulted my music expert – our son, Josh – and asked him what a drum does in music.  He said it sets the tempo – the steady speed of the music.  And in some cases, drums can set the style of the music.  Today we’re going to read two scriptures from the lectionary, and I hope as you listen to them, you will hear, underneath the words, a drumbeat of joy – a steady rhythm of the presence of God underneath it all – that reaches out to you.

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Thursday, January 09, 2020

Perspectives: Guardrails


What guardrails in life help you in your fear? Are they a crutch? Or are they a necessary structure?

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Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Loving those with whom we disagree


Last week, a plan for the separation of the United Methodist Church was released.  This is one of many plans that will come before General Conference, but this one was interesting to the media.  In response, our Bishop released a letter.  

I encourage you to click the link and read the entire letter, but this quote is what I want to focus on today:

There is no doubt that we shine Christ’s light brighter, stronger, and more powerfully when we work together. It grieves my heart to think that we would give up on finding a way to move together – and yet I realize that we have forgotten or maybe never learned how to speak and work with one another in the midst of disagreement without attacking or putting down the neighbor who is different from ourselves – and that has resulted in great harm and damage to many of God’s children.

I watched the streaming of the last Special General Conference, I read posts on Facebook, and hear people's arguments.  I agree with her - "we have forgotten or maybe never learned how to speak and work with one another in the midst of disagreement."

And I also think this is not confined to the United Methodist Church.  I see it everywhere.  We often only know how to disagree - how to argue - and in doing so, we lose the humanity of the one in front of us.  

We are the Church, and Christ expects better of us than that.  Don't you think?  I can easily love the person who agrees with me, but can I love the person who disagrees with me? And what does that look like when our opinions are so different from each other? (and when I am obviously right?).  

We have to learn this, because until we do, we cannot change the world.  We should be the ones who are teaching others by how we act. We should be the ones shining this much needed light in the world.  If not us, then who?

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Tuesday, January 07, 2020

People vs Possessions


I was looking at Instagram today, and saw that a person I follow had posted images of a Bible study she was doing.  In it, the author wrote, "God has made a pronouncement: 'I will be your God; you will be my possession.'"

I bristled at the word possession.  I have always heard the quote as "I will be your God; you will be my people."  I wondered what translation the author had used.  I wondered what the reference was, so I goggled it.  Isn't that what every searching theologian does?  

I found this link.  It's the first one that appeared on the list.

Interestingly, this page lists many references to the same pronouncement.  In some of them, the word is people.  In others it is "treasured possession."  

So, it makes me wonder why the original author chose a version that uses the word possession (without the treasured part) instead of people. And why does it bother me?

To me, a possession is an object.  We bristle - we fight - against the idea that people are possessions.  It harks back to the idea of people owning other people.  Slavery.  Forced ownership.  

I don't think that is what these passages are about.  I think we are God's people.  God has chosen us, but not in a way that implies we have no choice in the matter.  And not in a way that implies that God sees us as objects.  God, I believe, sees us as children.  Beloved.  Not possessions.

What do you think?

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Monday, January 06, 2020

New Life


Inspired by Isaiah 35:1-10

The lifeless places, the dry places
Shall become full of life,
Bursting with gladness
Abundance.
Overflowing.
Like a crocus blooming in the spring
after a very long, cold winter,
singing its way with joy into life.
Glory and majesty shall be obvious,
And they shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.

Weakness shall be transformed to strength
Feebleness will become firm.
Those who are afraid will find courage.
Here is your God.
God is coming with passion and loyalty.
God is coming to bring life.
God is coming to save you.

Blindness will be replaced with wonderful colors
Deafness will be replaced with song.
Those who cannot walk will dance
and the speechless will preach.
The desert will overflow with waterfalls
And the wilderness will have a view of the ocean.
Hot sand will become a pool of clean, clear water,
and the thirsty will drink.
The land of jackals will be unrecognizable,
And weeds will be changed to food.

The dangerous highway will become Holy,
a safe place to travel,
where all of God's children will find a home,
and none shall be lost.
The predator shall not be found there,
And all of the Lord's people will return,
singing, dancing, 
Joy personified.
Heaven on earth.

Everlasting joy.
Sorrow and sighing will be gone,
And gladness will be forever.

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Thursday, December 05, 2019

Lay Servant Ministry Posts

For a few weeks now, I've been writing posts based on a class I taught in the Western District.  I thought it might be helpful to link those posts here, in a common place, for reference.

What is call? How do we respond? How does God respond to us?
What is ministry?
CLM Thoughts
Throughout my time as a Certified Lay Minister, I've written several blogposts that include thoughts about it.  You can find them here.

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