Friday, December 19, 2014

The De-Churched

In a sermon last Sunday, Alan asked, "How have we blocked Christ from those who might be called the "de-churched?"

First of all, I've never heard of the term de-churched, but as he said it, I knew who he was talking about.  This isn't the unchurched.  This is not those who have never made church a part of their lives. This is those who used to attend; who maybe came regularly, or semi-regularly, and now just are a part at all, or very peripherally.  These are the people who know and now miss.  What happened?

He asks, "How have we blocked Christ from these people?"

It's an important question.  Have we been less than inclusive?  Less than hospitable?  Have we been judgmental or hypocritical?  Has worship been less than engaging?  Have we failed to be supportive? Have we kept Christ to ourselves and not shared?  What other ways have we blocked Christ's love and light?

It might not be a question to ask ourselves or fellow members of our churches.  I'm not sure we know the answer.  The people to ask are those who are no longer with us - those that we miss.  How can we do that?

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Into the Story

One of my best experiences of Bible Study has been my participation in a Disciple class.  I loved the in depth study of scripture and the commitment to read and work together to learn the message in the words.  Great experience.

One of the "take aways" from that class has been that we learned several tools to use to explore the depth of the Word.  One of them was to ask the question, "Which character in the story are you?"  In other words, can you place yourself in the story?

I thought of that this morning as I read from Hamilton's Not a Silent Night.  The chapter I'm reading is based on the story of Jesus in the Temple.  His parents leave town, and he isn't with them. Hamilton tells of a time that he and his wife accidentally left their 6 year old in a Disney Store at Disney World as they headed into the park.  The story ended well (thank goodness), but it gives him a special affinity to the story of Mary and Joseph rushing back to find Jesus.

How can you allow your experiences to pull you deeper into the story?  I wrote a day or two ago about the biases we bring to scripture.  It's true, so let's use them to move closer to God, all the time aware of what we are doing.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Not in a Vacuum

On Sunday evening, we talked about the idea that everyone interprets the Bible.  No one is able to just read it.  We all place our own biases on it when we read; it's impossible not to do that.  Knowing we do that is important, however.  If we are aware that our reading of the Bible is done through our selves - our biases and beliefs, our experiences and opinions - then we can watch for them.

Knowing that makes us more willing to listen to other people's thoughts concerning the scripture. How are they different from our own?  Could that difference somehow be related to our biases? What does the difference say to us?  To them?

In the same way, we interpret the world around us through our own biases.  Haven't you ever seen or heard a comment someone has made, and been certain you know what that person is talking about, only to find out that you were completely wrong?  Haven't you seen someone else do this?  I have. We need to be aware that our conclusions are not always - if ever - based in just fact.  Our thoughts and feelings are never formed in a vacuum.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Outside and Inside

Adam Hamilton, in his book Not a Silent Night, quotes Alexander Solzhenistsyn:
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.  But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.  And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
This is an interesting thought.  How much easier it would be if there were "good guys" and "bad guys."  You and I both know that is not the case.  Why do I sometimes act as if it is?  And I'm not the only one.

Do you read Facebook?  Do you see the posts people create that judge other people?  I have a friend who says he is judgmental of people who are judgmental.  Perhaps I'm doing that, but I see people blame Republicans, Democrats, Obama, Bush, Muslims, Christians, young people, old people - you name the group, and we will blame them for something.

We even blame God, with remarks like, "God needed another angel, so your child died."   Or "I know the cancer is bad, but it's all part of God's plan."

This is a rambling post, but my point is that sin is around us, but we sometimes downplay the idea that sin is inside us.  Maybe that realization would make us less judgmental?

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Office / Lab Tree

Do you have traditions in your Christmas celebration?  I imagine so - I know we do.  I thought I

would take a few posts in December to talk about particular traditions of mine and my families.  I'm doing this to keep in mind that traditions are a two-edged sword.  They can bring back memories - thoughts of family and friends - the joy of past celebrations.  They can also hinder us from change, so we need to be careful with them, and use them wisely.

First off, the tradition of my office Christmas tree.  (pictured in this post).

This tradition began when I was working in the endocrinology research lab with Mary Beth.  We put up a tree - a smaller one than this one - and decorated it with tiny ornaments, and a few lab supplies, I think (like a few pipet tips, maybe?).  We put it up each year, and then when Mary Beth moved to clinical research, I continued with the tree.  I moved the tree to our new lab in the new building, and then when I left research and came to the Foundation, the tree came with me.

It's not the same tree we first put up in the lab - that was over 25 years ago.  This one is bigger and somewhere along the line, I added lights.  (Lights are my favorite part of the tree).  Each year I add a few ornaments, and when I started working for the Church, some of the ornaments I added were words of faith, and nativities.  When I worked in the lab, there were people of many faiths, and I wanted my actions as a Christian to speak louder than the ornaments on a tree, so I kept the ornaments more secular - like Santa and the very appropriate mice.

This year when I put up the tree, as I hung up a small angel, I remembered that she had been on the original tree.  I thought about Mary Beth (Hi!) and our friendship.  As I hung up the little wooden nativity, I gave thanks for where I work now, and the opportunities that have come my way.  When I hung up the words joy, peace and hope, I remembered why I was putting up the tree.  And when I turned on the lights, I smiled, because that's my favorite part.


Friday, December 12, 2014

The Darkness

I read a portion of Adam Hamilton's book, Not a Silent Night, this morning.  The book is written to lead the reader through looking at the life of Christ through the eyes of Mary.  The chapter I'm reading right now is about the crucifixion - what would have been Mary's thoughts?

What caught my eye today is the connection between Christmas and crucifixion.  Adam writes that the first ornament his family hangs on their Christmas tree is a replica of a Roman spike that would have been used in a crucifixion.  They hang it close to the trunk of the tree; they know it is there, although visitors wouldn't notice it.

I wonder how it changes his family's experience of Christmas to have a spike hanging in their tree? How would it change yours and mine to remember the sacrifice and love offered by Christ?  Could being reminded of the "end of the story" be a way to step back from the gift giving and santas for even just a moment?

Christmas is joy and beauty, lights in the darkness and love on the air.  We don't really want it tainted by the sorrow and grief of Good Friday, do we?

I make cards, and one of the tricks in the art of card making is to include the shadows in the coloring, and to use a fine line black pen to darken the outlines.  These tricks make the colors pop and bring the art to life, instead of leaving it one dimensional.  Could the same idea be applied in this case?  Does remembering the grief and sorrow make the joy that much more purposeful, make the lights that much more brighter?  And does it clear away the clutter of the holiday so that we can see the Christ?

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Uneven Ground

In Sunday's sermon, Alan quoted Rachel Held Evans:
If paying attention to the prophets aligns our dreams with the dreams of God and drives us to prophetic action, then the cries of Isaiah today are a reminder that sometimes this means getting in the demolition business. Sometimes this means flattening the mountains of privilege and power, clearing away the obstructions of legalism, and leveling the uneven ground of racial, economic, and religious inequity.  After all, the sages have long told us that there is a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to mend and a time to rend, a time to build and a time to tear down.  
What is God calling you to tear down today in preparation for the coming of Christ?  Is there inequality in your church, in your community?  Are their barriers in your family that need to come down?  What about in your heart, and in your spirit - are there ideas or grudges that need to be uprooted and tossed away?

What needs to be destroyed so that God can enter in?  What places need to be made made level?

Rachel's blog post

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Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Giving it all away

Speaking of the Parable of the Two Lost Sons (which I did yesterday), have you ever considered calling it the Parable of the Prodigal Father?  As we were talking it about the parable on Sunday night, it struck me how shocking it is that when the younger son asks for "the share of the property that will belong to me," (Luke 15:12), that the father does it.  Would  you do that if you child demanded to receive his or her inheritance now?  It's a rather radical choice that the father makes.

The word prodigal means (per Google):
1.  spending money or resources freely and recklessly, wastefully extravagant
2.  having or giving something on a lavish scale

The younger son is wasteful, and we often call him prodigal, but the father is lavishly extravagant. Some might even call him wasteful.  Why does the father make that choice?

I think in this parable, Jesus is revealing what God is like.  God is lavishly extravagant.  God is prodigal.  God gives all that he is and has to his children.  We might call him unwise through our own eyes, because we do seem inclined to waste what we have been given.  Nevertheless, God makes that radical choice that the father in the parable makes.  God is prodigal.


Monday, December 08, 2014

All About God?

We're using a curriculum called Animate: Bible for our Sunday evening Bible study at church.  It's great - I would recommend it.

Last night, Bishop Willimon, in his video, gave five guidelines for helping us to interpret the Bible.  The first one was "The bible is all about God."

My goal isn't to argue with a Bishop, but do you think that is true?

Don't get me wrong; I do believe the Bible is about God. The Bible reveals to us who God is, what God is like, God's expectations for how we should live our lives, how God is present with God's people.  It is the revelation of God for us.  It shows us how God see the world and his creation.  The Bible is about God.

It's the "all" that is tripping me up.  Is everything in it about God?  Consider the parable of the two lost sons.  In it we have a beautiful image of the father - and through that, I believe, much of God's nature is revealed.  Through the parable, though, I think that Jesus is not only revealed what God is like to us, but also what we are like.  In the parable, we can find ourselves.  Some of that parable is about us.  Jesus is saying, "Are you like the first son, squandering what you have demanded to be given, and then coming back in repentance?  Or are you like the second son, resentful of the love and grace shown the first son?"

The Bible is about God, but in it, we also find out about ourselves.  I might be missing Bishop Willimon's point, but I just don't see that it is ALL about God.

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Friday, December 05, 2014

Two views

Last Sunday we celebrated communion at our church.  Plans became scrambled, however, and no bread was available for the early service.  An industrious volunteer and the associate pastor found the only bread in the church - croissants.  Picture for a moment the pastor of the church breaking the bread - but it was a tiny, little croissant.  It was just a little hilarious looking.

As I thought about that this morning, I see two ways to take the metaphor.

First, the image of manna comes to mind.  God provides what is needed.  We didn't have bread, but the determination to celebrate communion lead two people to find the bread, whatever the bread might be.  We should be that determined to do God's work.

The other image that comes to mind, in complete opposition to the first, is that sometimes we reduce God to something small and a tiny bit hilarious.  It isn't God's nature, but we are too small to imagine how big God can be.  We develop a model of a stingy God, and we act as if we have to grudingly give God away in small, little pieces.

Which way appeals to you?  Which model do you put into place?


Thursday, December 04, 2014

Seeing Jesus

I just started reading Adam Hamilton's book, Not a Silent Night.  The premise of the book is to look at Jesus through Mary's (his mother's) eyes.
I started me thinking.  We all have a way we look at Jesus.  Do we ever wonder what Jesus looks like to someone else?

  • To some, does he seem to be a myth?
  • A fairy tale, with an ultimately happy ending?
  • Do some see him as judgmental, as he counts sheep and goats?
  • Is he a lawyer, defending or prosecuting us to God?
  • Is he sweet, gentle and mild, not prone to times of anger?
  • Or is it the Jesus of the temple, turning over stalls in anger that occupies some people's minds?
  • Is Jesus meaningless?
  • Mysterious?
  • Mystical?
  • Miraculous?
  • Is he an ancient prophet to some, who has no bearing on our times?
  • Is he absent?

How do other people see Jesus?  How do you see Jesus?  Is it time to share your witness with others? How has God changed your life?  Would someone else benefit from seeing Jesus through your eyes?


Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Posting again

I has been many weeks since I posted last.  I think it is the longest amount of time that I have gone without posting since I started the blog.  I didn't mean to take a break; one day I just discovered that I hadn't posted in over a week, and I decided to continue the break.  As I looked at the calendar, I saw that the 9th Anniversary of the blog would be November 30, so I chose that as the day that would be the end of the break.

I planned to post yesterday, but got too busy - I am out of the habit.

So as the liturgical year begins again, and Advent rolls into our view, I am back to posting.  For me it has always been necessary to consider it a discipline - for so many years it was a daily task.  This past year I have made it a weekend day daily task, and that is the rhythm that feels right now, as well.

Much has changed in 9 years.  My children are now adults (or so their age decrees them to be!).  I have a new and completely different career, and I love it.  In the past 9 years my husband lost his mother and his cousin, but everyone else is well.  The world continues to spin - some things get better, others don't, but we live each day, hoping to devote what we do to God.

Blessings on your day, and I'll be back tomorrow.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Can you see it?

Today I was once again reading from Kalas' book, I bought a House on Gratitude Street.  In the chapter I read, he spoke of a sermon he heard that had the theme of "If you can see it, you can have it."  The scriptural basis of the sermon was the story of Elijah and Elisha.
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.’ Elisha said, ‘Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.’ He responded, ‘You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.  (2 Kings 2:9-10)
Do you ever have the experience of sitting in a church meeting and feeling the weight of dread decend?  People talk about the lack of children in the service, the fact that fewer people are members of the church, the idea that people don't want to volunteer, and the list goes on and on.

I don't think we can see it.  I think we are so caught up in the negatives that we can't see a vital, healthy church.  Do we have the hope that we can be what God calls us to be?

If we can't see it, we can't have it.

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Thursday, October 09, 2014

Numbering our days

I read a chapter from J. Ellsworth Kalas' book I Bought a House on Gratitude Street this morning. The chapter concerned numbering your days.

The picture in the post today is a sunrise image I snapped with my iPhone yesterday morning.  It doesn't do justice to what I was seeing which was beautiful.  This sunrise followed a lunar eclipse (6:25am the same morning).  I caught just the tail end of the eclipse.

My question to you today is this:  how do we number our days?  Consider that.

I think the answer is multi-dimensional, but I propose that one way we do it is to slow down and pay attention.  See what God is doing around you, whether it is a sunrise or an eclipse.  It might be that God is at work in the grumpy person next to you in line or the child with the sticky face who is screaming in the restaurant. Where is God at work?  How can we get involved in that?