Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Romans 9: Part 3

Continuing the look at Romans 9:
Romans 9:19-21:  Who do you think you are to talk back to God? Does the clay say to the potter, “Why did you make me like this?”  Doesn’t the potter have the power over the clay to make one pot for special purposes and another for garbage from the same lump of clay?
I am crafty. I like to make things – I make cards out of paper and ink, I make scarves and socks out of yarn using sticks. I have even tried to make objects out of polymer clay. Nothing I’ve made out of polymer clay ever is exactly what I want it to be.

Does the clay say, “Hey! Why are you shaping me like that?” No. And I think Paul is telling us that we shouldn’t be questioning God’s fairness in his mercy. And yet, there is this mystery between the potter and the clay. The clay doesn’t always do what the potter desires – at least, my clay doesn’t.

It reminded me of Job. Yes, I don’t really like Job. I’ve made my peace with the book, as long as I ignore the first little bit. I do like the part at the end, when God enters into conversation with Job. God doesn’t explain why what has happened, happened. God instead says, “Where you then when I set the foundation of the earth?”

God is God and I am not.  God is the creator – the maker, and who are we to question the fairness of God’s mercy? And yet, we do. All the time. We judge who should receive mercy and who is not worthy. We judge ourselves; we judge others.

Is it a lack of trust, do you think? Do we trust God enough to actually be the judge?


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Romans 9: Part 2

Continuing with Romans 9:
Romans 9:10-15:   Not only that, but also Rebecca conceived children with one man, our ancestor Isaac. When they hadn’t been born yet and when they hadn’t yet done anything good or bad, it was shown that God’s purpose would continue because it was based on his choice. It wasn’t because of what was done but because of God’s call. This was said to her: The older child will be a slave to the younger one. As it is written, I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau. So what are we going to say? Isn’t this unfair on God’s part? Absolutely not! He says to Moses, I’ll have mercy on whomever I choose to have mercy, and I’ll show compassion to whomever I choose to show compassion.
Has it ever struck you that God’s choice of Jacob over Esau was unfair? I think we could think that. I’m betting Esau thought that!

But have you ever seen this story as an example of the idea that God’s mercy does not depend on what we do? God chose Jacob to carry forward his purpose even before Jacob was born. God’s choice did not depend – at all – on Jacob’s ability or Jacob’s actions or Esau’s sins. The writer of the student book I used in Sunday school said, “God’s mercy, thankfully, does not depend on anything we do; neither our desire nor our effort matter.”

What do you think of that? Is it fair? No, it absolutely is not fair. And yet it is the way it is. And, I think all of us can praise God for it. We really don’t want God to be fair. We don’t want what we earn. We desire mercy; we need it.


Monday, August 29, 2016

Romans 9: Part 1

I taught a Sunday school lesson a few weeks ago based on Romans 9. I find Paul difficult, and Romans is especially packed with thoughts that need dissected and studied. Usually when I teach a Sunday school lesson, after I read the curriculum, I can see the structure of the lesson I am going to teach. Not so with this passage from Romans.

Part of the problem was the way the lesson was written in the curriculum. When your co-worker is attending seminary, you have many (delightful) conversations about theology. Truly, it was a gift to me. Amid those discussions were thoughts from Amy-Jill Levine. Often, the way we have been teaching and learning about scripture has an anti-Semitic slant. Those discussions have made me sensitive to that concern, so I was avoiding some of the language in the curriculum: “They have rejected the very Christ who was born from their race and for their redemption….”

When I read that to my seminary co-worker, he said, “Haven’t we all rejected Christ?” Well, yes.

And that was the seed of my lesson.

Paul’s concern in Romans 9 is the idea that if God’s word can be rejected, then will it then be assumed that God has failed? That God’s word has failed?  “If God’s word can be defeated” by our rejection of it, “then what assurances do we have that God’s redemptive word, spoken in Christ, may not also finally fail for us?”

Quoting from the teacher’s book, “Our struggle as today’s Christians is how to accept fully the conclusion that God is true to his word, that God is faithful….”
Romans 9:6-9: But it’s not as though God’s word has failed. Not all who are descended from Israel are part of Israel. Not all of Abraham’s children are called Abraham’s descendants, but instead your descendants will be named through Isaac.  That means it isn’t the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children from the promise who are counted as descendants. The words in the promise were: A year from now I will return, and Sarah will have a son.
I have to admit that I never considered the idea that the rejection of God’s word would lead one to the idea that God had failed. I am much more willing to believe that I have failed. One of my failures, though, is failing to believe that God is a keeper of promises. I believe it, but I fail to act as if I do, at times.

And I am very willing to believe that my rebellion or my lack of faith impedes God’s work.


Friday, August 26, 2016

Logos: Luke 14:8-11

When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, "Give this person your place," and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, "Friend, move up higher"; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Luke 14:8-11)
Are you on Facebook? Do you notice all of the birthday wishes that are posted for someone's birthday? It's a cool thing, to be remembered by your friends, no doubt. I have a friend who always posts, "Have a happy birthday; you deserve it." I know she doesn't mean anything bad by it; she means it to be a compliment, but it always makes me cringe.

Please, God, don't give me what I deserve.

The heart of grace, I think, is that it is God's love, given to us when we don't deserve it. The problem comes when we start believing that we DO deserve it. That we have earned it.

I'm not advocating some kind of self-hate, where we think we are scum, worthy only to be wiped off on the ground like slime. We are beloved children of God, made worthy by God's actions toward us. We all are. The problem with thinking otherwise is that we begin to believe that we are worthy and someone else is not. If we earn grace; if we earn a higher place at the table, then we begin to believe we did it on our own. We begin to forget the grace of God. And we forget that grace is given to all; not just to us.

It's a matter of pride, isn't it? And pride is a sin that can separate us from God.

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

First Day of School

I was driving to work a few weeks ago, and I noticed a child standing on the side of the road. He was probably 9 or 10, maybe younger. His mother (I assume she was his mother) was standing with him. He was wearing clothes that looked new, and he had a backpack that looked like it still smelled like Target on his back. I think they were waiting for the bus to come down the road.

It was the first day of school for the year.

There are places in our state that have year-round school, and it has been discussed as an option on our county. I'm not here to talk about whether it is a good idea or not. I'm sure there are many pros and cons. That morning, though, was a demonstration of one of the pros. Here was this young man, and he was getting a fresh start. Everything that day would be new. New classroom, new teacher, new books, new schedule. Whatever he had done the previous year - whatever grades he had earned - whatever he had done that had resulted in disciplinary action, if anything, was erased. He was starting fresh.

There is grace in that, don't you think? Do we ever allow someone to have a fresh start? Do we forgive enough to prevent the past from influencing how we treat someone? Don't get me wrong - I think actions should have consequences. I'm not talking about allowing the one who abuses a spouse to continue to do so, or the person who embezzled to continue to work in the same company. But there are times when we could allow forgiveness to recreate the relationship we share with someone.

Do we ever give anyone a fresh start, like it's the first day of school?

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Of Cicadas and Music

Last June, as many United Methodists across the state were gathering in Buckhannon at West Virginia Wesleyan College for Annual Conference, it became immediately apparent to us that we were not the only ones there. The area had been invaded by cicadas.

Have you noticed how noisy cicadas can be? There must have been a large group of them in the tree next to the side door of the chapel, because when I would walk out that door, the sound was deafening - not just noisy, but cover your ears and wince loud. In other places on campus, you could hear them, all the time, but it became white noise that you could almost ignore.

It was interesting to me the different comments people made about the sounds. Some people called the cicada sound beautiful - like a choir. Other people (like me) would wince at the chapel side door. One person said the sound they made was exactly the right pitch to strike the chord of his tinitus. Same sound, heard differently by different people.

What made the difference? Location (they were certainly louder at some places on campus than others)? Experience? Did living with them all the time create an immunity to the sound for some people? Obviously physical limitations, such as ringing in the ears, caused a different reaction.  Did attitude (such as, "I am determined to like these creatures, so I will)? All of those responses are legitimate, even if they are different.

My next comment is going to be a big jump.

Do we have the same reaction to music? There are some who love classical, others who do not like it at all. There are some who wish we sang only modern music in worship; others who find it less than sacred. And all of those responses are legitimate.

The problem arises when we value one reaction to cicadas - I mean music - over other ones.  The problem comes when we try to legitimize one person's experience over another person's experience. The problem - or maybe it is an opportunity - arises because we all hear God differently, and that includes the way we experience God in music.

If you hear God in the sound of cicadas (and some people do), then I ought to amplify that for you (even though it sounds like crazy bugs to me). If you hear God in a particular kind of music...

Let's amplify God for each other.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016


Have you been watching the Olympics? We've seen some of the highlights. The athletes are incredible, aren't they? I could watch the majesty of Michael Phelps swimming over and over. When I saw Simone Biles' floor exercise, I gasped out loud. It was as if she flew. And the runner who stopped and helped a fellow athelete who had fallen? Unbelievable.

You know that they don't get to this level of skill overnight, right? What incredible perseverence they must have! An interesting fact I learned during these three weeks: Michael Phelps has been to four Olympics, but at the first one, he did not win a single medal. Think of that. Today, he can say he has more medals than any other Olympians - 28 at last count - but after that Olympics? None.

Did he quit? You know the answer to that question. No, he did not. It is a lesson for all of us.

I saw this video today, and I share it with you. Rise.


Monday, August 22, 2016

Baptized with Christ into Death

Years ago, Heather Murray Elkins was the presenter for Johnson Memorial UMC's second convocation. Her theme was "Descended into Hell," and she focused on that line from the Apostle's creed - a line that some of us include and some of us exclude.

Her teaching came to mind as my Sunday school class looked at Romans 6:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Fahter, so we to might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4)
Heather related the idea of Jesus descending into Hell to the idea that he came to our world, full of suffering and pain. In our baptism, we are called to follow Jesus into his death - into the hell of this world. The image that comes to mind when I think of this analogy (and it may be the one that Heather used) is Jesus being immersed into the water of baptism - buried into death - and rising again. We follow Christ into those waters as we find Christ in the lives of those who are suffering - those who are in pain. Christ came to serve those, and we are called to follow, into the suffering and death of others.

Think then of the flooding that happened in West Virginia in June. Consider all of those who have followed Christ into the suffering of others - into the mud and muck. Into the pain of others. They who are serving to provide flood relief are living examples, to me, of this idea of being baptism into death with Christ, and rising again with Christ.

It is our calling.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Logos: Jeremiah 1:4-8

Years (and years) ago, I did a series on the blog that I called Logos. Each week I would write a post based on one of the revised common lectionary readings for the week.  I'm going to revise that habit for a time, starting this week. I'll try to post a Logos post on Fridays.
Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD." (Jeremiah 1:4-8)
Ok, I admit it. I don't like to read the book of Jeremiah. Most of the time I find it to be difficult to follow, but as I read this passage, I was reminded of the idea that God has known us since "before I formed you in the womb."

What difference does it make in our lives if our creator thought us into being before we were even formed? What difference does it make if we were consecrated to God's service before our birth?

When God calls us to service and action, and we respond, "I don't know how to do that." or "I'm not good enough to carry out this mission" - what does God say to us? "Before you were born, I consecrated you."

Moses tried to change God's mind in one of my favorite Old Testament bible passages. God is telling Moses he is going to Egypt and is going to do the work to release God's people from slavery. Moses tries every trick in his book to get out of it. God listens to Moses, and answers his protests, but God never says, "Oh, OK, I must have chosen the wrong person."

We are called by God. The difference that makes is that the one who formed us into being, and knows every stitch of us, knows who we are, warts and all, has consecrated us, equipped us, and calls us. You think you are not worthy? God knows you, and has made you worthy of the call. God knew you before you were born.

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Thursday, August 18, 2016


Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
What is hope? If in suffering we find God, and from God we are given the grace of the ability to endure, and from endurance, our character is changed, and from that, we find hope - what is hope?

Hope is the certainty of the presence of God. Hope isn't a wish - it's not like, "I hope it doesn't rain." Hope is another word whose meaning has changed because of Christ. We have hope because "God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."  Christian hope is the certainty that God is with us, present and active in the world. And it is the certainty that God loves us. This is hope, and it comes as a gift from God.

Don't hear me wrong. No where in these four posts have I said that God brings us - causes our - suffering so that we will develop hope. I don't believe that; in fact, I think this passage says that isn't true. What is true is that we will all face suffering. What is true is that God will not allow us to suffer alone. God gives us the grace of God's presence, strength and hope.

That's really good news.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Through Perseverance, Character

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
Have you ever been in a situation of suffering when you finally - finally - ask for God's help? And when you do it, you wonder why you didn't ask earlier? I've been in that situation, and I think it is a lack of faith - not a lack of faith in God's ability, but a lack of faith that doesn't bring God to mind sooner. It's an attitude of not listening - not hearing God in the situation soon enough to listen earlier.

So what happens when we find God in suffering, and then recognize that our endurance is a gift from God? Our faith is strengthened. Our character is changed. We are recreated. We gain strength, and that strength is a gift of faith. Our faith is deepened and strengthened, and from that faith, a stronger character - a stronger nature - is born.

When we have witnessed God's action in our lives, we are more willing to believe, to listen, to hear and to obey. We are better people than we were before.

And that is good news, too.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Suffering Produces Endurance

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
What about the phrase, "suffering produces endurance"?

When we were talking about this in class, none of us like the word, "endurance." It sounds hard and as if one had to suffer long and hard to achieve it. In fact, one of the runners in our class said, "Endurance is what you need if you are going to have to suffer even longer." (paraphrased by me).

It doesn't sound like good news - the benefit of suffering is that we are able to suffer more?

But think back to the promise we have - God is with us. And think back to yesterday's post - in suffering, if we look, we will find God. So, in suffering, as we search for and find God, we find something else. We find endurance.

It isn't the kind of endurance that runners develop through more and longer running. It is endurance that is given to us; a gift of grace. We find endurance because it is God's endurance. We find the ability to make it through suffering, not on our own strength, but on God's strength.

In suffering, we find the presence of God, and in finding God, we find the grace of God's ability to carry us through. We find the God's endurance - not our own.

And that is good news.

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Glory in Suffering

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
In this post (The World is Changing), I talked about how Jesus has changed, and is changing, the world.  In the same Sunday school lesson, as she talked about the beginning of Romans 5, Terry talked about how Christ's actions have even changed the meanings of words.

For instance: "We boast in hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings"

What does is mean to glory in our sufferings? At first glance, it sounds like something we would never do? Glory in our sufferings? But consider people's views at that time. Suffering was a sign of disfavor. If something bad happened to you, it was a sign that God was angry or disappointed. It was punishment.

Here (and in other places in the Gospel and the Epistles) we see a different story. There is no promise that Christians will not meet sufferings; in fact, there are words that predict that they will. Instead, there is a promise that God will be with us. 

Not only that, but if suffering is not a punishment, then we are not called to shame for it. We can glory in it because God is in it (not causing it) with us.

What does this mean for us? There are those, even now, who would preach a Gospel that promises prosperity for those who believe. What does this say to those who suffer? That they do not have faith? That they should be ashamed of their suffering?

Paul and Christ call us to something different. We are called to find Christ in the midst of suffering - in the midst of our own suffering and the suffering of others. We are not called to shame, but to find glory.

What difference would that make? First, those of us who find shame in our suffering would be able to let that go. Secondly, if we search for God in the midst of suffering, we will find God, and we will realize that we are not alone. There is glory.

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Friday, August 12, 2016

The World is Changing

Our new pastor, Rev. Deane, taught Sunday school a few weeks ago. She said something that struck me - that I hadn't considered before.

The incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus changed the world. It brought the Kingdom of God to the earth. The world was changed.

And yet the world was not completely changed. Because of Christ, the world is changing. We are moving from what was to what will become, and all of creation groans with the change.

We are not there yet, and yet we are moving closer. It is so easy to say that the world is getting worse and worse, but as Christians, we can claim that the world is changing, and it is moving closer and closer to the Kingdom of God. Isn't there hope in that for all of us?

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Forgiveness and the Nature of God

Last Sunday I was praying the Lord's Prayer as part of our church's worship service. I try to not say it without thinking about it, so I was saying the words and running them through my mind, listening. I got to the "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

There are those I know who believe this means that God forgives us only as we forgive others. If we are not forgiving, then we will not be forgiven. That has always struck me as a wrong interpretation, but as I prayed it that day, I figured out why.

Being forgiven only as I am willing to forgive is the opposite of grace. Grace says that I am already forgiven. I am forgiven, as are you. God didn't wait to see how forgiving I can be. How forgiving I would be. God forgave me - forgives me - will forgive me - even for my unwillingness to forgive.

It isn't how God wants me to live - God doesn't want me to be unforgiving or unforgiven, but the one part of that equation that God has already dealt with is my state of forgiveness. I am forgiven.

To think that God would allow God's forgiveness to be measured by my actions rather than God's will is contrary to God's nature. God is love. God is grace. God is forgiving, and God's forgiveness will not be dribbled out in a stingy manner based only on my actions.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Open Wider

Do you think the post office realizes how uninviting this is? I know they are trying to direct traffic, but I was struck by how many "Do not come this way" signs are posted at this entrance.

Do you think we realize in church how many "Do not come this way" signs we have? They may not be actual paper signs, but they are still there.  

As part of my job, I visit churches across the Annual Conference. At one of them, there was a sign posted on a door - a door that was partway open.  The sign said, "Please keep this door open, just a little bit." I loved the sign. It was so polite and positive. Probably not coincidentally, there was a community dinner going on, and the Fellowship Hall was full of people.

How can we open our doors more? How can we make sure that the signs in our church - whether paper or not - are welcoming?


Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Yes, of the Gentiles also

Continuing with Romans 3:28-29:
For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also.
All are justified. Everyone. What does that mean for us? Well, I for one think it is good news. If all are justified, then so am I. 

In Sunday school, we talked about boundaries. Do we like to draw boundaries? Do we like to say, "God love me; I'm not so sure about you. Look at the way you live and act? God can't love you."

The truth is, God is the God of the Gentiles, also. God is the God of all, and that ought to change the way we treat people.

Pastor Terry ending the service today with a benediction that ended with, "We take ourselves to you and allow you to change us so that we can love the way you do." That's the good news. We are loved so that we will love the way God loves. God loves everyone. And it's a good thing, too, because we are the (metaphorical) gentiles.


Monday, August 08, 2016

In or Of

A couple of weeks ago in Sunday School, Jeff taught a lesson based on Romans 3:21-31.  Here is something very interesting (to me) that he pointed out. Look at Romans 3:22:

New Revised Standard Version: the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction
Common English BibleGod’s righteousness comes through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who have faith in him. There’s no distinction.

In the passage, Paul is writing that all have sinned and fall short, and that they are justified through the grace of God. Read those two versions closely. In the first, the righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ. In the second, it comes through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. One word - one preposition, and the whole meaning seems to change.

Are we justified through our faith in Jesus or through the faithfulness of Jesus? The Greek doesn't have the preposition, so it's been filled in by those who do the translation. 

I worry that when we say that we are saved by our faith in Jesus that we create a litmus test - that our salvation is based on something that WE do. Our justification comes from God - it is a gift of grace through the faithfulness of Christ. Our faith in Christ is a gift of prevenient grace - we only believe because we have been given faith by God. We can take no credit or boast in our faith. All is grace.

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Friday, August 05, 2016

Open Eyes - Still

I was walking through downtown Charleston during May, and I saw a bookcase out on the street (for those who know Charleston, it was outside of Taylor Books). For some reason, I stopped and snapped a picture with my iPhone. As I thought about that, I remembered that years ago, I would carry my camera around, and use it for a lens to look for God - to open my eyes to God's presence.

In May, I realized that I hadn't been doing that. So, I went onto my Facebook account, and posted that I was going to do a Month of Images: to open my eyes.  I did it, posting images every day for a month.

I did remind me to look around, and I'm still doing it, even though I don't post an image on Facebook every day - just every so often.

What discipline do you use to open your eyes to God?

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Thursday, August 04, 2016

Rumbling with the Bible

I want to take Brene Brown's concept of rumbling with the stories we tell ourselves (in Rising Strong) one step further. A couple of years ago, a pastor was teaching a Bible Toolbox class at church. One of the techniques was to look for the gaps in Bible stories. What is it we do not know when we read the story? What facts are left out? 

To take that even further, what about bible study? What "stories do we make up" about what we read, and what does that tell us about who WE are rather than what the original meaning was? What is God telling us about what the story means to us when we realize what we have used to fill in the gaps of the story?

Someone was teaching Sunday school a few weeks ago. He said (and he was quoting the resource he was using) that Mary's parents sent her away to visit her cousin Elizabeth because they were ashamed of her, and needed to get her away from their community. He said it as if it were a fact, but the Bible doesn't say that. I think that the writer of the resource assumed that because that would have been something that might have happened in his community in the past. We lay our experiences on the story.

When the rich man walks away, sad, after Jesus tells him to sell all he has and follow him, we assume he didn't do it. In fact, we state it as a fact that he walked away, leaving Jesus behind. It doesn't say that.

There are lots of examples of those kinds of gaps that we fill in with our own preconceptions and with what we have been taught, assuming it to be truth. 

We need to struggle with our interpretation of gaps. We need to find them, and examine them, and discover what it is about ourselves that leads us to fill in the gaps, JUST THAT WAY. That can tell us about ourselves.

More than that, I think looking at what we add to the stories can be a way we discover what God is trying to tell us through the stories. It can be a type of Bible study to open our minds to the gaps in the story and discover how we fill them in, and what God is telling us about the assumptions we make. We can learn more about ourselves, and more about God by rumbling with these stories.

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Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Rumbling with the Body of Christ

Yesterday I talked about a concept from the book Rising Strong - rumbling. This is the struggle we intentional make to understand the stories we tell ourselves - the ways we fill in the gaps of what we do not so, so much so that it has the danger of becoming our truths.

What stories do we make up in our lives together as the body of Christ? Do you see conflicts in church? A story - years (and years ago - why do so many of my stories start that way?), I came to church on a Saturday to help with Mrs. Clause's Tea Room - a fundraiser that the United Methodist Women were doing at the time. They had asked for volunteers to help in the kitchen, so I showed up. When I walked into the kitchen, one of the United Methodist Women, who did not know me, and therefore thought I was a "shopper" for the tea room from outside the church, said, "No one is supposed to be back here."

In my mind, she was rude. I am at heart an introvert, and it took a lot for me to show up to help, and truthfully, she hurt my feelings. She probably didn't say it in a rude one (although in my mind, I still say she did.). In the years since, she has become the example to me of what inhospitality means. Poor woman, to be beaten up by me in my mind to such a degree.

What was the real story? I'll never know, but I need to remember that I DON'T know the entire story. What I make up in my mind is not the truth.  Are we willing to struggle with the stories we're making up to see if they reflect more about who WE are than who someone else is? And if we do that, can we develop a more forgiving nature, and a stronger church?

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Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Rumbling with our stories

I am still working my way through the book Rising Strong - although I haven't made much progress lately.  Just one chapter. That's what happens when you find a novel that distracts you!  Anyway...

Have you ever noticed that we build stories around what we observe - what we experience? We are by nature storytellers, and when there are gaps in what we know, we fill them in. We build the rest of the story.

For example, say that you have an appointment with someone, and that person is running late - very late - and you decide that the other person doesn't respect you. You are low down on her list of priorities, and so you get angry with her. You build the story in your mind - maybe based on your own insecurities - and for some of us, this story becomes truth. There can be no other explanation. "If I were important enough in her life, she would be on time." The real truth is she had a flat tire, and she was dealing with that, and she forgot the appointment - not out of any disrespect, but just because life was too big at that moment.

We tell ourselves stories to fill in the gap.  The trick is to realize that, and to begin to try to understand the stories we tell. In that understanding comes truth about not only the world around us, but also truth about who we are. We come to understand ourselves better and to have a better understanding of the world around us. Brene Brown calls this struggle rumbling.


Monday, August 01, 2016


Steve and me at Spruce Knob
During our trip through part of West Virginia over Memorial Day weekend, we drove up to Spruce Knob. We had just visited Blackwater Falls, and decided to make the highest point in West Virginia our next stop.

I pulled up this site and read these directions. We were traveling from the North, so this is what we did:
From the north: Take Whitmer Road (CO-29 south from US-33 (one mile west of Harman) to Whitmer for 8.3 miles. From Whitmer continue south on Whitmer Road for 10.3 miles and turn left on Forest Road 1 for 2.5 miles to the campground and lake.
Sounds pretty easy, right? The road named "Forest Road 1" had me a little concerned, but that 2.5 miles seemed short when I read the directions.

I should say that this road was not what our GPS recommended. That's important to the story.

The road to Whitmer wasn't bad - two lane, but paved, and not bad.  It was after Whitmer that it got bad. The road was pretty much one lane, and it was what Steve called "mixed surface." I can tell you that not much of the surface was paved. It was a mix of gravel, dirt and holes. Along the road was what was called Disrupted Camping (I think that's what the signs said). There were horses, and large SUV-type cars along the road. We slowed down for the horses and got out of the way (into the ditches) for the SUVs.  It felt like 20 or 30 miles of traveling on "mixed surface" roads.

I could see on the map that there were other ways to get there. I told Steve, once we reached Spruce Knob (which was beautiful, foggy, rainy and cold, but worth the trip), that there had to be a better way. I didn't know what the other roads were like, but it was worth trying another way out.

The other way out was all paved, and about 1/3 (or less) the distance of the way in.

A couple (ok, a few) thoughts:

  1. If we had come in the way we went out, we would have thought the road was narrow and a little scary. After our post-Whitmer experience, we thought it was heaven. A lot of what we think is all perspective.
  2. Sometimes, if we are willing to chance it, there is a different way to do things.
  3. Sometimes it pays to listen to what others (like the GPS) are telling you. 
  4. There are some things that are worth the trip (like Spruce Knob).
  5. Most of the way in, we were fussing at West Virginia Tourism for not having a better way to get to the highest point in the state. You don't know everything - stop fussing until you are better informed.

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