I love the big trees in our yard – they provide lots of shade in the summer, but they also provide lots of leaves in the fall.
Lots of leaves.
At least it gives me a chance to make a yearly leaf maze!
The latest Rolling Stone cover has generated a lot of controversy. Critics are saying that it glamorizes Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and gives him “rock star treatment.” Whether it does or not, I think something else is also at work here. Let’s call it “The Myth of the Monster.”
It goes something like this. There are monsters in the world today. Monsters are those people who cause pain and suffering to such a degree that we can’t imagine them having anything in common with normal people like us. It’s helpful for us to imagine the Monsters as different in every possible way. Monsters are pure evil and if they are completely foreign to us (it helps if this is literal as well as figurative) then we can imagine ourselves as pretty much blameless concerning the problems of the world today.
So when this happens:
It’s a little discomforting.
When a young man who looks like the friend of our teenage son, or one of the kids at our church youth group turns out to be responsible for terror, pain, and killing on a mass scale then The Myth of the Monster begins to crumble. When friends and classmates, including the nephew of NPR’s Robin Young of Tsarnaev are shocked that he could do something like this, then we start to wonder if the world is so easily divided into normal and good on one side, and different and depraved on the other.
One of the reasons I am a Christian and a Presbyterian is because those traditions teach me that The Myth of the Monster is a lie. I am not entirely good. There are hurtful and destructive things that I have done in the past and will do in the future. The same can be said for every person on the planet. This isn’t to say the we are all bombers just waiting to happen, but we need to acknowledge that our actions (and inaction) are often not as pure and good as we’d like to believe.
The flip side of this is what the Rolling Stone cover confronts us with: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was not entirely evil. There were people in his life who he loved and who loved him. He had friends who thought he was fun to be around, a good listener and a caring person. He did things and acted in ways that would look perfectly normal from most of our teenage children.
In the big picture the cover of Rolling Stone doesn’t really matter, although I do understand why it upsets some people. But maybe for a moment it can help us realize that labeling and/or dismissing Tsarnaev as an incomprehensible monster also conveniently frees us from confronting the good and the bad in our own lives.
“Dear Mister Rogers, Please say when you are feeding your fish, because I worry about them. I can’t see if you are feeding them, so please say you are feeding them out loud.
Katie, age 5 (Father’s note, Katie is blind, and she does cry if you don’t say you have fed the fish.)”
Mr. Rogers: “Since hearing from Katie, I’ve tried to remember to mention out loud those times that I’m feeding the fish. Over the years, I’ve learned so much from children and their families. I like to think that we’ve all grown together.”
Children who are blind probably did not make up a large number of Mr. Rogers’ viewers, but he changed a small part of his show just for them, just for Katie.
Most of the churches in my tradition are filled with people who know church-world. We don’t get a lot of visitors and people unfamiliar with how we do things, and so we forget that Katie is sitting in the pews some Sundays and doesn’t experience the morning the same way we do. Katie:
We don’t do these things to purposely exclude people, but at times that’s what happens. I pray that we can learn from Mr. Rogers who was willing to learn from Katie.
“Over the years, I’ve learned so much from children and their families. I like to think that we’ve all grown together.”
For the first time in 600 years, the pope is resigning.
I’m not really familiar with the work of Pope Benedict, but I admire this decision. He has chosen to break tradition and step out of the spotlight in order to seek what he feels is best for his church and his faith. This is a gift, an act of sacrifice and graciousness, and it’s something that more of us in the church should seek to emulate.
It’s biblical teaching (as well as common sense) that everybody has different skills and gifts, which means that we aren’t all suited for every job in the church. Wouldn’t it make everyone’s life easier if each of us could currently look at what we are doing (or being asked to do) and discern if we are suited for that role? If we aren’t, then we should follow Pope Benedict’s lead and say, “I can’t do this like I should, someone else should be doing it instead.”
This applies to the member who wants to be a ruling elder because it’s an honored authority position even though he has no gifts for leadership. And then there’s the wonderful saint of the church who has been teaching 3rd grade Sunday School for 30 years even though her love for it gave out ten years ago, but she’s worried that no one else will step up if she doesn’t volunteer.
Let’s not forget those ministers straight out of seminary who feel they have to prove their worth ten times over, and so they say ‘yes’ to everything that’s asked of them and every opportunity that presents itself. And how about the ministers at the end of their careers who are afraid to admit to themselves that they don’t have the drive for transformation or the connection with members (especially younger) that they used to, but they figure hanging on in their current position until retirement isn’t really hurting the church that much.
Everybody is talented and gifted, but each in our own way, so we need to be discerning where, and where not to, best use our gifts.
God bless you Pope Benedict.
Yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of this speech. The words of it are shocking, outrageous and, to use a theological word, sinful.
There’s a question that came into my mind when I first heard this clip on NPR yesterday morning. It’s still haunting me today, and so I share it with you.
What words are we in the church saying today that fifty years from now will be viewed as shocking, outrageous and sinful?
From the NY Post:
“Ping-pong prodigy Estee Ackerman, an 11-year-old from Long Island, was disqualified from her final event at the 2012 US National Table Tennis Championships in Las Vegas last Dec. 21 when her match fell on the Jewish holy day of rest and she chose not to play.”
It’s not ‘Chariots of Fire,’ but Ackerman made a sacrifice for her faith. The Bible is full of stories, examples, directives, and teachings that call Christians to sacrifice, to give beyond what is comfortable, to refrain from conduct or speech that could harm ourselves or others.
I believe that being a follower of Jesus should cause me to make choices that I wouldn’t make otherwise, but I wonder how true this is for most Christians, myself included. If my faith doesn’t cause me to live my life differently beyond going to church, then am I really following the Christian faith, or a religion of my own making that I’ve wrapped in a Christian label?
I’ve read one study that states that conservative and liberal Christians have more in common with their non-religious political counterparts than they do with each other.
What do you think? Does Christianity shape who we are and what we do? Or do we use it to confirm the lifestyle choices we would have made anyway? What choices or decisions in your life would be different if you weren’t a Christian?
This is my office on Wednesdays:
I’m writing this as I sit in a Barnes and Noble in north Indianapolis. This is my office for the afternoon as I work on my sermon, answer emails, do some reflective and creative thinking, and catch up on some reading. I’m also observing a group of four college students looking at a total of eight screens (four laptops and four smart phones). At the same time I’m eavesdropping on a couple of loud talkers who have been conversing for the last two hours about cancer, the Mayan calendar, apocalypse, work, and what does it mean to be selfish. I also had a fun conversation about Halloween with Robert the barista (who is on a first name basis with many of the customers here).
Other places that I have been on my day out include: The public library, walking the business and retail streets downtown as well as the blocks that are populated by people who can’t afford to shop at the downtown stores, Butler University, Christian Theological Seminary, downtown Carmel (a fast growing, designer suburb), and Broad Ripple (a trendy/artsy district). Our office administrator suggested that I spend a day riding the city bus system, which is a great idea and high on my list to do.
Part of my extroversion mean that I love to be around people. It stimulates my thinking to work in an environment where I get to observe and talk to all sorts of folks. It also serves a very important purpose in my ministry.
I’ve developed this ritual that I do when I go to lunch. After ordering I don’t get out my phone, my netbook, or my e-book reader. Instead, I purposely sit there and glance around at the other people in the restaurant and I ask myself, “What does our church have to offer you?” Week after week I come up with different answers, based on my imprecise assessment of who they are and what may be going on in their life.
While the answers differ for each person, they fall into one general category. What does our church have to offer you? A lot…but we probably need to do a better job of offering it.
Our church has a lot to offer:
But I don’t think that these are the first things that come to many people’s minds when they think of church. And I want to do my part to change that.
So on Wednesdays you will find me out and about. I’ll be exploring, listening, talking, thinking, writing, observing, and asking “What does our church have to offer you?”
A reminder for the church:
Three things happened in this video:
I’ve seen this happen time and time again in the churches I’ve served. The struggles are different, but the care and support has been the same. It may be divorce, death of a loved one, addiction, sickness, or job loss, but each time there’s been one person who has taken the first step to notice someone struggling and decided that they needed to be the one who would do something to help. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen times in the church where someone’s struggles go unnoticed, or if they are noticed no one is quite sure what to do, so they don’t do anything.
As I’m beginning as Co-Pastor of my new church, I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about why the church exists. I’m currently resonating with three purposes articulated well by Bill Easum.
The last purpose is what the video above illustrates. The church should be a community where members take direct responsibility for the well-being and care of other members. Easum uses Jesus’ directive to Peter in John 21 as a model. In response to Peter’s declaration of love for Jesus, Jesus tells him three times to, “Feed my sheep.” Easum points out that it wasn’t the shepherd’s job to directly feed the sheep in 1st century Israel, instead the shepherd guided them in such a way that the flock could feed and take care of themselves.
If any church is to live into our call to care and support one another, it’s going to take the whole flock. Each member needs to be responsible for noticing the struggles of others and doing something about it. The Pastor cannot be the only person, or even the primary person, who can offer care and support to members in need. Members need to be making hospital visits, bringing communion to those who are homebound, asking others to become involved in caring, and making contact (in and outside of church) with visitors.
If you are part of a church I encourage you to be responsible for the care of those you around you, and create (or continue) a community like the one that Daniel Cui had.
“Religion is the outcome neither of the fear of death, nor of the fear of God. It answers a deep need in man. It is neither a metaphysic, nor a morality, but above all and essentially an intuition and a feeling. … Dogmas are not, properly speaking, part of religion: rather it is that they are derived from it. Religion is the miracle of direct relationship with the infinite; and dogmas are the reflection of this miracle. Similarly belief in God, and in personal immortality, are not necessarily a part of religion; one can conceive of a religion without God, and it would be pure contemplation of the universe; the desire for personal immortality seems rather to show a lack of religion, since religion assumes a desire to lose oneself in the infinite, rather than to preserve one’s own finite self.” Friedrich Schleiermacher
I didn’t read any Schleiermacher in seminary, but maybe I should have. When I read this quote of his in Diana Butler Bass’s Christianity After Religion (which is a must-read for anyone who care about the future of churches), I felt like I had found someone who “gets” me.
I’ve never had a burning bush encounter with God. Many people can point to a moment in their life when they had a tangible feeling of God’s presence with them, but that’s not me. I’m a pretty Enlightenment-minded, rationale, logical kind of guy. I don’t believe in ghosts, Atlantis, Bigfoot, government conspiracies to hide aliens, or honest politicians. I like empirical evidence.
There are times when logically, I don’t understand how I became and remain a Christian, let alone a Christian minister. The Vulcan part of me realizes that I have no evidence or proof of God. The practical side of me says that my life could be easier without my faith – I would have more money, time and energy to spend on myself and my family rather than on pesky stuff like ‘loving your neighbor’ and taking care of ‘the least of these.’
By several different standards that I use in my life Christianity just doesn’t make sense to me.
Yet, here I am.
This is where the Schleiermacher quote comes in, because when you press me to tell you why I’m a Christian, then I will say that at some deep level inside me it just feels right. Not in an emotional, touchy-feely sort of way, but in an intuitive “this is how the world is” sort of way. And even in the face of some pretty deep theological and existential crises, that intuitive feeling has not left me.
This is how my faith happens. Thanks for helping me articulate it, Freddy.
I wasn’t around when “I Love Lucy” originally aired but I’m still familiar with this scene:
I wonder if this feels familiar to many ministers and church volunteers?
My wife and I are finishing our second month as co-pastors at our new church, and we are realizing that the people of our church are an ambitious group! They’ve planned and organized to do many different programs, worship services, classes, and other events. There are so many good ideas and traditions here.
In fact, there are too many good ideas and traditions here.
At least too many for the amount of people that we have ready and willing to make them happen. Our current organizational structure takes about ninety people to run. That also happens to be the number of people we have in church on a typical Sunday. In a church of our size we aren’t going to get ninety people to commit to be elders, deacons or committee members.
So if we don’t make adjustments, then we are going to be like Lucy and her friend and we aren’t going to be able to do the job we’ve been asked to do. We might be able to keep up appearances for a while, but in the end nobody is going to want the box of chocolates that went through our line.
So how do we improve? How do we make a better box of chocolates?
We slow down. We do less, but we do it better. We decide what are the most important things that we do, and we commit to doing them with a high level of quality. Even if that means we have to stop doing some of the things we do now.
We won’t be able to pack as many boxes of chocolate, but the ones we do pack, will be ones that we will be proud to offer to anyone and everyone.