June 19th, 2018
One Strand at a Time
Since the inauguration I have felt much of what other's have already articulated: anxious, nauseous, fearful, and depressed. I want to curl up on my sofa with a remote and binge watch every romantic comedy Netflix has to offer. It may not be everyone's idea of a great escape, but I want something to take me away from the horrors of the daily political news.
And I recognize this feeling; not from previous experience, but by description. In one of the required pastoral care classes I took in seminary, the professor described a hypothetical woman who may come into my hypothetical pastor's office someday- and she will be feeling completely overwhelmed by whatever her situation is. The situation has taken her focus, her energy, and her hope. (Exactly!)
The professor continued: "For this woman, it will be as if a pot of spaghetti has exploded all over the kitchen. She will not be able to see a solution, as she is too focused on the enormity of the mess. There are noodles all over the walls for god's sake! Your job as a pastoral counselor, is to show her how to carefully clean up the kitchen; and you do it by helping her take down one strand of spaghetti at a time."
This metaphor makes so much sense in our current political climate, with a minor modification (thank GOD!). I am not standing in the kitchen by myself! WE are the ones standing in the center of that room staring at the spaghetti on the walls- at the very least, we have each other.
I know this doesn't offer much comfort. Nor does it lessen the enormity of the problem. On the contrary, it seems a new pot explodes every day, adding new pasta layers, rotini, fussili, and worst of all pastina (that small sticky noodle that dries like concrete) threatening to cover all we can see. However...
Before we allow ourselves to shut down or implode (both are possible) take a breath. Then take another breath. When your heart rate begins to normalize again, take the hand of the person next to you, and go after just one strand of spaghetti. If each of us tackles just one small piece, specifically the strand closest to our hearts, we can have a shot at seeing something we recognize as our kitchen once again. We all live here together; No one has the burden of cleaning up this mess alone.
In just one week, our country will choose it's next president. We are polarized. I don't know of anyone who is not either worried, fearful, or depressed. Both the republican and democratic campaigns are saturated with negative press; and there is no short supply of mud to sling on either side. Social media is flooded with posts- people using some of the most disparaging language ever witnessed in a presidential campaign.
Sadly, we have come to expect this type of behavior from our candidates. We have grown far from political campaigns where candidates held an air of mutual respect for one another; where a presidential candidate acted presidential; strong on the issues yet be an ambassador of good will and integrity; a role model for the rest of us to look up to, work with, pray for. It seems that type of campaign has become at best, an idealistic notion.
However, as Christians, we should not accept this type of behavior from ourselves. It's so easy to get swept up in the drama of social media, or the frenzy created by news networks, or even the rush brought on by a comedy skit. It's easy to start thinking like everyone else, buying into the fear and worry and depression surrounding this election; speaking words that seek to kill and destroy rather than ones that bring life. It's easy to scroll through the posts on social media and push send, even when not totally sure of the facts. It's easy to be so passionate about our own candidate that we share things that are hurtful to someone's soul.
But as Christians, we don't do "easy." As Christians we profess a better way; a way of truth, of light, of hope. We profess to be peace-makers, justice-lovers, mercy-doers... we reach for the moral high ground on the issues. We strive to do what's fair and equitable, and to live and give with compassion. Have we taken a break from those things during election season?
When did we stop loving our neighbor? How have we come to justify speaking/posting hateful words about anyone, even in the name of "protection" or "warning?" Who said it was alright to break relationships with people who think differently that we do and to stop working toward reconciliation in our world?
I know it can be scary, but don't let worry and strife get in the way of doing what God has called us to. We are called to act in love... period. "God has not given us a spirit of cowardice, but of power, and of love, and of self-discipline."* We are not called to fear, or display fear mongering, or running around saying 'the sky is falling.' And we are not called to cut down the character of another.
We are children of Light. We are to walk in the Light. And we are to live in the Light.
God's goodness is within you... let your Light, the Light of Christ, shine in the darkness.
*2 Tim 1:7
This week the Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional as it is a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment. YES! Finally! For the LGBTQ community and their allies, this is a day of joy, of liberation, of justice! I couldn't be happier. Now the hard part...
While my congregation celebrates, (and it will be a mighty big celebration!) many of our Christian brothers and sisters are feeling angry, betrayed and fearful. There is a widening divide in the Church.
Not that there hasn't always been division in the Body of Christ. Disciples argued about theological issues from the beginning, so to hope that we will all agree 2000+ years later seems a bit idealistic. However, we are to be united as one body- Christ's hands and feet on earth.
So, in light of this momentous day, can we, as the "freed" possibly see a way to help begin the healing?
I know that's a lot to ask. And my first thought, when it comes to reaching out to the ones who have done so much to keep the LGBTQ oppressed is to cringe. Why should we? Can't we gloat a little?
I remember Paul and Silas in jail- (Acts 16) An earthquake shook them to freedom, yet once freed, they didn't run from their oppressor. Instead, they ministered to the jailer and even let him wash their wounds. (The same wounds he probably inflicted upon them.) They stayed until they could bring healing to the community
Those in the LGBTQ community have also been wounded, beaten, and sat in the stocks of injustice. Today, one small earthquake shook some of the chains loose. (Although there is still so far to go...) Yet, how do we as Christians respond after joy? How do we reach out, especially to the Christians who would have happily kept same sex folks in the stocks or injustice? In the core of their beings, many of the defenders of DOMA believe that marriage, in God's eyes is ONLY between a man and a woman; so it rubs them the wrong way theologically. How do we begin a non-arrogant, non-gloating (if that's a word) and even loving dialogue that brings about healing to all?
2 Corinthians 5:18 "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Although I may not want to hear it, reconciliation is what we are supposed to be doing... that is the work we are to be about. The task is on all of us. Can we reach out to build bridges using love and respect?
Just food for thought...
Do We Serve a God Who "Tests?"
There is a section of this website that is designated for questions, called "Ask Me." From time to time, questions come up that could have many different answers. I thought it might be fun to share one with you, especially as this one is common to all of us. How would you have answered this reader's question...
"As a minister of pastoral care, I hear all the time "I know that
God never gives me more than I can handle". Well, God may not, but life sure does. How do you deal with 1 Cor 10:13 to say that to someone? Does the Bible really mean to say that God is the giver of all things and does not give more than we can handle? Is the "testing" the temptation to lose faith in the face of calamity? "
Great question. And you are so right- life gives us way more than we can handle. I discussed it with my friend who is also a pastor and she said "you have to turn over to God what is more than you can handle." (Meaning, the stuff we can't handle, we are supposed to let God handle.) Yes! Yet, while I agree that God willingly takes what we allow God to "take" for us, and that we never have to carry our burden alone, it's still tough to hear those words in the midst of adversity. We are not very good at "casting our burdens upon the Lord." For some reason it makes us feel weak; like we can't handle it on our own- that we should be able to deal with everything life gives us and never have to be "wimpy" enough to turn to God...
"When I was a chaplain, I heard similar words from people. My response was always, "what do you think God is giving you in this?" If we feel like God is the giver of all things, bad and good, and life is just one big test to see how well we fare, then we erase our role in being agents of peace and "friends" of God, as Jesus called us.
Friends don't test one another's friendship. Friends don't cause calamity on one another to see if they will be faithful. Instead, they walk with one another and stick it out through the tough times.
God never told us we won't suffer; God only promised to be with us through the suffering.
Temptation to doubt is normal. Temptation to curse God is normal. God knows us inside and out- and knows our hearts better than we do ourselves. And God is big enough, and compassionate enough to let us shake our tiny dust fists in the air at God and still not get angry at us.
The model we see in Jesus "testing" people was never one of causing calamity on folks. It
was instead challenging (daring) them to trust God to be more loving and more steadfast than they originally thought. One way we get to model that love is just by being there for one another.
You have such a tough job. It's hard not to try to fill in the blanks for people and tell them "why" they are going through such pain. But please know that by being there with them, and allowing God to work through you by providing a holy presence to that suffering person, you are a physical reminder of the promise of God to never leave or forsake them. There is not greater call than the one you have answered. Be blessed."
That's my response.... how would you have answered? Do we serve a "testing" God? Just food for thought...
Last Sunday the sign language choir led the congregation in worship. They signed the song "Crucified Arose." The members of this group had worked over several weeks to learn the ASL signs, and were doing a wonderful job. I sat in the front row, watching the group minister to our congregation and I let my focus wander from one choir member to the next. And then it dawned on me. All the members of the sign language choir are also part of the LGBTQ community at our church.
I was overcome with emotion. "I love this place..." I thought. "The carpet of welcome and acceptance is plush and wide at FBC Moorestown."
I remembered a time in my not too distant past that I was connected to a church who felt very differently about the LGBTQ community. In that setting, being Queer was something to be overcome. A condition. An illness. A lifestyle choice. A sin. So while I celebrated the extravagant acceptance of our congregation, I wept for the wider Church; and for those who we still shut out of our sanctuaries.
I thought about the conversation I had just last week with a pastor who was in a quandry about what to do with the 'very nice gay couple' who have been attending his church, now that one of them wants to be baptized. The pastor was truly struggling.
Theolgically, he didn't feel he could perform the baptism, unless the man admitted that he was trying to "work on his sinful lifestyle." But, his strong sense of pastoral care and a deep desire not to hurt this couple had him seeking help from our clergy group.
While I wanted to be able to talk him into doing "the right thing" I realized that he was doing exactly what we all hope for when up against a theological wall. When we find ourselves face to face with brick- a rock solid teaching or belief that we have been taught to believe is "right," yet, in order to uphold it when real people are involved, means shutting someone out of the kingdom. That to hang on to that belief means hurting people- and we find ourselves spewing out teachings of exclusiveness and conditional acceptance, the likes of which none of us like to admit we ascribe. When faced with that type of wall, the hope is that we ask why. Why have we hit a wall- what lies beyond it- and why have we put it up around God? The hope is that we don't just accept it for what it is... a big brick wall... but that we seek understanding; from God, from scripture, and from others we trust. (Even if and especially if, they have a different view than ours.)
So, as I watched our wonderful LGBTQ Sign Language Choir, I thought about all of the theological walls that had to come down in this community for this place to become what it is today. I thought about facing some of those walls in my own journey of faith. I thought about the walls that still have to come down, here and around the world in order for us to live into the Kingdom of God.
Just food for thought...
Mega Millions Mania!
Yesterday the Mega Millions Jackpot was at a record high- somewhere in the neighborhood of $650,000,000. Lines to buy lottery tickets stretched out the doors of the local Shop Rite and around the building! The scene was similar all around the country. It was a frenzy! There was no escaping the hot topic of conversation; everyone was talking about it from newscasters to my walking partners: "What would you do with 600 MILLION DOLLARS?"
Translation: What would you do if you could do whatever you wanted?
This is a big question! After we go through the list of 'things we would do:" Pay off debt, buy a bigger house(s), or a car(s) or a corporation, or an island... (come on, you've thought of escaping to your own private island!) And after we go through the list of who we would chose to help (or not) and charities we would choose to fund (or not)... maybe feed some starving kids, or do something to help the homeless, or dig a bunch of wells for people in Africa... pick your possibilities...
What would you do if you could do anything you wanted?
I suspect that for most folks, there are very few negative things on those lists of "things." I can't envision many of us deciding to buy weapons of mass destruction or 20 boxes of machine guns with our mega millions. And while most of us do long for 'world peace' at some level, we are more concerned with individual freedom. We want to have the means to be able to live out our dreams. We want to be the people we hoped we would grow up to be when we were young and perceived the world as an open door; people who could change the world! And although we may no longer want to become astronauts, or rock stars, or ballerinas, we do yearn for the feeling of "you can do anything" that those dreams brought with them.
So maybe a better translation of "what would you do with $600,000,000" is: "What would you do with complete freedom to be everything you could be?"
Becoming the people we hoped we would be, or better, who God has designed us to be, when it comes down to it, has very little to do with money, houses, private islands or being a ballerina. It has more to do with how we see ourselves. And if we are honest, most of the things on our 'to do' list (barring the purchases) are within our reach. We may not be able to fund the digging of a well in Africa, but we can donate old coats to clothe the homeless. We may not be able to obliterate hunger, but we can buy a box of pasta for the local food pantry. And while we may not be able to bring about world peace, we can certainly treat our neighbors a little better... maybe do a better job at caring for each other... maybe look less at what is not in our own hands, and instead notice the hands reaching toward us with needs greater than we can imagine. (Sadly, we don't have to look very far to find someone who needs help)
Actually, if everyone who bought a mega millions ticket yesterday helped one person for each ticket they bought- or spent the amount of time that they stood in line, instead helping their neighbor, we would be on our way to bringing about the kind of changing the world effect we dream about... we already have the freedom to become who we were meant to be, and we don't even have to buy a ticket to win.
Just food for thought...
Yet another Lenten season is upon us. Last night one of my congregants remarked that every year he comes back to the same question: "What is Lent all about?" He also said that in previous years there have been times when he felt like he "got it," but it seems like a new challenge every year.
True enough! Each Lenten season brings its own unique 'wilderness' experience; primarily because (in theory), we are not in the same place we were last year. In fact, if we have been journeying with God for 12 months, (or 12 minutes) we are undoubtedly changed in some way on the inside. And since I am not the same as I was last year, how can I expect the Spirit that lives in me to allow a mere repeat of a previous experience? And, if this journey is to last the rest of my life, should I not expect to grow in new ways each season?
So for this year, in an effort to allow the Spirit to move in my life, I am going to try something new. Instead of giving up something for lent, or denying myself the things that I believe keep me from experiencing God, I am going to explore the idea/concept, of a clean heart. In other words, what would it mean for me to drop my expectations and desires of who and what I want God to be, and just let God be God? What if I went into lent this year with the belief that wherever God is calling me, or in whatever "wilderness" I find myself, whatever God is leading me to do- that I trust that it is the Spirit that put me there... and that She has, and will have my back?
Yet in order to do that, I have to be willing to embrace the truth; that God truly is powerful enough to have cleansed me of anything that I would use an an excuse to keep the Spirit captive within my brain space. I would normally think of this as my 'giving permission' for the Spirit to move- but that still keeps things under my control. Instead, I am going to try a paradigm shift. I am going to try to adopt the notion that the Spirit of God is truly bigger than my willingness (or lack thereof) to accept or reject Her.
God help me... I can't wait to see 'what Lent is all about' this year!
The other night at Bible Study we got into a discussion about weight loss (UGH!). It's a subject that seems that continually scream for our attention. Many people in the room have gained and lost weight many times, and are just so tired of feeling like failures when it comes to maintaining their perfect weight. (In the words of 'Fat Bastard', a Mike Meyers Character from the Austin Powers series "I eat because I'm unhappy, and I'm unhappy because I eat")
But when we dug a little deeper, we spread that feeling of failure is not only pervasive in all areas of our society, but it is also crafted and implemented intentionally.
We live in a society that depends on us not being "ok" with our appearance, our weight, our cars, our homes, jobs, government- you name it! It needs fixing!
Our economy thrives on this thinking. If we can be made to feel like we have a problem, well, then that problem can be fixed by any number of products and/or ideas. And what's more, there is no shortage of people to "help" us reach our goal. (Whatever that may be- thinner, prettier, richer, safer)
When I worked in sales I learned three rules of selling:
1. Create a sense of urgency (translation:create problem)
2. Offer a solution (moving all obstacles that may prohibit the sale, out of the way)
3. Convince the customer that you are the only one who can possibly make their dreams come true.
Apply those simple rules of selling to every day life in our country, and you will see them all over, from car sales to fitness & health, to pharmaceuticals to factory farming, to education, to government!
"Not feeling pretty enough? We can fix your ugly smile, your bulging thighs, your nose that is obviously too big, your ankles that are too think, breasts that are too small..." "Kids not smart enough? Buy this... send them here..." "feeling alone? No problem... we have the perfect match for you" (You get the picture...)
The problem is that all of us profess to know that you can do what you want to the outside, but inside each of us lies the "real" us- the one that was created by and is acceptable to the one who created us. Now, I say that we know this, but very few really believe it, much less live it out. We buy into the lie- willingly- that somehow all of us are deficient in some way. And That our deficiency need not hold us back from having everything we dream!
But there is another message- one that runs counter to the message of society. And that is the message of the Gospel; that despite how you look, feel, thing, act- you are acceptable, and moreover, you are God's delight. And while that is a difficult message to accept, and even harder to live out, (not to mention it doesn't sell or do one thing to boost the economy) it is, at your core who you are.
I think it's time that we took back our self esteem and base our view of ourselves, not on what others say about us, but what God says about us. You are OK!
Just food for thought...
Just Show Up
Thomas always gets a bad rap as a doubter… but I think he just felt out of the loop. Everyone else had experienced something great and he had missed it. And no matter what the group tried to do, they could'nt get Thomas to buy in to what had happened. Sometimes you need to experience things for yourself.
Can you imagine how whiney and complaining Thomas must have been during that time? He must have been a complete pain in the neck to the other disciples.
But what happened to Thomas is what happens to all of us now and then, especially in church. Sometimes in the process of growth; spiritual, physical, emotional, we can sense things happening… and for many it is fantastic and exciting and the focus is all on the positive. But for some, this kind of growth, (even if they know it's a great thing)- brings feelings of uneasiness… and discomfort… simply because its new. And that feeling that “everyone else seems to be in a place that I’m not in!” takes over, and folks can feel left out- marginalized- cast off.
The group, by itself, couldn’t do anything for Thomas. That is, except to continue on with him. They didn’t exclude him because he was becoming a pain in the neck- or because he wasn’t where they were (yet)… they kept him in the midst of them, and held on to their faith. All were included… even the one who wasn’t quite on board.
And at the appointed time, Jesus came and touched Thomas too. And notice Thomas never actually touched Jesus’ hands and feet- he believed simply by witnessing the presence of Christ.
"Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”(29)
And I don’t think this was Jesus telling Thomas that he was an idiot for not believing without seeing… or that there was something wrong with him for not being able to believe and buy in- Jesus doesn’t condemn...
But rather I believe Jesus was saying, 'look... you are going to come across others that also are right where you were at- and I’m not always going to show up physically for people to see in order to believe.
But you can show up. And you don’t have to be worried about people “getting it” or “not getting it” or whether you think they need spiritual growth or whatever other judgment or label you want to put on them. You just show up- and let my power work through you…
Isn’t it amazing that sometimes we don’t give God credit enough to be big enough to take care of her own people? We all have opinions about what everyone else needs to do to get more spiritual. But here’s what we forget…the spirit lives and breathes in us- it works through us… it doesn’t need us to think of a plan for people, or to exert our agenda of what we think is best for people, or what we think people need to do to get on board… the Spirit is plenty big to take care of things without seeking our wise counsel, especially l for somebody elses life.
However, we can be the ones to bring that Spirit to someone else… we can bring it peacefully, lovinglyithout judgment or wanting it to change people like we think they should be changed.
How about just accepting Thomas the way he is? How about just continuing to love him? Continuing to break bread with him and with each other? Cause I don’t know about you but there have been many times in my life when I’ve felt a lot like Thomas- odd man out. And thank God there was a community who didn’t abandon me but continued to love me the way I was and honor where I was… even though I was a pain in the neck.
All we have to do is show up and let God do the rest. Just show up!
Bringing people to the table, again and again...