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Musing 3.12.21

In some places today is being marked as the one-year anniversary of the COVID shut down. Our last full in-person worship services were on March 7, 2020, and our attendance at those services was noticeably small. That Sunday was also our last communion service in which the elements were distributed from the pastor to the participants.

I have missed much during the pandemic. One experience I most miss is communion. Communion on zoom is not the same. Neither is the distribution of pre-packaged wafers and plastic cups as worshipers leave the building. These modes will have to do in a pinch, but they are not incarnational. I miss the human, physical, personal interaction of placing the bread in the communicant’s hand, touching a hand, looking someone in the eye, and uttering a name when I say, “The body of Christ.” That is communing at communion. It is that interaction through which I experience Christ. I sense that there are three persons present in that exchange of elements – you, me, and Christ. 

For me, it is that exchange of elements which makes the body of Christ real and palpable. What is the body of Christ? I think that most of the time most of us think the bread is the body of Christ. I shall not dispute that. However, I have come to believe that the body of Christ is those present partaking of the elements. In short, we are the body of Christ. I say as much when I lift the whole loaf of bread and say, “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” Our being present to each other, our sharing, our giving and receiving, and our willingness to eat Christ’s meal together make us the body of Christ. The holding of hands and singing the Lord’s Prayer serve to confirm the experience of oneness. It is a mystical moment. The divine and human come together; human and human come together. We are knit together as members of the body of Christ. It is sacred. It is sacramental. 

I have missed this for a year. I am not the only one. 

This past Sunday, it being the first Sunday of the month, we celebrated communion. I kind of braced myself for what has become a flat, isolated recitation of the words and motions. Like so much in the pandemic, communion has been drained of vitality. BUT this time, at Morning Blend, God surprised me. I lifted the bread to a room of 39 people (counting me), and said the words about our being one body. I broke the loaf, held a half in each hand and spread my arms as if to encompass everyone in the room and said, “The bread which we break is a sharing in the body of Christ. I had a profound experience of that action of spreading my arms so that the broken bread could encompass the room actually encompassed those worshiping online and those not worshiping online. It included those I could not see. The broken body of Christ was way more than the 39 people in the room. It was those at home, in the hospital, in hospice care, in nursing homes, in prisons, in school, in homeless and refugee camps, in despair, in grief, in heaven. It was all of us. Behold, the body of Christ. God’s love surrounded all of us wherever we were.

God had broken through the routine isolation of the pandemic to be present on an ordinary Sunday morning to show me life is extraordinary. God can break through our everyday lives as well. We are not alone. God is with us.

Be safe and well.

Musing 3.19.21

6 Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. 8But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, ‘Why this waste? 9For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.’ 10But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why do you trouble the woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. 13Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’ 
Matthew 26:6-13

At this past Wednesday’s Lenten Bible study, our group discussed the above story from the last week of Jesus’ life. It is sometimes called “The Anointing at Bethany,” or “The First Dinner.” The Last Supper is much better known, and it overshadows the First Dinner. This dinner is significant in that it focuses on the role of women in Jesus’ life. At the Last Supper the disciples don’t come off well with talk of betrayal and denial. At the First Dinner they as also don’t shine. They criticize the woman’s action.

On the other hand, this unnamed woman (we know the disciples’ names) steps up. Jesus has told the disciples about his coming death, but they don’t grasp what he is saying. The woman gets it. She understands that he is doing to die soon. She anoints his body for burial. Her action must have given Jesus such comfort. It is a beautiful thing that she has chosen to be with Jesus at this difficult time in his life. It is a beautiful thing she takes a risk to stand by Jesus when others won’t. It is a beautiful thing that she doesn’t deny, betray, or reject Jesus. Matthew tells us that the anointing ointment was very costly. Her action isvery costly to her. In so clearly associating with Jesus, she risks denial, betrayal, and rejection. She is clearly a disciple. She will not forget him. She will remember him. It had to give Jesus courage.

Jesus says that “wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” What has she done? She stands in beautiful solidarity with Jesus. She strengthens him in his journey. That is what will be remembered. It is usually the case that Holy Week focuses on Jesus’ solidarity with us, and that is right. I thinks this is because we focus exclusively on the Last Supper. Yet this story of the First Supper is about her solidarity with Jesus, and that too is right. In a sense she is being Christ to Christ. And I imagine this unnamed woman was not even aware of it, but she knew she loved him.

When we suffer and someone stands in solidarity with us, we remember it. We remember it as a beautiful thing. We can recall times in our lives when people have done beautiful things to us, with us, and for us. And we know the names of these people – teachers, children, parents, pastors, doctors, neighbors, nurses, friends. They have been Christ to us, and we are thankful.

We are probably hard put to recall times when we have been Christ to others. That is as it should be for we were focused on them, not ourselves. Love doesn’t keep score. We probably don’t remember what we did. As far as we know, we are unnamed to them. Yet they remember and are thankful.

As Holy Week approaches and the remembrance of the First Dinner draws near. Let’s remember the unnamed woman’s action and do something beautiful for Christ. Let us stand in solidarity with the Christ of love.

Be safe and well.

Musing 3.26.2021

Lately I have felt flat, uninspired, and weary. It could be the winding down toward retirement. Or the dragging on of the pandemic. Or the endless, repetitive cable cycle. Or the denomination’s difficulty in holding a global meeting. My fatigue was sliding into self-righteousness – even cynicism. I couldn’t even get interested in March Madness.

Thursday morning Bill Meadows, Gary Miller, and I met with Wendy Joliet of Studio Arts and Glass. Her company will begin work on the stained glass in the sanctuary after Easter. She came to coordinate its work with the tuckpointing contractor, and to organize the project. The four of us walked through the building examining the rest of our stained glass to determine the need for additional work.

While Wendy took measurements of the Memorial window, my eye drifted from her tape measure to the face of the angel near it. The angel and I locked eyes. I was stunned and gasped. It took my breath away. I felt like I had never seen it before. The blues, red, and greens popped. They vibrated. The angel seemed alive. It certainly brought me to life. Its beauty brought me to life. It was as if our spirits connected. I was no longer flat and weary. What started out as a practical meeting led me to an awareness of the beauty right in front of me.

It is not easy to find a theology of beauty. It doesn’t seem important when compared to salvation, justification, atonement, forgiveness, justice. Maybe, when God pronounced creation “good,” God implied creation is beautiful. While not much is written on beauty and religion, Joan Chittister has written a beautiful essay on beauty in Illuminated Life.

What may be most missing in this highly technological world of ours is beauty…An encounter with the beautiful lifts our eyes beyond the commonplace and gives us a reason for going on, for ranging beyond the mundane, for endeavoring ourselves always to become more than we are. In the midst of struggle, in the depths of darkness, in the throes of ugliness, beauty brings with it a realization that the best in life is, whatever the cost, really possible….To have seen a bit of the Beauty out of which beauty comes is a deeply spiritual experience. It shouts to us always, “More. There is yet more.”… We must remove the clutter from our lives, surround ourselves with beauty, and consciously, relentlessly, persistently, give it away until the tiny world for which we ourselves are responsible begins to reflect the raw beauty that is God.

The beauty of the angel in the window connected my spirit with God’s spirit. It told me that there was more to my life than me. I talk with pride about all the ministries King Avenue offers. I don’t recall my ever mentioning our ministry of beauty. I had taken it for granted. I need to be reminded of it. We all need to be reminded of it. God uses it to give us life.

The world doesn’t lack for wonder, just a sense of wonder. The world doesn’t lack for beauty, just eyes to recognize it. Where will you be surprised by beauty today?

Hope you are safe and well.

 

Musing 3.5.21

MUSING 3.5.2021

This will be less of a musing and more of an endorsement. Since I announced my retirement in September of last year, I have wondered who Bishop Palmer would appoint to follow me. This past Wednesday Rev. Becky Piatt was announced as the new senior pastor at King Avenue United Methodist Church. At present Becky is serving Bexley UMC. This appointment pleases me for the sake of both King Avenue and Becky.

This summer a long time King Avenue couple told me they had moved to Bexley. Because they wanted to walk to church, they would be transferring from King Avenue to a church in Bexley. Did I have a church to recommend? Without reservation I urged them to try the UM church because its senior pastor “was really good.” Who knew?! I have known Becky since I have been at King Avenue going back to her days at Church of the Savior in Westerville. She is thoughtful in that she thinks and cares. She is affirming, humorous, and fun. She is balanced in that she is open minded, stable, and poised. She is an asset in meetings for the insight and energy she brings. Most important, she is committed to Christ and his inclusive ministry of love and reconciliation. So I am happy for King Avenue.

I am also happy for Becky. King Avenue is a great church. When I announced my retirement, I wrote,

“You are the congregation I dreamed of serving when I was in seminary. You are a sanctuary of grace, inclusion, and acceptance. You are the body of Christ representing God’s love in fellowship and mission. You are a place of joy and hope for all people. You also take joy and hope beyond this place to the community and world. You offer God’s grace and peace to all. You share the gift. King Avenue is the high note on which all ministers should be privileged to retire.”

Even in this age of online and livestreaming, what I said is still true. Your response to the future of the church as evidenced by the comprehensive campaign has been extraordinary. Continued participation and commitment to worship, meetings and classes have been so encouraging. Becky will find herself in a wonderful place.

The transition of pastors is always an apprehensive time for churches and pastors. During the pandemic it is aggravated by the lack of in-person gathering opportunities. It is hard to grieve and rejoice online and via zoom. I don’t envy pastors who are moving. Please hold Bexley UMC in your prayers as it grieves Becky’s departure. Please hold Becky in your prayers for the sadness she holds in leaving Bexley and for the joy she holds in coming to King Avenue. Please hold our church in your prayers for a healthy transition. I shall hold you in my prayers as you accept Becky with the warmth and hospitality with which you accepted me. It was a gift to me; it will be a gift to her.

Be safe and well.

Musing 2.19.21

MUSING 2.19.2021

                                                “Yet even now, says the Lord,

                                              return to me with all your heart,

                               with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

                                      rend your hearts and not your clothing.” 
                                                                                                                                          

                                       "Create in me a clean heart, O God,

                                  and put a new and right spirit within me.

                         The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;

                a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”                                              

                                                  "For where your treasure is,

                                                   there your heart will be also.”                              

These passages are from the traditional scripture readings for Ash Wednesday which is the beginning of Lent. Lent is the 40-day period of self-examination preceding Easter. Lent is about our hearts. It is the time to examine our hearts. Where are our hearts? How are our hearts?

With our minds we probe the universe. With our senses we see, feel, smell, hear, and taste. With our faces, we present ourselves to the public. With our hands, we do. With our feet, we move. But our hearts make us who we are. Our hearts shape us. We are warm-hearted or cold-hearted; we are kind-hearted or hard-hearted. Our hearts can be empty or full. We have heart-to-hearts which are honest, truthful, painful, edifying, and vulnerable. We have changes of heart which indicate a re-thinking of commitment.

Where is my heart? My heart just is not in this. I am not interested; I don’t care; I can’t connect or engage. We may go through the motions. We may be physically present, but we are just not there. This is true of relationships, jobs, classes, entertainment, church, hobbies. We count the days. Maybe we are doing it until the obligation ends. Or because we anticipate a payoff. Or because we don’t know how to get out of it. Or because someone is making us.

Where is my heart? My heart is all in. I am whole-heartedly for this. I am fully committed. What can I do to help? What do you want me to do? Where do you want me to go? I am here for you. I am with you all the way. I am passionate for this; I am into it.

Where is my heart? It is where my treasure is. Find my treasure, and you’ll find my heart. We set our hearts on what we treasure. My heart is set on it. Treasure is what gets my attention, energy, and priority. What do I treasure? Children? Grandchildren? Job? Investments? House? Hurts? Sports? Possessions? Partners? Education? Hobbies? Perfection? Control? Power? Knowing? Politics? Trips? Addiction? Do I have anything I really treasure? Is it all just meh? Maybe my heart is nowhere. Maybe I have no treasure.

Where is my heart? Our hearts are influenced by events. The pandemic, the impeachment and trial, isolation, zoom, weather, illness, and death effect our hearts. Maybe my heart is shamed and broken as is the heart of the psalmist. I want a clean heart. Maybe my heart is burned out, without purpose; I want a new heart. Maybe my heart is tired and weary; I want a fresh heart. Maybe my heart is cynical; I want a hopeful heart. Maybe my heart has no life; I want a resurrected heart.

A student asked his rabbi why God asked us to write the words of scripture on our hearts. The rabbi responded, “God’s words are written on the surface of our hearts so that when our hearts are broken, God’s words of life will sink into them.”

So where is God’s heart? God’s heart is all-in, fully committed to each and every one of us. Period. We are God’s treasure. We are God’s Passion. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Be safe and well.

Musing 2.5.21

God of the Pandemic,        

    Last July, I mused with you that, in March, I thought this would be over by July for sure.

         Yet, here we are in February,

                 still wearing masks,

                 still social distancing,

                  still not gathering.

         Yet, here we are in February,

                 still a divided country,

                       politically,              

                       racially.  Maybe,

                             even moreso.

                                 Each day seems to bring the report of

                                               violence and another murder.

Things seem so mono-chromatic and mono-tonous,

                      One color –same cloudy gray.

                      One tone – same news and film clips.

We flip the news channels,

                 the repetitive stories of political division and COVID,                      

                        endless speculation and anger and statistics,

                               endlessly cycling.                       

                       We grow numb and only half listen,

                              half deaf.

                We hear it hourly, so

                       we tend not to listen fully.

                               It becomes background noise.              

                 Too often the commentator is so

                          overhyped, overdramatic

                                 that we shut down and tune out.

We flip the entertainment channels.

                   We search for a new series.

                        We solicit suggestions;

                                    we bond over a series.

                   But after a while,

                     the shows begin to blur and merge;

                                 diminishing returns.

                           We only half watch,

                                        it is just to have something on.

We flip the sports channels.

                     It is hard to engage and care

                              when the stands are empty and games often postponed;

                                   the games don’t seem all that important.

Life has to be more.

God of the Pandemic,

                      We are weary.

                             We are world weary.                       

                       Words like malaise, sloth, boredom, and futility

                                      come to mind and

                                                sink into our being.

                         We start to think that there is nothing new under the sun.

                          We start to think that life is just a chasing after the wind.

If there is any Bible figure with whom we identify, it is

                         Qoheleth, the Preacher,

                                  the author of Ecclesiastes.

                          Qoheleth has been where we are.                       

                           Qoheleth is a fellow traveler.

He stubbornly refuses naïve and easy answers.

He washes us clean of illusions.

He rejects shallow expectations.

He purges our arrogance.

He is skeptical.

He is doubtful.

He clears the air.

He prepares us for reality.

He prepares us for you.

God of the Pandemic,

       like Qoheleth, we voice our malaise,

               we could call it whining,

                       or we could call it praying.

God of Reality, we are ready for you.

We are ready for reality.

Thank you for listening to this rambling.

It makes a difference.

It makes me different.

Amen.

Musing 2.12.21

MUSING 2.12.2021

This coming Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday before the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday. The gospel text is always an account in Matthew, Mark, or Luke of the transfiguration of Jesus. This year the text is Mark 9:2-9. To refresh our memories briefly, Jesus, along with Peter, James, and John goes up a mountain. While Jesus is praying, he is transfigured (transformed); his clothes become dazzling white, and Elijah and Moses appear and talk with him. A cloud overshadows them and a voice from the cloud says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” The three disciples are terrified by all this – as would we. Then the cloud evaporates, and Moses and Elijah disappear. Things return to normal. As I summarize the story, I realize how extraordinary it is, and how much it begs for clarification.

The story is appropriately placed before the beginning of Lent when we mark Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and the cross. His transfiguration, his appearing in glory, is a foretaste of his resurrection. It must be greatly reassuring for him to know how things will end. The vision of Easter will sustain him in his suffering.

One more puzzling part of the story is what is called “the messianic secret.” “As they (Jesus and the three disciples) were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” Why should the disciples not share this wonderful experience with everyone? Wouldn’t it attract followers to Jesus? Why keep it a secret that Jesus is God’s beloved Son?

Here’s my thinking on the secret. When Susan and I watch a movie, it is not uncommon for one of us to fall asleep soon after it starts. As it ends, the one who slept will ask the one who stayed awake what happened. The story will be summarized in a few words, “They got married.” Both of us know the ending, but only one of us fully experienced the movie. It is the one who didn’t skip to the end; it is the one was with it from beginning to end.

Recall the classic movie An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Yes, it ends with them re-united, but we need the first two hours of encounter, courtship, romance, separation, tragedy, rejection, suffering, rehabilitation, discovery, and forgiveness to give meaning to the ending. It is the experience of the story that draws us into the ending. To skip the story and go directly to the ending is to lessen the impact of the ending and its influence on us. I doubt that the person who watches only the last five minutes will be moved to tears as will be the one who watched the whole movie. We need the story, the whole story.

The point of the messianic secret is to ensure that we experience the whole story. If we skip to the end, the resurrection; we tell the secret ending. But we miss the story. We miss the encounters, confrontations, failure, rejection, debates, lessons, betrayals, foregiveness, healings, love, desertion, and death. It is the experience of the story that gives the ending its meaning and impact. It is the story that draws us in. It is true that both the person who skips the story and the person who follows entire story know the ending. It is, however, the latter who understands fully what is going on and has integrated it into their life.

I see the messianic secret as a Spoiler Alert. Had the disciples told the secret, people would have been tempted not to follow and experience Jesus. There would have been no need to be in relationship with Jesus. If they knew the answer, why work on the solution? If the student finds the answer in the back of the book, he doesn’t need to learn the subject. Knowing the ending can be a way of not learning the subject. In the case of Jesus, it is a way to avoid discipleship. When one avoids discipleship, one misses the joy of resurrection. It is the following that integrates Jesus and the resurrection into one’s life.

Lent is the story of Jesus’ journey to the cross which ends in the resurrection. We know how the story ends. Yet Lent is our time experience the whole story. Lent is a good time to re-read the story in one of the gospels. We know how they end, but we need the whole story.

Be safe and well.

Musing 1.29.21

MUSING 1.29.2021

This past Tuesday night our Administrative Council voted on whether or not to continue escrowing our apportionments to the district, conference, and general church. The decision to escrow apportionments was made in March of 2019, in response to the General Conference decision to prohibit same sex marriages in the church, prohibit and penalize UM pastors who celebrated such marriages, and to prohibit the ordination of LGBT persons. King Avenue saw itself as misaligned with the denomination. The escrowed money would remain in a fund and not be used for any other purpose. Every three months the Ad Council would review this decision. At the same time our Staff Parish Relations Committee created a subcommittee – ACTS - to monitor developments in the General Church and to explore our future options for affiliation. You may find the work of ACTS on the church website, kingave.org, under General Conference response.

While I supported the decision to escrow, it has caused me much worry and many restless nights. I have wrestled with numerous internal debates, “on the one hand… on the other hand.” On the one hand, apportionments support worthwhile ministries; on the other hand, the denomination is treating almost half of our congregation as second class and not worthwhile. On the one hand, I vowed at my ordination to obey the Discipline of the Church; on the other hand, the Church was preventing me from being in full pastoral ministry to our congregation and fulfilling a dimension of my vows. On the one hand, apportionments are one expression of our connection to the larger Church; on the other hand, the denomination had chosen not to be connected to our members. I could go on. I alternated between anger, hurt, sadness, and disappointment. A statement had to be made. One of our membership vows is “to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” To escrow apportionments was the resistance expected of a member of the United Methodist Church.

General Conference was to meet in May of 2020, to reconsider the mistake of the 2019 General Conference. A Protocol of Grace and Reconciliation through Separation was proposed that created a path for full inclusion of LGBT persons; hope was high. Of course, the pandemic caused the postponement of General Conference until this fall. The effect is that the Church is, unfortunately, still under the exclusionary legislation of 2019. In October of 2020, Ad Council asked ACTS to contact Bishop Palmer for evidence of progress toward inclusion. The bishop’s response is encouraging. Among the highlights are the plans to start two intentionally reconciling new churches; his work on the Protocol itself; the work of conference staff nationally and globally to influence inclusion; the use of a Lily grant to work with congregations for diversity training for inclusion of LGBTQI+ persons; the cabinet’s decision not to pursue charges and trials; the appointment of gay pastors; and the bishop’s commitment that, if the protocol is passed, he will work for the conference to be fully inclusive.

Based on this evidence ACTS made its recommendation to Ad Council Tuesday night. I shall give only the conclusion. Please read the recommendation in its entirety by clicking  here.  The reasons for the decision are well stated.  In summary, it was decided that King Avenue hold in escrow 24 months of apportionments and then begin paying its apportionments in full. Since we have been escrowing since March of 2019, we shall begin paying apportionments in March of this year.

I want to address the ministry of the members of ACTS and Administrative Council. In I Corinthians, Paul lists administrators as members of the body of Christ. We tend not to think of administration as a spiritual gift. “It is just committee work. It is not like preaching, prophecy, or evangelism.” But I came away from these meetings with a different feeling, a feeling that I had had a spiritual experience. God can work through committees! I called their work a ministry, and it was. We wrestled some; I am sure not everyone got what they wanted. The members were treated with respect. They were listened to; they were heard. Responses were calm and thoughtful. There was true dialog. There was a strong sense of working together for the good of our church. There was unity. Unity is not unanimity. Unanimity is usually achieved through silencing or driving away opposing voices. Unity is taking all voices seriously. By so doing unity takes people seriously. Unity is not sameness or same thinking; it honors diversity. A witness a church can make at this time is to model unity.

As I said at the beginning of this musing, I have had many restless nights. I was wrestling alone. Thank God for the body of Christ. What a blessing. It is a gift of God to edify us. We are not alone not only because God is with us, but also because we are members of the body of Christ. Tuesday night I slept well.

Be safe and well.

Musing 1.8.21

PASTOR JOHN’S MUSING 1.8.2021

This musing is truly a musing in that I am thinking out loud. These are ideas with which I have been wrestling since Wednesday’s events in Washington. I believe most of us have struggled to make sense of them and wondered how we go forward as a people.

I watched the events unfold with an increasingly sinking feeling. I shall not describe what all of us saw. I felt that our country was bottoming out. On Thursday I spoke with one of our members about what we saw and our feelings. He hoped that our country will soon get over its political addictions. He didn’t think healing could happen until we acknowledge these addictions. I had not thought of it in those terms; however, my “bottoming out” language is close to the AA step of admitting addiction had made life unmanageable. To bottom out is a wakeup call that we need healing. It is very difficult to deny. In this sense bottoming out can be the first step to wholeness. That is hopeful.

Our addictions may go either way depending which cable news station we watch. There is not much middle ground. The addiction to either adoration or loathing of a candidate, a party, a president fills the time, thoughts, and energy of almost everyone. Sometimes the addictions to adoration and loathing occur simultaneously in the same group. These addictions meet a need to love and/or hate that one cannot live without. And as with any addiction, it can destroy our lives. We saw this addiction of adoration and loathing on display Wednesday.

To understand addiction, I pulled out my notes from a class Rick Gilson and I taught on Richard Rohr’s Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps. We tend to think of addiction in terms substance abuse, material things, grievances, and control, to name a few. Our addictions come to define us. Rohr writes, “Stinking thinking” is the universal addiction. Substance addictions like alcohol and drugs are merely the most visible form of addiction, but actually we are all addicted to our own habitual way of doing anything, our own defenses, and most especially, our patterned way of thinking, or how we process our reality. The very fact we have to say this shows how much we are blinded inside of it. By definition, you can never see or handle what you are addicted to.” (page xxiii). For Rohr addictions point to a deeper need. Rohr goes on to say that this universal addiction to our own pattern of thinking is dualistic.

This description of addiction fits neatly with our current climate. We are so locked into our thought patterns, systems, and reality that we cannot understand how anyone can think otherwise. The dualistic thinking clearly divides us. We talk past each other. Actually, we don’t even talk to each other. As our country moves forward, our leaders talk of the need for healing and recovery. How does that happen?

On occasion the Keeny children have been frustrated with my seeing things in spiritual terms. “Oh, Dad, God is not always the answer”, or “Not every hero is a Christ figure.” Maybe I am speaking only from my experience; but if our lives are not filled with one thing, they will be filled with something else. If they are not filled with the things of the Spirit, they will be filled with addictions. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so our lives abhor a spiritual vacuum. Luke 11:24-26 is a great parable of this.

If we are not filled with the Spirit, we shall be addicted to stinking thinking. Where I am going with this is an opinion that our country engage in the 12 steps for the healing of our country. Although all the steps must be followed in humility, I won’t go through them here. I shall, however, highlight step 11. “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood [God], praying only for knowledge of [God’s] will for us and the power to carry that out.” Prayer moves us out of the idolatry of dualistic thinking. It moves us out of our world and into God’s. We get out of our thinking and think our way into God’s world. As we improve our conscious contact with God, we improve our contact with God’s world. This is prayer that does not reflect our hatreds and prejudices. It is prayer that humbly reflects God’s loves, reconciliation, and peacemaking. It seeks God’s world.

Prayer, the placing of our lives in God’s hands, the thinking our way into God’s world, is where the healing of the addiction starts. It is where our hope begins.

Be safe and well.

Musing 1.1.21

PASTOR JOHN’S MUSING 1.1.2021

“Keep Christ in Christmas” We see the signs every year. I did again this year. I also received a text to buy a coffee mug that expressed the desire to “Make Christmas Great Again.” I am not fully sure what the intention of the latter was, but the former is a plea that Christmas be less commercial. It is the hope that we remember the reason for the season.

I don’t have any argument with wanting to keep Christ in Christmas. I do, however, propose that we also Don’t Keep Christ in Christmas. What I mean is that we do not keep Christ only in Christmas. We should not treat Christmas as Christ’s prison in which he is confined. We need to let him out of Christmas.

If we keep him in Christmas, he is trapped as a baby in a manger thousands of years ago in a foreign land. What good is that? He needs to grow up, teach parables, preach sermons, heal, comfort, challenge, and call disciples. He needs to live and die and be resurrected. He needs to become alive in the world to save and transform lives.

It is a religious temptation to keep God in a box so that we can control God. We try to restrict God’s freedom and activity by restricting God to only certain times and places. That keeps God from interfering in our lives. It is a way to avoid God. For example, we may keep God in the church building and not let God out of it. Then God is easy to manage and ignore. If God stays only in the church, we are free to live as we desire outside the church. There are all kinds of boxes in which God is kept. God can be confined to the past, to the future, in Galilee, in a manger, in a season, to a cross, in a tomb. A box is convenient in that we can keep God in it until God is needed. Then we can let God out to meet our needs. Keeping God in a box is a form of idolatry. God becomes our servant who caters to our agenda.

To keep Christ in Christmas is to miss the point of Christmas which is that God is free to show up in the least expected places and times. Christmas is over, but that does not mean God is done showing up in our lives and in the world. Christ can show up in a hospital in January, in a homeless camp, in February, in a neighborhood zoom call in March, in a family argument in April, in a courtroom in May. Christ can show up in devotions, in the woods, at the beach, in the nursing home, in a board meeting, on the street. Christ is neither static nor predictable. He keeps popping up. He keeps interjecting himself. That is our hope. Just as he cannot be kept in a manger, so he cannot be kept in a tomb. That is the Good News. Christ is going to be Christ.

We are still in the Christmas season; it is twelve days. Let’s not leave Christ behind us when it ends. Let’s look forward to meeting him throughout 2021 where and when we least expect him. Let’s not keep Christ in Christmas.

Be safe and healthy.

Happy New Year.

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