Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Conflicting Loyalties, Part 2

 

Here is a thought experiment that might help us get a grasp on where our true loyalties lie.

I come across a riot and see the following acts happening at the same time:

a) A man is tearing apart a Bible.
b) A mob is burning an American flag.
c) A teen is looting my store.
d) A dog is being beaten.
e) A gang is raping a woman.
f) My son is bleeding on the curb.
g) I’m scared and want to run away.

Our first automatic reaction reveals our highest loyalty.  If I can only take one action at a time, which action would I choose first? Why? How does this understanding of myself affect how I view stories of conflicting loyalty?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tears



Tears are more precious than diamonds,
When shed on behalf of another.

Tears are more sacred than anointing oil,
When they fall upon the fallen.

Tears are more healing than ointment,
When they wash away the pain.

Tears are more binding than holy water,
When we weep as He wept for us.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Warning! Don't Stand On One Leg With Your Eyes Closed.

The ill fated words fell from my Aunt’s mouth: “So Mom, did you know that you can’t balance on one foot with your eyes closed?” My 91 year old Grandma does not take such a challenge lightly (specially on her birthday!) and before we could react, she was on the floor in pain. Being who she is, her first response was to try to walk it off - but one does not walk off (or with) a broken hip. Once we were able to get her seated, the familial genetic predisposition for pre-emptive panic kicked in. Grandma broke into tears over losing her independence and being put in a nursing home “to die”. My Aunt started crying that she wouldn’t know what to do without her mother. 

Normally I would be the panic parade’s drum major and I would be dependent upon them for comfort, but it was obvious that someone else had to be the grown up. I was able to get control of my breathing by using the Jesus prayer that I had learned in a spiritual discipline class: inhale “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God”; exhale “Have mercy on me a sinner.” Once I was able to breath semi-normally, I could avoid some of the other fight-or-flight physical reactions that can get in the way. By doing so, an atypical calmness and confidence came to me, and I was able to become their calm bay in the middle of the raging fear-storm. 

After the storm came the rainbow; Grandma wanted out ASAP so she could get her hair done!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Palm Sunday Politics



 
The throng of avid demonstrators who shouted Hosanna on Sunday was also the rabid mob of protestors shouting "crucify him" on Friday; from palms to thorns in five short days.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Noises


Man-noise
Fills my brain.
Hot air into a balloon;
More and more and more.
Life’s cacophony.
Head exploding.

Exciting sounds of traffic at night;
Proof of life passing me by.

Soothed by a droning fan;
Noise to drown out noise.
Searcher of comfort external.
Blood-sound in womb:
Shush, shush, shush.

God-noise
Fills my soul.
Vessel overflowing;
More and more and more.
Life’s symphony.
Heart expanding.

Small still whisper in the night;
Proof of purpose, calling me forth.

Soothed by a lullaby of peace;
Grace to drown out despair.
Giver of comfort internal.
Blood-dripped from a cross:
Hope... hope... hope.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring on the Prarie

Through the ashes of a prescribed burn...


















... rises the phoenix spring.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Conflicting Loyalties, Part One



Loyalty – “devoted allegiance”. (Webster’s) 

Where do my loyalties lie?

My family?
My country?
My Church?
My church?
My friends?
My God?
My people?
My career?
My life?
My mission?
My plans?
My team?
My Cubbies?

How do I prioritize my loyalties if they compete for my attention and obedience?  Do I try to repackage them to suit my interests (Church/country, friends/church, plans/mission, God/Cubs, etc)? Once I’ve thought about it, are my presumed loyalties different than my actual loyalties? How did these hard choices play out in the lives of Abraham, Esther, Ruth, and Simon?

Abraham chose serving God over family, and was blessed in both. 

Esther chose serving her people over her life, and was blessed in both.

Ruth chose serving family over country, and was blessed in both. 

Simon chose a mission of serving over career, and was blessed in both. 

We lose our lives when we try to hold on to them with a death grip, and gain life when we let go. The Bible says we can’t serve two masters. When we try to be most loyal to something other than God, we lose God. When we try to be as loyal to God as to something else, we lose both. When we are loyal to God above all, we gain all. 

Yet Esther and Ruth were like the sheep in Matthew 25. "When did we choose You God?" "When you chose the least, you chose Me!" When we serve all, we serve the One Master. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Peace Haiku


Will I ever see
The lion and lamb at play
With my fists still clenched?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Accidental Heresy?

I just got home from my last lay preaching class. One of the the most rewarding aspects was seeing that there are many who not only are very able to preach, but who have been so gifted. Yet, these called people are not in any seminary and never will be ordained. This begs an unsettling question: if seminary is an institution and one of its purposes is to develop those who will be defenders of the denomination's doctrine (aka orthodoxy), what are the ramifications of allowing laity to fill pulpits? How do you keep us "in line"? I don't want to lose any preaching gigs but, how do you prevent us would-be prophets from becoming accidental heretics?

So I ask you pastors and church authorities some challenging questions:

1. What is the proper role of the lay speaker, the lay preacher, the small group minister, etc.?
2. Without witnesses, how can one discern who is called and who is not?
3. If you believe God can call laity to preach, how is that call best developed, and utilized outside of the ordination channel? United Methodists have Lay Academy, what do other denominations have?
4. Do you allow your laity to fill the pulpit sometimes when you are there to show them your nurturing support and so that you may be their guide and mentor, or do you only use them when you are gone?
5. As a professional archaeologist, I had strong reservations about hobby archaeologists. Their motives did not always seem "pure", they accepted cryptozoology as a science, they had not "paid their dues" as I had, and their naive exuberance could be annoying. Now the shoe is on the other foot. How do you ordained really feel about us?

And I ask the laity:

1. I have been blessed with very supportive and encouraging pastors; but what about you?
2. Do you feel that your full potential is being met, that you are being used effectively?
3. If not, have you discussed it with your pastor or do you just expect them to know?
4. What do you think your proper role should be?
5. How active have you been in creating your own ministry?

How can we best work side by side in a way that the gift of each compliments that of the other as together we make disciples?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Friday, March 19, 2010

Can We Become Too Wordly?




Reading:


With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
The Fellowship of the Believers
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Acts 2:40-47

Meditation:

1. Am I in the world or of the world?
2. What were the four things they devoted themselves to as congregation?
3. What does it mean to live together as community?
4. They thought that Jesus would return in their life-times; does that make this definition of the function of fellowship obsolete?
5. How did the early Church grow?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Can God Have Mood Swings?



Now, you would think wouldn’t you that a story about a talking donkey (Numbers 22:22-40) would be a real hoot – but this one disturbs me.

The prophet Balaam has been sent for by the king of Moab to help him with his infestation of Hebrews. Balaam jumps on his old trusty donkey and heads out on the dusty road. Unbeknownst to Balaam, Mr. Donkey sees the Angel of the Lord clear as day blocking the road - sword in hand. Being a wise animal, the donkey high-tails it into the field with Balaam bouncy-bouncy on his back (legs flopping like wings) trying to whip him back onto the road!

But first, the Angel again stands in the path between two walls visible only to the discerning one of the pair. Not wanting to get whipped again, the donkey tries to hug the wall to get around the cold-faced Angel, but scrapes Balaam’s leg in the process and gets struck again for his efforts on behalf of his master. Next, the selectively visible Angel stands in a narrow place; no getting around him this time. Caught between a whip and a sword and between master and Master what's a little donkey to do? Our hero lays down. This makes Balaam go ballistic and he starts beating the donkey with his staff. Who knew that prophets could be so cranky?

Suddenly, the Lord speaks through the donkey’s mouth. “What have I ever done to you to deserve such treatment?” Now I’m thinking that a saner person would have been knocked off their stride by such a development, but not battling Balaam. “Because you made me look like a fool!” (Not only is he blind to the Angel, but I guess he is also blind to the irony of standing in the middle of the road yelling at a donkey about looking foolish.) Threatening to kill the donkey if only he had a sword doesn’t help his cause much either. Apparently, prophets can be both sanity challenged and really really cranky.

Patiently, God/donkey asks: “I’ve carried you on my strong back your entire life; have I ever treated you badly?” He really is an OK guy, just having a baaad day, so sheepishly Balaam admits the truth. The Lord then allows him to see the hidden elephant in the room – the terrifying Angel right in front of him with sword drawn and ready! Suddenly, Balaam gets really respectful really fast! The Angel demands to know why Balaam beat his poor donkey friend. “I would have killed you each time if the donkey had not repeatedly saved you!” “If,” Balaam pleads, “what I am doing displeases you I’ll gladly scurry home!” But the Angel tells him to go on to Moab, but to only say what the Angel tells him to say. 

This is all fine and dandy in and of itself. I can live with talking donkeys as long as they don’t make a habit of it. But I have a beef with God on this one! In the 21 verses before this story, Balaam faithfully doesn’t go when God tells him to stay, and goes only when God tells him to go. But all of a sudden verse 22 T-bones us: “God’s anger was kindled because he was going, and the Angel of the Lord took his stand in the road as his adversary.” Huh?

Can God have mood swings?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Precious Gift Haiku


Can any gift best
The cheapest and dearest kind,
The smile on your face?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Who’s He Hanging With?



“Passing along, Jesus saw a man at his work collecting taxes. His name was Matthew. Jesus said, ‘Come along with me.’ Matthew stood up and followed him.
Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew's house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus' followers. ‘What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?’
Jesus, overhearing, shot back, ‘Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: 'I'm after mercy, not religion.' I'm here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.’”
Matthew 9:9-13 (The Message)

As the body of Christ, we go where He goes! 
Who are the “riffraff” of today that we should be hanging out with? 
     Those that the sea of Pharisees tell us are unclean and unwanted? 
     Who the external they call reprobates and irredeemable? 
     Who the powers-that-be have decided are the wrong sort of crowd to mingle with? 
Do we know who is allowed through the door and who is condemned?

Are called to be doormen, or locks?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Negativity to the Left of Me. Negativity to the Right of Me.

We are the mainline churches.

When we listen to ourselves
We are but a slow dying breed
Becoming silently extinct
Maladapted to rapid change
Self-martyred and irrelevant!

When we listen to others
We are a global theocracy
Becoming a thorn in sides
Adapting the world around
Dogooders overly relevant!

What if
Instead of listening
To whine and shrill
We listen for the
     small
          still
               voice
Calling us to love?

What if
Instead of sitting
On hands and fences
Clutching cold embers
We fan the flames
Calling all to love?

What if?

What if?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Poem of the Naked Alien

Security and comfort our given right;

Fear overwhelms our better nature.
New Joneses-beating wide-screen aglow;
Showing the latest news from Haiti.
Altar overflowing with harvest joy;
Body and Blood on a card table.

Tithing now a dirty cultish thing;
But widow’s mite still amazes.
Pain exceeding our capacity to feel;
But even Peter is thrice forgiven.
World blinded by the idols consumed;
Yet the scales fall from Paul’s eyes.

Yes, I am humanly flawed;
Exiled from my homeland.
But created in Creator’s image;
Perfect in my brokenness!
My childish nightmares subside;
As I enter His dream for me.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Life Lines





Modern life
Strung taut
Tensely intense

Hammer-struck
Lone note
Clamorous gong

Unity
Chord cords
Vibrate each other

Harmonic
Soothing
Resonating

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Is Easter Spring or Fall?


In northern climes we see a springtime Easter. A time of refreshed vitality. The return of the sun. A rebirth after hibernation. An explosion of new life; greening grass and burgeoning blossoms. While in the other half of our world it is autumn. Time of bounty and harvest. Feasting to praise and prepare. Playing in a pile of leaves.
 
How does such a shift in our imagery shift our conceptualization of the meaning of Easter?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Law of the Vital Few




It is becoming more and more in vogue to use corporate management principles in our churches and other not-for-profits; at the risk of our becoming not-for-prophets.

The Pareto Principle was described by management consultant Joseph Juran in the 1940s, he named it honor of turn-of-the-century economist Vilfredo Pareto. It is an energy expenditure rule-of-thumb that assumes roughly 80% of your results will come from 20% of your effort. Conversely, the final 20% takes the remaining 80% of your effort. Although this does describe how things often tend to work in systems, it is full of pitfalls if we take it blindly beyond the descriptive into goal and objective making.

In many grade schools 80% is a B, better than the accepted norm. It is tempting to get the biggest bang for our buck by just stopping after that first 20% of cost and effort; B is good enough right? Would you build just 80% of a bridge? The Pareto Principle helps us to allocate funds and resources within a project (20% up-front with 80% in reserve), and helps us to prioritize the most effective 20% of all potential projects; but it can be tricky when used to define the success of an individual project. How often have you heard someone say during a status report state that a project was 80% complete (80% of the objectives have been met) and everyone felt good about being almost done? Yet the Pareto Principle implies that 80% of the work may remain to be done! Focus and energy suddenly leaves the project because: people think that since the project is almost done, they can go on to the next one; people think that the exciting or fun part is done and all that is left is the boring clean-up that "anybody" can do; management sees the remaining 80% outstanding cost and kills the project for the newest priority or crisis. Pareto can be a self-fulfilling Principle if used as a yard stick instead of a warning.

And what if you are in the people-business, and you're measuring human beings instead of accomplishments or money? We might say that 80% of the organization’s contributions or work comes from 20% of the membership; but do we then ignore the remaining 80%? Wouldn’t that be good stewardship of our limited resources? Isn’t that how we want our governments to make budget decisions? Do we resent that we have to spend 80% of our effort for only 20% of our “rewards”? Did Jesus say to go out and make disciples of the easiest 80%, or to only harvest the low-hanging fruit?  Yes, we need to assume that only 20% understood us, and that only 20% are following us, that only 20% have been changed; but, we need to focus our energies and resources from the very beginning on the 80%. Else, we are preaching to the choir. 

After all, he Good Shepherd gives 100% effort to rescue just 1% of the sheep. Bad business sense, but thank God for that.

Be the vital few by serving the torpid many.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Biblical Injustice?


In search of a blog post idea, I made the mistake of opening the Bible at random. This is the story that lay under my finger:

"I just happened by Mount Gilboa and came on Saul, badly wounded and leaning on his spear, with enemy chariots and horsemen bearing down hard on him. He looked behind him, saw me, and called me to him. 'Yes sir,' I said, 'at your service.' He asked me who I was, and I told him, 'I'm an Amalekite.'"
"Come here," he said, "and put me out of my misery. I'm nearly dead already, but my life hangs on."
"So I did what he asked—I killed him. I knew he wouldn't last much longer anyway. I removed his royal headband and bracelet, and have brought them to my master. Here they are."
In lament, David ripped his clothes to ribbons. All the men with him did the same. They wept and fasted the rest of the day, grieving the death of Saul and his son Jonathan, and also the army of God and the nation Israel, victims in a failed battle.
Then David spoke to the young soldier who had brought the report: "Who are you, anyway?"
"I'm from an immigrant family—an Amalekite."
"Do you mean to say," said David, "that you weren't afraid to up and kill God's anointed king?" Right then he ordered one of his soldiers, "Strike him dead!" The soldier struck him, and he died.
"You asked for it," David told him. "You sealed your death sentence when you said you killed God's anointed king."
2 Samuel 1:6-16
How fun! An innocent man is executed for doing his duty. The coup de grace was long considered an act of mercy to a fallen comrade or respected enemy. A warrior chieftain such as David would have known this well. The young man was obeying the direct order of his king. David had followed orders from this same king with equal fealty. So why such injustice?
The key is David’s understanding of being anointed. When David was anointed “the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.” (1 Samuel 16:13) Anointing with oil is an act of consecration setting someone apart for a sacred purpose. Although God had deconsecrated Saul by withdrawing His Spirit from him, David seems to have felt that as once anointed, Saul’s life lie in God’s hands alone. Remember how many times the wrongfully persecuted David passed up opportunities to kill his persecutor Saul? So although the young soldier’s motives were correct within the context of the day, the result was to David the sins of assuming God’s mantle of judgment on one set aside for God, and of obeying a man over obeying God. Following orders is not an excuse to David. The assumption here from the scriptural narrative is that David is serving as God’s agent as the anointed; God did not punish David who was considered righteous until his murder of Uriah.
But it still bothers me, this seeming injustice. Why did David ask him to defend his actions, and then not give him an opportunity to speak? Why does the author seem to stress that the soldier was an Amalekite immigrant? Was this to justify the act, or to lessen the shock of his summary execution? Why does it say in 1 Samuel 31:4-6 that Saul died at his own hands if the soldier killed him? Did David not know that his own anointing meant that Saul was no longer consecrated to God’s service? How would The Anointed One (The Messiah) have dealt with the soldier? Did this scripture contribute towards the atrocities that have been committed by Christians against Jews through the years?
What do you wonder? Is your faith large enough to ask such questions? When we read Psalms, we see that David’s was.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Carpet Challenge


Is it my imagination, or does this carpet move? I have to try to keep my balance walking on it every day at work. I think there is something about it in the Geneva Convention - or at least OSHA! Let me know if you agree that this is the worst carpet you've seen. If not, post your contender on The Naked Alien's Fan Page on Facebook.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Badges




Jurassic possum.
Tip of tail and ear sacrificed;
Survivor’s badges.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dancing with God


I can not dance at all, unless you count a spasmodic partial rigor mortis zombie shuffle. It is not so much that I have two left feet, as it is that the right foot doesn’t know what the left foot is doing; aka brain failure. It is neither a skill nor a gift, and no amount of hard work will ever make this lumbering oaf graceful. But I can still admire the act of dancing. I also enjoy those reality shows that reflect a microcosm of society, and reveal that we all react differently to similar stimuli. The upcoming season of Dancing with the Stars is an example.

There is the gold-medal skater and the flashy wide-receiver. Both witness as to how far gifts, skills and hard work will get you. Yet they react in diametrically opposite ways; humility versus hubris, grace-fullness versus self-fullness. Giftedness is out of my hands, how do I respond to finding it in my life?

There is someone who was the man-on-the-moon and someone who’s sole claim to fame was being on a lower form of reality TV (exploitavision). Do I dishonor the giver if I do not complement my gifts with skills gained by hard work, and if I use them for only myself?

How will these people respond to relying on a partner? Will they humble themselves to learn? Will they fear new steps? How will they explore and use their gifts outside the comfort of their skill-sets? How will they respond to success and to failure? Life is a dance, and we all face these same questions every day.

“Dance, then, wherever you may be;
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.
And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be,
And I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.”
(Lord of the Dance; Sydney Carter)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Thor's Rocks




Cold cairn, snow shrouded.
Simple construction belies
Complex memories.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Abundance Versus Scarcity


2 Corinthians 9:6-15

Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.
God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you're ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it:
    “He throws caution to the winds,
     giving to the needy in reckless abandon.
     His right-living, right-giving ways
     never run out, never wear out.”
This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.
Carrying out this social relief work involves far more than helping meet the bare needs of poor Christians. It also produces abundant and bountiful thanksgivings to God. This relief offering is a prod to live at your very best, showing your gratitude to God by being openly obedient to the plain meaning of the Message of Christ. You show your gratitude through your generous offerings to your needy brothers and sisters, and really toward everyone. Meanwhile, moved by the extravagance of God in your lives, they'll respond by praying for you in passionate intercession for whatever you need. Thank God for this gift, his gift. No language can praise it enough!
(The Message)
 
Meditations:
1. How is giving like planting a crop?
2. If I feel pressured to give, why?
3. How can giving be a delight when I have little enough to begin with?
4. Can I be overly cautious?
5. Why does God give me gifts?
6. How do I show gratitude?
7. What matters to me? Am I rich in what matters?
 
“The mindset of scarcity is gripping our society as we are encouraged to turn inward during tough economics times and think only about our comforts. We have grown into a people who share our resources with God out of excess rather that sacrifice.” Bishop Hee-Soo Jung