Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Blue-stem Blues


Greens giving away
To shades of mauve
With autumnal hues
Of gold stealing in.

Once proudly upright
Now bowed by weighty
Seeds of prairie future
Gracefully genuflecting.









Monday, August 30, 2010

BE Afraid? Isn't that Un-Christian?


Do not act like the other nations, who try to read their future in the stars.
Do not be afraid of their predictions, even though other nations are terrified by them.
Their ways are futile and foolish.
They cut down a tree, and a craftsman carves an idol.
They decorate it with gold and silver and then fasten it securely with hammer and nails
so it won’t fall over.
Their gods are like helpless scarecrows in a cucumber field!
They cannot speak, and they need to be carried because they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of such gods, for they can neither harm you nor do you any good.
Jeremiah 10:2-5, (NLT)

Do we make our own gods as we go along, re-carving them daily in our own images? “Your god looks like you so it must be false, but mine on the other hand…” Do we embellish and complicate because we do not respect the plain and simple? Do we make God a god and call it marketing? How do we prop up our gods? 
Do not be afraid of such gods, for they can neither harm you nor do you any good.
I can see why I shouldn’t fear a make-believe god because it can’t hurt me, but why the other part of the warning? Why would I fear something that did me good? On the other hand, maybe things that are good for me are the scariest? Remember the people who had seen Jesus exorcise Legion? And all the people in the region of the Gerasenes begged Jesus to go away and leave them alone, for a great wave of fear swept over them. (Luke 8:37) Do we fear power, whether bad or good because of its potential to harm or change us? Do we fear anything we don’t understand, regardless of its potential benefit because of the imagined harm? 
Fear: “An emotion excited by threatening evil or impending pain.” (Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary)
 Maybe instead of this modern usage of the word “fear”, we need to look at how the word is used in Proverbs:
  • The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (1:7)
  • To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech. (8:13)
  • The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.(9:10)
  • He whose walk is upright fears the LORD, but he whose ways are devious despises him. (14.2)
  • Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the LORD a man avoids evil. (16:6)
  • Fear the LORD and the king, my son, and do not join with the rebellious. (24:21)
  • Blessed is the man who always fears the LORD, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble. (28:14)
Idols do not lead to wisdom, discernment or discipline. Idols do not bring humility, goodness or honesty. Idols do not help us avoid pitfalls. Idols do not merit our fealty.
Fear: “Reverence for constituted authority, especially when accompanied by obedience thereto. To look upon with awe or reverence; venerate; to fear God.” (Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary)
We make gods to worship because they are less fearsome; less awesome. We try to cut God down to size for the same reason. Do we try to think that the few times we are willingly obedient are so endowed with significance that they magically make up for the thousands of times we are willfully dis-obedient?




Saturday, August 28, 2010

Windbags

The Readings This Week, August 29, 2010
Hear God's Message, House of Jacob! Yes, you—House of Israel! God's Message: "What did your ancestors find fault with in Me that they drifted so far from Me, took up with Sir Windbag and turned into windbags themselves?
It never occurred to them to say, 'Where's God, the God who got us out of Egypt, who took care of us through thick and thin, those rough-and-tumble wilderness years of parched deserts and death valleys, a land that no one who enters comes out of, a cruel, inhospitable land?'
"I brought you to a garden land where you could eat lush fruit. But you barged in and polluted my land, trashed and defiled my dear land. The priests never thought to ask, 'Where's God?' The religion experts knew nothing of me. The rulers defied me. The prophets preached god Baal and chased empty god-dreams and silly god-schemes.
"Because of all this, I'm bringing charges against you" - God's Decree - "charging you and your children and your grandchildren. Look around. Have you ever seen anything quite like this? Sail to the western islands and look. Travel to the Kedar wilderness and look. Look closely. Has this ever happened before, that a nation has traded in its gods for gods that aren't even close to gods?
But my people have traded my Glory for empty god-dreams and silly god-schemes.
"Stand in shock, heavens, at what you see! Throw up your hands in disbelief - this can't be! "My people have committed a compound sin: they've walked out on Me, the fountain of fresh flowing waters, and then dug cisterns - cisterns that leak, cisterns that are no better than sieves.
Jeremiah 2:4-13 (The Message)

He (Jesus) went on to tell a story to the guests around the table. Noticing how each had tried to elbow into the place of honor, he said, "When someone invites you to dinner, don't take the place of honor. Somebody more important than you might have been invited by the host. Then he'll come and call out in front of everybody, 'You're in the wrong place. The place of honor belongs to this man.' Red-faced, you'll have to make your way to the very last table, the only place left.
"When you're invited to dinner, go and sit at the last place. Then when the host comes he may very well say, 'Friend, come up to the front.' That will give the dinner guests something to talk about! What I'm saying is, if you walk around with your nose in the air, you're going to end up flat on your face. But if you're content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself."
Then he turned to the host. "The next time you put on a dinner, don't just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You'll be (and experience) a blessing. They won't be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned (oh, how it will be returned!) at the resurrection of God's people."
Luke 14:7-14 (The Message)

Meditations:
1. Israel had gone through a time of major change and transformation in the wilderness, where repeatedly they had to learn and re-learn dependence upon God instead of upon their own efforts. Are we windbags: do our fish-stories grow in the telling? Is it our heroism that wins the day when we reflect back?

2. What are the silly god-schemes in our minds? What cisterns have we dug in our hearts to replace God’s Living Water? How have we polluted the Promise Land?

3. Have we forgotten the God of Exodus, and placed ourselves at the head of the table?

4. When we evangelize, minister and serve, we are hosts. How do we recognize God’s transformative power in who we invite?











Friday, August 27, 2010

The Introvert


Ron Edmondson in his blog has been talking about being an introvert: 
It got me to thinking - and I hate to think!

People say I’m an introvert too. People I’ve known all my life. People I’ve just met. Personality tests agree: both scientific and Facebookian.

You’re all wrong!

Introvert: “An individual with strongly self-centered patterns of emotion, fantasy and thought.” (Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary)

To be an introvert is to be continuously introspective.

Introspect: “To examine and analyze one’s own thoughts and emotions; practice self-examination.”  (Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary)

While I’ll give you the living in a fantasy world part, the self examination part is way off. The last thing I want is to stir up the silt by swimming around in my muddy brain! I avoid analyzing emotions even more; they are way too illogical to meditate on. (Except for here where it is just a desperate cry for attention...) No, I’m really a closet extrovert.

Sometimes, my mind just wanders the zephyrs aimlessly – following wisps of ideas and rabbit trails of thought. Sometimes I’m just not home. Sometimes I’m thinking about how screwed-up the world often appears. My extroversion comes out in my art; my art is the real me. My confidence and bravery knows no bounds when I write. My eyes are wide open and all-seeing when I take photos. My throat is most relaxed and my voice is its strongest when I preach. I am my most caring and understanding when I teach. The rest of the time I'm a thoughtless turnip.

I have trouble relating and conversing one-on-one. There is a lag time between listening, thought and reaction. If I’m bored with what you are saying my brain ejects.  I don’t always react like a normal human. But that doesn’t make me an Introvert. If I must label myself, I choose to consider myself an inept Extrovert…































Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Judge so That Ye May be judged

When you hate yourself, you have some perceived reason: some thing or some act; something unforgivable that you think makes others hate you; something that makes you unlovable. You judge yourself vicariously through what you think others are thinking based upon what you would think about them if the roles were reversed. If no one can love you, if love is a two-way street, how can you love anyone else?

Yet when you’re “in love” with yourself, you are blinded by lust. The most monogamous relationship in the world is the narcissistic one. You assume that everyone can see what you so plainly see - that you are superior in every way. Can you really love those you judge inferior? Do you only love what they can contribute to your awesomeness? Self-love and selfish love are just hate in disguise.

Both self-hatred and self-love are inwardly focused. Both involve negative judgments.

Love is externally focused. Though they are opposites, love and hate are the flip-sides of the same coin. When you hate anything you give it power over you. We talk about the idolatry of lust and greed, but forget that hate is lustful. It becomes the center of focus. It shapes you in its own image. Love too is a surrender of power to another; we call it a sacrifice. Love too shapes you in its own image. One is a demonic possession, the other an angelic visitation. One is surrender to self, and the other submission to others and to God.

When you love everyone, doesn’t that also have to include yourself? When you love everyone, doesn’t that also include loving what makes them each unique – nature and nurture, Creator and trials? We are merciful with our love and forgive their weaknesses as God forgives ours. We think that love should be blind, that it be judgment free. We believe that we should not judge others, lest we be judged. I’m not sure I agree. We should not condemn, damn or negatively judge others lest they become what we name them, but maybe we should start judging people as good? Maybe this is what Jesus meant in John 20:23: “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." Isn’t forgiveness judgment?

Where is a Christian to focus? If my focus is on hating evil, I see only what I look for. I hate what I am, and I am what I hate. If my focus is on loving goodness, I see it everywhere. I love what I am, and I am what I love.



Dear God. You are the great I AM. You are Love. I hate so much about myself and about others. Please give me Your discernment so that I can love like You. Amen








Saturday, August 21, 2010

Thirst; The Readings This Week, August 22, 2010


He was teaching in one of the meeting places on the Sabbath. There was a woman present, so twisted and bent over with arthritis that she couldn't even look up. She had been afflicted with this for eighteen years. When Jesus saw her, he called her over. "Woman, you're free!" He laid hands on her and suddenly she was standing straight and tall, giving glory to God.
The meeting-place president, furious because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the congregation, "Six days have been defined as work days. Come on one of the six if you want to be healed, but not on the seventh, the Sabbath."
But Jesus shot back, "You frauds! Each Sabbath every one of you regularly unties your cow or donkey from its stall, leads it out for water, and thinks nothing of it. So why isn't it all right for me to untie this daughter of Abraham and lead her from the stall where Satan has had her tied these eighteen years?"
When he put it that way, his critics were left looking quite silly and red-faced. The congregation was delighted and cheered him on.
Luke 13:10-17 (The Message)

Again, Jesus rocks the boat, by changing the expectations and mores of the time. The Sabbath laws were critical to set the people of Israel aside from all others, and to show God the reverence and respect we often forget to pay Him in the middle of busy lives. Think about what the Sabbath has become. But somewhere along the line, healing had become defined as work. What Jesus was showing every one was that we show God respect by caring for His flock. “Peter, if you love Me, feed My sheep…”
Jesus is making His way from the Galilee to Jerusalem and the religious opposition is getting hotter and hotter. Yet, note who the religious leader challenges – the woman and all the others who came to be healed. He tells them that there is a proper time and place for healing. How many of us think that the proper time and place for God is Sunday morning in church? Jesus tells all that the proper time to commune with God is now. Sabbath law allowed for the taking care of livestock – people’s livelihood; it should also allow taking care of our neighbor. Elsewhere Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, reminds us that the Sabbath was made for man – not the other way around. 
And here is a thirsty woman. She's deformed (aka impure) and can't go to Temple. She's forced by tradition to sit silently in the back of the synagog because she's "just" a woman. And the head of the synagog is saying that she is lower than a thirsty cow and shouldn't have been invited up front or healed! The boat is about to tip over. A clear church management versus church leadership situation! 
It seems to me that striving to keep the Sabbath is becoming increasingly important, but we also need to strive to not create a "Sunday God": a God that we can only worship by word and song, but not also by serving His creation; a God that we can only love directly, but not also through loving His people; an angry God that must be appeased instead of a God that takes joy in our wobbly first steps. Jesus was executed for this kind of radical love; what does He expect from us? Where’s the Good News in all this? If He loved us, He couldn’t be serious about all this taking up the cross bit could He? I’m only one person! I’m only a girl! I’m only a boy!

This is what God said: "Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you: A prophet to the nations - that's what I had in mind for you."
But I said, "Hold it, Master God! Look at me. I don't know anything. I'm only a boy!"
God told me, "Don't say, 'I'm only a boy.' I'll tell you where to go and you'll go there. I'll tell you what to say and you'll say it. Don't be afraid of a soul. I'll be right there, looking after you."
God reached out, touched my mouth, and said, "Look! I've just put my words in your mouth—hand-delivered! See what I've done? I've given you a job to do among nations and governments—a red-letter day! Your job is to pull up and tear down, take apart and demolish, and then start over, building and planting."
Jeremiah 1:4-10 (The Message)

The farmer unties his cow and donkey from their ropes, and leads them to water. Jesus unties a woman from her bondage, and gives her living water. God unties Jeremiah from his doubts, and uses him to lead others to the water, even the gentiles (the nations). Last week’s reading from Isaiah (1:1-7) talked about ripping up the vineyard and tearing down its walls. Jeremiah is directed to pull up, tear down and take apart too. Change requires demolition of the old edifices we built that no longer serve our needs, but as we saw last week – we don’t like change. We fear that nothing will be built in its place, or that we won’t like it as well as what we had before. We want to live in the house while someone else restores it, and meanwhile complain about the noise and the inconvenience! Change is about starting over, about building something new, about planting a new crop. There is no Easter without Good Friday.

Change is scary, but think of a world without change. Where women are lower than livestock. Change is good, thirst for it!




After the Bible, the second greatest book on change is:

Friday, August 20, 2010

Brand Loyalty


WARNING! Free unsolicited advertising ensues.


In the never ending search for novel analogies and metaphors to use to talk about churches, I offer The Car. In spite of all the bells and whistles, a car is means of following a path and getting where you need to go – like church.

Brand Loyalty

Remember when automobile brands had iconic status? “We’re a Ford family!” How many people are born into a denomination and have no idea what that means? According to Jon Stewart, my United Methodists get to believe whatever we want! Woo Hoo! Actually, we don’t, but there is so little understanding within the pews as to what we do stand for that the perception from the reflections we cast is that we don’t stand for anything. I’m sure most denominations are the same? In a mass media marketing world, perception is EVERYTHING!

Inherited faith can be shallow faith. On the other hand, in the 80s Oldsmobile was hurt by its “not your father’s Oldsmobile” campaign; turns out people wanted the car they knew and trusted – but repackaged. In the transition to a consumer society, the trend has moved us more and more toward newness, sex appeal, and disposability (if your car lasted too long you wouldn’t buy a new one!). What’s a church to do?

Then there was the whole immigration problem in the 70s (Honda, Saab, VW, et al). I had relatives swear up and down that they’d NEVER buy a “foreign” car! But some did with time as fear was replaced by familiarity and trust. After an initial panic, competition was seen as a good thing for an overly confident self-satisfied US industry. Is competition good for churches?

We spend a lot of time researching the cars we buy and test driving them; we no longer automatically buy the family brand. Shouldn’t we give the same amount attention to where we choose to worship?

Options

The Model T came in black. It was the only car many people could afford. It was always black… The Church was once a Model T, but now there are a seemingly infinite number of churches to choose from. You have your soccer-parent-friendly family van churches, your hard-working pick-up mission oriented churches, your jalopy old-time religion churches or your sleek Ferrari prosperity gospel churches. During the recent energy crisis we saw that the product (Hummer) often shapes the consumer more than the other way around - until a tipping point is reached, then the reverse occurs. Are our churches at a tipping point?

In the old VW Bug, a heater was an option! Now option packages on cars are the sparkly wiz-bang stuff on a fishing lure. We insist on the same thing in our churches; we want extra programs, controllable pastors, comfort and entertainment - the whole shebang. Do churches feel pressure to adapt to the times and be new, sexy and disposable – to be all things to all people?

Indispensability

Classic Metal Works 1940's Greyhound Bus NYC
Anne Rice  has shaken some up by saying “No thanks; I think I’ll ride a bike or walk.” Is there only one way to get from Point A to Point B? In an energy shortage time, shouldn’t we be looking to alternative modes of transportation? Which do you think forms a better metaphor for the Body of Christ: a bunch of cars in a traffic-jam spewing fumes, or a bus?


As The Cars would say:
Shake It Up