Archive for July, 2013

Finding Our Voice

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

One of life’s greatest tasks and possibly greatest joy centers around the discovery of our voice. That voice is not the shrill notes sounded by fear and anxiety but the still notes sounded by a soul well grounded and reaching out with joy.

As Emanuel Swedenborg noted, it is “hidden deep … a kind of current” where our minds in turn ground themselves in the beloved activity that brings “peace and satisfaction.”  (TCR 735)  And that is where heaven comes visible to us.  “All who become angels carry their own heaven deep within themselves, because their love is the love that constitutes their heaven.” (TCR 739)  That ever so unique love, lived out, is heaven and becomes heaven forever.

But the question remains, how to find that voice?  One author pointed to the following questions as pointing us towards our voice.

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Who do you do it for?
  4. What is it that people need/ want?
  5. How are they transformed as a result?

And while the questions are interesting, the most fascinating point he made I believe was the meta-narrative overlaying these questions.  The meta-narrative …. 3 of the 5 questions are about others.

The voice we discover may be odd.  It may be happy or joyously defiant.  But it will be ours.  And provided it looks humbly inward for strength and outward to serve, it will be God-with-us.   A strange voice but unique.

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Don’t Waste Time: The Trap of Critique

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

It is seductively easy to waste time in critique of individuals and institutions, and to label such criticism “work.”  The seduction stems from the fact that such conversation will draw “converts.”  It likewise provides a social “grease” as well, allowing relationships to quickly form around common enemies.   And, it easily counterfeits itself as “work.”  We feel often like we have done something.  We might not be sure what we accomplished in our refined practice of complaint but it certainly feels like we have done something.

There is of course a place for candor, for a statement of how things are, including the unpleasant work the soul searching and rigorous honesty such truth telling often stirs.   But it holds a place.  Not the place.  And that practice must mindfully look more towards our actions vs. the actions of others.

The place we work towards is one that is open to a broader call than complaint.  It is an opening we are to approach, a pushing out of the edges that allows us to embrace others.  As one author lamented, in his rush of life he had forgotten that others are not an interruption.   Lost in complaint, we can do the same, holding the other as an unfortunate disruption in our speedy, frenetic movement from point a to point b.  The apostle Paul offers a simple remedy, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful in building up others according to their needs.”  (Eph. 4:29)  There is a place of truth in those words.

What is Killing the Christian Church?

Friday, July 19th, 2013

Churches role in  North America is clearly waning, following a trajectory witnessed in Europe over the past 50 years.  What is it that is killing the church?   Samuel Wells offered this reflection in a recent story carried by “The Christian Century” as he spoke to a 90 year parishioner who decided to return to church after a 75 year absence.

I asked, “What was it that led you away from the church for 75 years?” Nothing to lose, I thought. I may learn something. But I forgot the first rule of the inquirer: never ask a question to which you might get an answer you’re not ready to hear. I was in for a shock.

“It was when we wanted to get married. We were in love. The rector wouldn’t marry us.” Well, this sounds intriguing, I thought, and, always a soft touch for the romantic twist on a story, I blundered in where angels fear to tread. “So was there something wrong?” I asked. “Had your husband been married previously, or were you too young, maybe?”

“No,” she said calmly, and I realize now that she was trying hard not to be patronizing or angry. “The rector looked at my hand. You see, I worked in a mill. I had an accident when I was 16.” She held up her left hand. The last three fingers were missing. “The rector said that since I didn’t have a finger to put the wedding ring on, he couldn’t marry us.”

The color drained from my face. I reacted with the gasping half-laugh one coughs out when one hears something so ridiculous that it has to be funny—but of course it isn’t funny at all but deeply, deeply horrifying. It was so absurd that no one could have made it up. It had to be true. Suddenly I felt that 75 years away from the church was pretty lenient. “May I ask what brings you back to the church now?” I said, feeling I couldn’t go on without hearing her answer. “God’s bigger than the church,” she replied. “I’ll be dead soon. The Lord’s Prayer says forgive if you want to be forgiven. So that’s what I’ve decided to do.”

Such stories, dramatic in presentation, point to a distressing similarity to numerous contemporary examples.   As Wells notes we do not call the fundamentalist righteous that led a pastor to refuse a wedding due to a missing digit “sin” which leaves it “immune from the practice of forgiveness and restoration known to the gospel.  And it kills the church more surely than an creeping indifference….”  We instead, in some circles … gulp … celebrate it as “faith” or “standing up for the truth.”

One can hear the refrain, “But that is not me.”  And while that is accurate, as a corporate body there is much room for churches to place themselves in the admittedly vulnerable position of acknowledging imperfection and harm done through employing the Gospel as a WMD.

One pastor recently shared his sadness around a frequent refrain he heard while visiting churches as people shared all that they did NOT share with their own pastors.  If pastors are not a safe harbor, the pastor noted in Wells’ story, though dead for decades, is still alive and well in many Christian circles.  And if pastors are not a safe harbor, neither is the church.

We need to rediscover a new way, an old way.

Needing to choose. Not wanting to choose. But able to choose and being offered life.

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

I love the words of Walter Brueggemann that speak directly to the human condition as we often experience it. “Needing to choose. Not wanting to choose. But able to choose and being offered life.”

I am constantly caught short, narrowing my choice into thin slices of life that I mistakenly adorn with value. And God’s call is constantly expansive. “For I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness … for these are the things in which I delight.” (Jer. 9:24)

Nourishing love, cultivating it gently and with the disciplined dedication such an endeavor calls for is just not easy. For me, such an endeavor leaves me both more unsure and more sure. More unsure of definitive opinions stamped on events marking them as good or bad. Treyvon Martin … I am sad for everyone. More sure of what my job is despite worries of money, relationships, and political winds. That job is love … cultivating it as a form of common destiny, a “shalom” here on earth.

 

Truth and Detroit

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Statistics about Detroit ….

  1. City Debt: $18 Billion
  2. Average Police Response Time for highest priority crimes: 58 minutes
  3. Clearing Rate for % of Reported Crimes Solved: 8.7%
  4. Average Number of Ambulances Available Per Day: 10 to 16
  5. High School Graduation Rate: 65%
Truth and Detroit.
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There are a myriad of issues always present within our culture that clamor for attention.  We are often drawn to the most sensational, spending more time on the recent airliner accident in San Francisco that claimed two lives than on a systemic pathology around cities like Detroit or the recent spasm of violence in Chicago that claimed 11 lives this past weekend.   None of that mitigates of course the tragic loss of life in San Francisco.  It is to say that our short attention spans are drawn to the quick and dramatic vs. the long term and systemic.   Aircraft accident bangs. Detroit and Chicago whimper.
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As Christians we are called to move beyond what one author aptly phrased the poles of denial and despair.  Denial centers itself on a mistaken belief that it will all work out and that failure is not as deep or as long term as we think.  Despair centers on a likewise mistaken belief that we will never  know well being again and therefore we are left with a deeply cynical view of the future.
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The way out I imagine is engagement, in a candid looking, in a willingness to see and hear beyond the distractions of our cultural obsession with glamoured noise in order to witness things as they truly are.  And then to move, even if the only movement is a rededication to being awake to the challenges of others.
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Thoughts on Aaron Hernandez

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

Many are following the events connected to New England Patriot tight end Aaron Hernandez.  One of the top players in the NFL, Hernandez recently signed a multi-million dollar contract totally over $40 million.  And then came the arrest.

The arrest was for the murder of an acquaintance of Hernandez’s, Odin Lloyd, 27, a semi-pro football player, killed in a nearby industrial park approximately a mile from Hernandez’s home.  The investigation in turn tied Hernandez to two additional murders as well as a shooting in February.

In my own head and in conversation, one hears over and over again the question, how could someone who had it all throw it all away so carelessly to settle some apparently juvenile score on “respect”?  (And granted, at this time we are talking charges, not a conviction.)

A hard question to answer and a question that may keep us from a bigger point.

The belief that he “had it all” in our culture means “he had money and fame.”  That is a misnomer in and of itself … a false starting point. He did not have it all.  He did have money and fame.

Money and fame are not intrinsically evil.  And they supply no guarantee we will find release from the demons that plague us.   For him the demons connected to explosive violence.  Money and fame did little to assuage that homicidal rage.  Arguably, they multiplied the problem, may have fed a view in his mind, drawn from our culture, that fame and fortune somehow placed him above it all.

We need then in the end to look deeper than just Hernandez.  Our culture creates, in part, these tragedies.  That is not to let Hernandez off the hook.  But it is a call for us to really look at the unquestioned cultural assumptions we hold as “true”, few of which are as sacred as the unquestioned and unexamined belief that fame and fortune make all  problems disappear.