Thursday, June 2, 2011

Good God…

“God is good!” I often open the service with that phrase. It’s part one of a call-and-response used in many African-American churches, and the right reply, you know, is, “All the time!”

Many folk in recent weeks, I suspect, have questioned that goodness. Maybe wondered whether God’s good some of the time, but takes days off. Life, after all, can be terribly tragic. Just ask friends in North Minneapolis or Joplin, Missouri who’ve watched homes and lives destroyed by devastating tornados. God is good? Really…

I realize it’d be foolish to assume we could, in this letter, adequately address that concern. Humans have sought to understand, from time immemorial, why bad things happen to good people, or- to put it simply- “Why me?” No final answer’s been given yet. My words won’t end debate. Our world is both fragile and wonderful, hostile and lovely. So it will ever be.

That’s not to say, however, that humans haven’t found ways to cope. For instance, I personally believe yes, God is good all the time, and no tornado can change that. And that belief resides at the core of my worldview. I accept as basic fact what 1 John 4:8 puts so elegantly, “God is love.” In my heart and soul, all things flow from that bountiful river, and when I’m feeling healthy and whole, even in the toughest of times, it delivers “peace that passes understanding.”

Wait. That idea mostly satisfies my heart and soul. There is, though, a little gnaw of doubt or incompleteness or compassion for folk in distress that causes me to sometimes double-back, to ask, “Is God’s love actually enough?” You’ll recognize my hesitation. It often accompanies a familiar question- “If God was so good, why didn’t God stop the tornado?” I’ll be honest; every answer I’ve ever explored seems not enitiiiirely like The One. Some say, “God’s got a plan. Just trust and believe.” If it were my house toppled, I’d hate that answer. Others say, “God is love. God couldn’t stop the tornado, but God won’t ever stop caring.” I like that better; it’s closest to my heart. till, it makes God seem powerless, right, like a sideline spectator who only cheers and boos our lives, and that’s weirdly dissonant with “The Creator of All.” Others say, “Accept there is no God.” Doubtful. I’ve had enough encounters with something ‘holy’ there ain’t no turning back. I have decided to follow Jesus. Come what may.

Ever read Job? Many know Job’s story- real decent guy has his world fall apart, then spends thirty-five chapters talking to his pals and complaining to God about it- but have you read those chapters? Stunning poems (some are the Bible’s oldest words, fyi), which describe the kind of courage all religious people ought to mimic. Job’s friends say, essentially, “It must be your fault things fell apart.” Job says, “No. It isn’t. And God needs to come here and account for Godself.” Calling God on the carpet…Saying, “Lord, if you’re so darn good, come tell me yourself cause all I got now is heartache, idiot friends and empty silence.” As I said, courageous!

And the good news? God shows up. Sure, the poet puts rather uncomforting words in God’s mouth. But the fact God arrives, actually gives Job an accounting, helps me, at least, abide my questions and doubts better. Like Job’s author, I think God can handle our outrage, our sense of being treated unfairly, our anger and pain. That God would attend to us, even as we suffer and storm, sounds right. That God doesn’t want us hiding our heads in the sand or turning away from God, but demanding answers to understandable, if unanswerable, questions seems appropriate. Beautiful, even. Because bottling them up, satisfying ourselves with despair or simple answers, won’t help anyone over the long run. Getting it out, though, saying, “Lord, help me believe,” is a coping strategy I’d stand behind. It won’t settle the doubts, probably. But it might help us take steps towards peace and acceptance. It helps me, at least, in light of hard events, to say God is good. And mean it.

All the time.

Grace and Peace,

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Standing secure…

Many of you know that Tabitha and I have begun looking at homes to buy; our first ever such purchase (Yeah!) (Yikes!). Which means we’re now occasionally taking walks through other people’s homes. There are fun parts- kitchens, living rooms, backyards; moderately-fun parts- bathrooms, closets, pantries. Then, there’s the basement. Basements (in the price range we’re considering!) don’t often have ‘fun things’ to see. Lots of concrete. Maybe an old washer and dryer. But mostly, these basements weren’t designed for, say, entertaining guests.

Still, we go to the basement in every house we look at. Why? You know- The Foundation. The first home we entered, the basement floor was cracking and brittle. Much of the house, otherwise, looked wonderful, but it’s like an underground lake was prepping to explode into the home at any moment. We won’t be making an offer. We saw other houses with foundation questions, some consequential, others less so. I like certain things about house shopping much more than checking the foundation, yet I know that’s what makes a building worth occupying. Or not.

Ready for the metaphor shift? Say it with me- “So it is with churches.” Our ultimate foundation, of course, is as secure as can be imagined. Christ has risen! But for every church, the unique elements that build their edifices of faith must hold together, or the entire structure could crumble. And by that, I don’t simply mean the building where they worship. I mean the stuff supporting the work and worship they do- stewardship, hospitality, administration. And in recent months, the Board (one important brick in our foundation) made changes y’all will want to know about, and perhaps weigh in on.

For one, we decided to move ahead on the Community Garden Project and with our church now the overall manager. Yes, some nearby neighbors raised concerns, and their input helped. But the overall goal of helping 40ish families grow their own food and flowers will be pursued. I pray we’ll enjoy this outreach project, build new relationships and feel proud about caring for God’s earth and others!

Second, the Board adopted two policies in recent months that focus our administration. The first was a Bus Usage Policy, addressing many issues related to this new ministry and ensuring we’re as safe as possible. The second was a Memorial Funds Usage Policy, deciding how to manage money donated in memory of loved ones who’ve passed. To make certain we’re using these gifts as intended, we decided, A) To establish an “Internal Line of Credit,” i.e. a safety net in the event we’re ever again in dire financial straits. Prayerfully, that money will never be used, but we thought it good stewardship of memorials to set aside emergency cash for very rainy days. And B) Anything above that can (and should) be used on capital improvements for the church’s ministry. This can mean hymnals, signs, new boilers or instruments. And, in the event we’re considering a non-emergency purchase above $5,000, the Board decided to ask the congregation to vote yeah or nay. Some things need general support to be effective additions to our life together. If you want to read these policies, I’ll get you a copy.

Lastly, the Board is also recommending that, at the June 26 Annual Meeting, the church modify its by-laws to change Board size and make-up. The recommended new language is in this newsletter. But here’s the cliff notes: We want to reduce Board size to six (2 new directors/year) and invest the President and Vice President with voting authority. This will make it easier to schedule meetings, have substantive conversations and vote on important issues. Further, with fewer Board Members, our collective energies can be better directed toward other ministry!

Like I said, it’s like walking through a basement- not real exciting, but vital. Indeed, that the Board takes time not simply to listen to reports, but to reflect seriously on church policy, i.e. the beams and foundation stones that make our church unique, should make us feel good. That work isn’t always amusing, but it provides vision and security that, with God’s help, will help us thrive over the long-term.

Grace and Peace,
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