Friday, December 28, 2012

Courage and Faith…

The background picture on my laptop (aka- “the wallpaper”) changes regularly.  Variety is the spice of life, right?  Every new image, though, induces from me much soul-searching and anguish.  What do I find beautiful?  What matters to me?  What reflects my values?  Blah, blah, blah.  One might suspect that I put too much thought into an entirely insignificant decision.  I do.  I own it.  So I’ve decided to use it, instituting a personal policy several months ago to tie each wallpaper change to upcoming sermons.  A pictorial guide for what I hope to preach.

Turns out that doing this weekly proved too time consuming.  So I adapted, and now change the wallpaper as new sermon series arise, keeping one around for weeks.  I chose an expansive, verdant banyan tree when I preached on remaking Paradise in our midst.  In summer, when we explored interfaith spiritual gurus, I had whirling dervishes circling across my screen.  Now it’s time for another change, because the annual Cinema Sermon Series approaches.  I’m calling the 2013 version “More than Belief, Faith Is Courage”.  So what image evocatively depicts that idea?

Well, before I reveal my choice (isn’t suspense fun?), I should explain the concept some.  First, ponder common understandings of what “faith” means.  If someone said, “Describe your faith,” what would you say?  I’d guess most American Christians would respond with something like, “I believe in Jesus, God, and maybe the Holy Spirit…”  And should you follow up, “Tell me more about faith in Jesus,” you’d likely hear, “He died for sin, rose again.  That’s what I believe.”

In other words, for reasons too complicated for this letter to do justice, many equate the term faith with the concept belief.  As if they’re synonyms, we surmise that what we believe is the essential content of our faith.  Thus, “I believe in Jesus” = “I have faith in Jesus”.

But consider who you’d put on your laptop wallpaper if asked to select a favorite Champion of Faith.  You know, a religious hero, someone who impeccably embodies what “faithfulness” means.  Belief might be part of your decision, though would that be it?  Like, say, you chose Mother Teresa (and many would, for good reason), you’d have to acknowledge that for her, faith transcended belief.  In posthumously published writings, Mother Teresa revealed that for long stretches of time she struggled to believe.  She continued serving the poor, helping the vulnerable, cleaning festering wounds, all while aching with regret at sometimes lacking belief.  Still, I dare you to argue that she lacked faith! 

And Mother Teresa’s not alone.  Other faithful champions in Christian history wrestled with doubt- Martin Luther, Dorothy Day, Peter, Paul and Mary.  Ultimately, though, these blessed souls each showed the divine power of lived faith.  Not because they believed more muscularly than others- purely, rightly and always true- but because through every peak and valley of this complex life, every whipping wave threatening to maroon their souls on rocky shores, they held fast.  They dug deep.  Stared unblinking into the abyss.  Which is to say, they displayed profound boldness. Courage. 

And I wonder if that’s the more essential part of faith than belief.

So this winter’s Cinema Sermon Series movies will explore the theory that “More than Belief, Faith Is Courage”.  Again, we can’t neglect belief, but we can affirm its proper order.  And I think it comes after we nurture the courage to trust God and live for love.  FYI, the series’ movies will be The Hunger Games, Casablanca and The Shawshank Redemption, because in each courage proves vital.  And my wallpaper image for the series, my courageous companion in faith?!  It’s Martin Luther King Jr. surrounded by hundreds of marchers, faithfully demanding recognition from their nation that all people are created equal.  On those marches, some were mauled and clubbed.  Dr. King, of course, was murdered.  Yet also on those marches, faithful souls sang, “We Shall Overcome,” proclaiming that deep in their hearts, they certainly believed.  Though deeper still, courage burst forth.  Changing the world.  Inspiring belief.  Guiding our hopes for faithfulness still.  Have we courage to follow their lead?  To be champions of faith ourselves?

Grace and Peace,

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Celebrating the messenger…

My dog Fawkes has a nemesis. An honest-to-goodness nemesis. I feel bad about it, don’t encourage it. We’re trying to stop it. I just don’t know how to keep Fawkes from barking and clawing, lunging and freaking out whenever the post office delivery person comes to our door. Indeed, when she’s still across the street, Fawkes’ ears perk up. She runs to the front foyer and her psycho puppy personality emerges like an angry Hulk. I’ve apologized to this person many times. I’ll probably do it again. Because this cuddly, crazy canine of mine just doesn’t realize the postal worker’s only a messenger, not a nemesis, bearing tidings of Christmas cards, utility bills and unsolicited credit card applications.

It reminds me of the angel encounters in the Bible’s Christmas stories. Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary, shepherds, all meet heavenly beings in the beginning of Luke and Matthew. Perhaps you knew this already, but if not, here’s some Biblical trivia- The Greek word for angel also means “messenger”. Helpfully distinguishing those characters from other not-quite-human spiritual creatures the ancients imagined surrounding us. Considering some of those other beings were thought devious demons, causes for psychosis or disease, it’s a useful distinction to call spirits like Gabriel, “messengers” or “angels”. Helps Luke’s ancient readers breathe easy. “They’re on our side. Phew!”

Of course, for human characters in Jesus’ Birth stories, the angels’ good intentions weren’t immediately apparent. All they knew initially was that, suddenly, something supernatural was talking…to them! Thus, the typical reaction is shock, dread, panic, fear; poor humans worrying, “Is this phantom friendly? Or might it be a nemesis?!”

Fortunately, the stories hint that neither Mary nor Joseph growled at the angels like Fawkes at the mail carrier. Still, the message the heavenly messengers often begin with is, “Do not fear!” After all, these humans had good reason to be skeptical of their presence. And not just because of their supposed spiritual competition from less than holy sources. It’s that most of us don’t encounter God’s messengers very often.

Which pulls me back to modern times, and contemporary skepticism of such stories. Polls reveal that most Americans believe in the reality of angels. They’re less certain about demons- thankfully!- but winged messengers are welcome. By contrast, surveys of main-line Biblical scholars, I’d bet, would yield starkly different results. Many read these stories as ancient legends, teaching deep truths that transcend fact. Personally, I like what Hamlet, after “seeing” his father’s ghost, says to a skeptical buddy- “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophies, Horatio!” That’s to say, I’m open to honoring the possibility of angelic-like experiences. Maybe. What I don’t do, though, is build the foundation of my faith on their alleged factuality.

So let me tell you what I do build the foundation of my faith upon. Jesus. The messenger. Not Jesus-the-Angel, but Jesus, God’s revelation, God’s message to Christians. Now, that may sound like a Sunday School cop-out (always answer Jesus!), but the point runs deep. I mean, Christians have forever argued over what Jesus means. What’s his role in our lives? What’s his function in God’s plan? Around Christmas, I feel it’s important to ponder those questions again. After all, we’re celebrating his birth. But why does that matter?

My answer: I believe Jesus reveals- to Christians- the fullest picture of God we know. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists had other messengers; God reveals Godself in many ways! But for Christians, that little Bethlehem babe shows what’s most important to us about God. That God’s strength includes the vulnerability of childbirth. That God’s salvation includes outcast shepherds, voiceless carpenters, ‘foreign’ Zoroastrian wise men. That God’s love can’t be stopped by violent Herod’s paranoia, nor even by Christ’s eventual, unjust execution by Herod’s successor. Therefore, I have faith that God’s love includes me. And you. And all this world’s continued injustice and beauty, sin and possibility.

So join me this Christmas in celebrating God’s messengers. Not just angels or postal carriers, patient with my dog as they are. But the ultimate revelation of God’s unyielding love. The unconquered Son- Jesus.

Grace and Peace,
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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tis seasonal…

Until the sky ripped open recently, and a foot-deep white blanket descended, I hadn’t really felt the Christmas spirit yet this year. Sure, I saw the commercials. We bought a tree and decorated it. I’ve preached two advent sermons, reread Jesus’ origin stories in both Matthew and Luke. Still, to my psyche, life hasn’t felt like anything other than normal routine. Just days before The Day, even Christmas carols sound strange to my ears, premature.

I sound about two keystrokes away from typing, “Ba-hum-bug,” right?! It’s not that. I’m not anti-Christmas or bitterly un-festive. I’m simply emotionally unprepared to celebrate the season, for whatever reason.

During school years, this Christmas spirit delay never happened. For starters, we anticipated time off from the ‘normal’ homework routine months in advance! Plus, I also made a bigger deal of receiving gifts and toys and such. This year, my family’s present will be new tires and a board game. Both welcome additions, mind you, but not as desperately desired. Maybe, now that I pay for gifts, the joy of receiving diminishes. Or perhaps I’m learning there’s something decent and spiritually mature about living simply, being content with what you have. I’ll admit that I haven’t always cultivated such a personal perspective. Or maybe something deeper is happening, something more profound than no snow, busy work life, frugality.

Which leads me to ask: What, after all, is the so-called Christmas Spirit? Is it real? Manufactured? And why would it come and go with the seasons?

One enduring Christmas memory involves the no-commercials music station that provided atmosphere to my teenage workplace. Muzak, it was called, playing endless Adult Contemporary Top 40. Until just after Thanksgiving, when Muzak began choosing Holiday songs around the clock. We would go batty by December 15, having heard Jingle Bell Rock for the 12,314th time. And we were convinced, absolutely certain!, that our customers felt the same. They, after all, perhaps worked in stores with similar holiday sounds as well. Surely, they also had consumed way too many Santa Songs and Reindeer Rambles. But oh no, every day until after Muzak shifted back, one of every five customers would sing along, dance and smile. We’d say, “Happy Holidays.” They’d respond, “Back at ya!” And mean it. We’d smile in response, watch them leave and silently admit…we meant it too.

That’s the Christmas Spirit I think, in some small way. People interacting joyously, with a bit more bounce and delight, welcome and grace. It’s corny. It’s overdone. It can be WAY too forced sometimes. And how I wish I’d been caught up in that spirit earlier this year than I have.

Perhaps this says more about me than life in general, but I doubt I’m alone. It’s just I think most ‘normal’ days aren’t as bouncy and bright as Christmas Spirit-inspired days. Some are flat out dull and dour. I don’t like those days! Most are better, some are wonderful, the majority fluctuating from “whatever” to “quite fine”. Holiday days, by contrast, though they’re usually not objectively different, feel different to me, feel consistently on better side of the spectrum. I might cook, write sermons, call on folk, act ‘normal’. Someone may experience something terribly tragic, another family may welcome a baby. Underneath it all, however, from the awful to the majestic, a feint glow bolsters me during those times, when I’m attuned to the holiday spirit. As if to make me admit that, though most ‘normal’ days don’t include anticipating feasts or presents, nevertheless my faith teaches that Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, is with us, always. That holiday spirit, then, may be a divine Spirit, toward which the coming commemoration focuses my mind and heart.

So, ideally, this Christmas spirit shouldn’t change with the seasons. Again, Christ’s birth, life and resurrection reveal to Christians God’s ever-present, abiding grace (Jews and Muslims likely describe their holiday spirits differently!). But being human, it’s hard to always remember those ideas, feel that spirit, remain that buoyant. And that’s exactly why I’m glad Christmas comes yearly, and that I’m feeling its spirit again, finally. It’s good to remember what’s most important. Someone turn up the Muzak!

Grace and Peace,

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

All together now…

Pretty much every church I enter, I’m greeted by a greeting. By which I mean that something- a bulletin board, a sign, a person- addresses me as a visitor, invariably claiming, “Welcome to our church. So glad you’re here. This (insert programs, values, beliefs here) is who we are. ” That’s what Christians do. We offer hospitality. It’s partly recruiting effort, obviously. But mostly, it’s showing love.

I love the stories from earlier days in our ministry, when Plymouth Creek (what was then New Ventures) worshipped in a local motel. Because the room used was near the building’s rear, I’m told, we stationed greeters in the lobby to greet first time attendees and usher them back to worship. Think of the personal attention such a mechanism allowed. “Thanks for coming. I’ll walk you back. Tell me, what brought you to our church?” Brilliant move, amen?! Unless the person simply wanted a room…

With a dedicated building, though, things have changed. Yet we’ve always had signs and processes for saying, “Welcome.” Indeed, for a long time, there was a welcome desk containing a folder for collecting contact info, staffed by church volunteers giving friendly smiles. A few years back, we eliminated that folder, since people these days are much more sensitive to privacy. Then, a few months back, we stopped scheduling greeters. In fact, we’ve moved that desk so far from the door there’s now no immediate sign addressing guests. It’s almost like we’ve eliminated the hospitality ministry.

So have we lost our minds?! Have we stopped caring?! I’ll be honest, several church folk have asked me questions along those lines. Very correctly, they’ve expressed concern about what message that sends. If no one’s up front to greet folk, will they ever get greeted? Shouldn’t the church go out of its way to make sure visitors feel welcome? Why would we change without something new in its place? Good points, all. Here’s my response.

The thing is, I don’t believe “Hospitality” is one church ministry among many. Rather, I’m convinced it’s the basic thing we do. Which is to say that none of us should ever feel like it’s someone else’s job to provide welcome. And if we’re not careful, we can fall into that pattern. I’ve often witnessed someone walk through the door who no one recognizes, then have PCCC folk beeline to…not to her, but me. “Shane, we’ve got visitors,” they’ll say. “Go say hi.” Obviously, this acknowledges an important idea- the minister should make time to welcome guests. But it also seems to suggest that’s purely my job, not ours. Ditto if we rely on designated greeters each Sunday morning. That can tempt us to think, “Someone else has it; I’m off the hook.

Now, I’m realistic. I don’t think everyone should huddle by the door, waiting for new people. That would be awkward. Plus, many of us have other important Sunday tasks. Moreover, an important thing we get from Sundays is time with friends, catching up with those we love, which really matters. Not to the exclusion of welcoming new folk, but it’s certainly critical. Nevertheless, I still think it’d be great if we all contributed to the church’s hospitality. Maybe you’re good at initiating conversation. If so, be on the lookout. Maybe you’re more comfortable saying, “Nice to meet you. Can I get you a bulletin?” Do it! Perhaps you’d rather arrange the introduction to the minister, giving that visitor a greeting two-for-one. It’s lovely if you’re simply best at opening doors and smiling.

The point is, we stopped scheduling “greeters” to see how it feels if hospitality was a necessarily shared endeavor. I’m not wedded to that scheme enduring until eternity, but I’d like to push you to help shoulder your part. If you usually avoid new people, take a risk, make a friend. If you often forget to look around, try to remember. If, instead, you repeatedly come on real strong, step back and trust others (I’m trying…). And please send me your feedback, concerns and suggestions. I mean, we are all in this together, aren’t we?

Besides, Jesus said something like, “love your neighbor…”. To everyone.

Grace and Peace,


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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Holiday sharing…

We had turkey leftovers, of course, the day after Thanksgiving. And they were tasty; my sister had done wonderful work with the bird. Still, my family dined at Burger King the following lunch, which I hesitate to admit, since some would call that fast-food indulgence a terrible moral failing. Perhaps they’re right, particularly since we weren’t there as a Black Friday pit stop. Rather, we made this trip to the BK lounge intentionally, on purpose. Had we sacrificed our culinary integrity on the altar of laziness and french fry dependence? One might think, until learning that my niece was there at work.

Yes, my family forewent day-old turkey sandwiches, an American tradition, in order to order carnivorous delights from seventeen year-old Kayla. Oh, the memories that experience brought to mind! Seeing her sport those BK blue khakis, an over-sized polo shirt, hair pulled back by a floppy visor, surrounding a wispy white hairnet, I recalled the years I spent employed by KFC. An Assistant Manager, I’ll have you know, after only nine months employment. Indeed, by the time I was entering college, I’d had enough such experience that, for a summer, the local Burger King also hired me to manage their morning rush. After which, I’d rest several hours, then work at KFC during dinner. Thus, I made some decent coin that summer, despite my barely over minimum wages. Though it took several weeks, by the end, to clear the grease smell from my car.

And those weren’t the toughest jobs I ever attempted. For several years, every Sunday and on most major holidays, I drove to a local warehouse around 3 AM to help Denver Post delivery personnel. You see, the newspaper would be delivered to that building around then, at which point the carriers would stuff sections together, wrap them with rubber bands and load into vehicles. On weekends, though, the final products were large and heavy, nearly impossible to prepare on tome without help for some more physically challenged employees. Thus, the warehouse boss paid me to assist the folding, bagging, moving, loading, until all had left, when I’d sweep the floors, empty the garbage cans and head home to shower for church. I’ve also cleaned pools in pre-dawn hours, worked as a tire shop errand boy, even tried my hand at home construction for several miserably unsuccessful weeks. All those memories flooded my inner self this recent holiday weekend, watching my family’s next generation begin her own employment journey.

Honestly, I’m glad that my work these days is more often cerebral than physical. I enjoy the writing and creating, building relationships and generating ideas. But as I recently pondered my early experiences, I remembered an oft-overlooked fact: though those jobs could be hard, the hours long, the tasks unwelcome, in every instance, I found joy and purpose. I often loved what I did.

Truly. I had lots of fun; not all the time, but often. Whatever the stereotypes of such work some peddle and mock, I’m glad I had the opportunity in those days to do those jobs. I made friends. I learned resilience. I gained deeper appreciation for others. And the thing that most strikes me now, in this unexpected moment of retrospect, is the powerful ability of so many to laugh and make good out of tough times. I mean, as much as I respect paper carriers, I’ll admit, their job ain’t easy. Still, most mornings in the warehouse, we found time to share jokes, to lighten the mood. That says something, I imagine, about joy residing in the human spirit. Whatever the place, it’s possible to make meaningful connections and share happiness.

So as we ponder this month the Christmas hardships of Mary and Joseph in the manger, the hillside shepherds, the long-traveling magi, to say nothing of all those millions who work hard holiday hours- shipping overnight packages, serving early morning Starbucks, allowing last-minute, late-night gifts- let us give thanks for all who make up our community. And remember that wherever we are, whatever we’re enduring, we can discover joy, as well as share joy with whomever we encounter. Chances are, they’re looking to smile too.

Grace and Peace,

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Visiting friends…

Not infrequently does worship begin at Plymouth Creek with people still filing in the seats or pulling in the parking lot. It used to concern me, until I remembered that occurs at basically every Christian church! Now, I simply smile and wave when someone arrives after the opening song. Many, of course, prefer coming early, taking time to pause and reflect and prepare for worship. Or maybe they enjoy several minutes before service to say hi to friends or greet visitors (shouldn’t we all be excited to greet visitors!). But others would rather squeeze every extra minute of sleep possible, a stance I wholly understand. Or perhaps they’ve other things to do Sunday morning, like finish some work or chores or get kids dressed. The point is, I don’t believe there’s “one way” of coming to worship. Come early, come late, just come and be joyful!

Still, for those who grow concerned when another enters after service begins, they ought do what I did last Friday. I was invited with several others to attend noontime Friday prayers at the Northwestern Islamic Community Center, which in Islamic tradition is much like Sunday mornings for Christians. Muslims, of course, (are supposed to…) pray five times daily at specific times, which is often done alone or with few others. But the Friday noon prayer is when the broader community tries to gather, pray together, hear a sermon, make plans, fellowship. It’s that way throughout the world, I’m told. And in Muslim majority countries, civic society has organized to accommodate the faithful. Many businesses close after Friday morning, or all day, allowing workers and bosses opportunity to attend local Mosques. It’s a different “weekend” than our country, with our historically different religious influences. And because of that, American Muslims find ways to adapt. When your “holy day” isn’t Sunday or Saturday- typical American days off- it’s extra challenging to attend worship while being productive in society.

Which, I suspect, significantly contributed to a distinct feature of last Friday’s prayer service. When it began with a young man singing the traditional Arabic “call to prayer”, the worship space felt barely half-full. A scripture was chanted. The acting imam preached. He stopped to pray, then continued his message, which he told me was typical practice. And all the while, a steady flow of new worshipers entered the room. One by one, they’d remove their shoes then line up beside others. Often, they’d perform two prayer cycles (Muslim prayer involves cycling through several postures, including standing, kneeling and prostrating), before settling in to listen to the speaker. And the service culminated in two communal cycles of prayer, by which point enough had arrived to nearly fill the space.

To this observer, what felt remarkable was how normal that all felt. No one seemed agitated when someone arrived five, ten, twenty minutes after worship began. That person simply slipped into the room, addressed God briefly and personally, then seamlessly joined the community’s activity. What appeared to matter more was that s/he made time during a busy Friday to attend prayers and show support to this faith community.

I don’t know if it’s getting more difficult for all people of faith to carve out time to gather for worship, but sometimes it feels so. Many American Christians (though certainly not all!) are privileged with fewer pressures on Sunday than Muslims on Fridays. But often things arise- sports, work, family- that remind us that taking time for God isn’t always easy. As a pastor, I think it matters. Obviously! But I understand that it can feel like adding to that ever-expanding To-Do List.

So, as a pastor who watched this dynamic play out differently than my normal before my eyes last week, just a few days before Thanksgiving, let me take today simply to say, “Thank You”. To you who weekly, monthly or in your own way regularly pause to acknowledge God and God’s people. I pray you find as much power and refreshment in that experience as I hope. But however you do it, for whatever reason, you have my thanks. And I dare presume God thinks rather fondly on it too.

Grace and Peace,

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Occasional flare…

Again, Thanksgiving’s upon us! And this time, I plan to be ready. I’m traveling with Tabitha and Fawkes to my sister’s house in Kansas. I’ll bring some cooking tools also, probably more than I’ll need. But I intend to force my family to let me make some of the holiday meal. The mashed potatoes, certainly. Perhaps some carrots, a chunky gravy.

Of course, it’s only been a few years since I’ve become a non-embarrassment in the kitchen. My family’s accustomed still to the culinary bumbler they long knew. Thus, I suspect that, were we to get together next week for a weekend barbeque, I wouldn’t need to argue for whether I could take control of a recipe or two. They’d say, “Go for it. Let’s see what you’ve learned.” After all, if I messed up, there’s Papa John’s or India House. Except this isn’t a normal dinner. It’s Thanksgiving! And you just don’t take the risk of your suddenly wannabe Chef Son messing up a holiday feast. Give him some years to watch and learn and prepare.

It’s how holiday cooking has worked for centuries, even. Younger generations learning tricks and traditions from their parents, who learned from their parents, all making slight adjustments when their turn came. So on, down the ages, ideas evolved. As new ingredients were imported, things like cinnamon were added to pumpkin pie. As new technologies arose, things like blenders made making smooth gravy much quicker. Yet because these meals mattered more than most- holidays that brought occasional flare to all-too-often bare and simple tables- the evolution was slow, changes took time, traditions held strongly.

It you’re now asking, “Shane, why does that matter?” I want you to reread those sentences, but imagine we’re talking about religion. Go ahead. I’ll wait. You done? Great. Sounds like a related process, doesn’t it? At least, that’s my theory: cooking and religion are often the same. Especially when it comes to big moments, holiday feasts! I’ve attended Christmas services at Evangelical churches who pride themselves on using only up-to-date, hipster music. Yet on those oh-so-holy nights, the churches sang Joy to the World and such. Sure, the instrumentation was more current than organ and bells. Nevertheless, some things, I guess, you just don’t mess with.

Or rather, you only mess with over long periods of time. I mean, it’s also true that Jesus’ followers didn’t sing Silent Night, right? Instead, they celebrated festivals that evolved over centuries of Jewish observance; Passover, Booths, Pentecost, Yom Kippur, which in turn were adapted from earlier cultures and traditions. Over intervening centuries, many things happened that changed the meanings of these Jewish festivals- the Exodus from Egypt, the Exile in Babylon, the takeover of Jewish homelands by Rome. Then, for Christians, Passover became something quite transformed when thought of in light of Jesus. Yet just like Jesus, for awhile, they honored ancient tradition and performed familiar rituals.

You know the saying: the only thing that never changes is that everything changes? That’s true enough, I imagine, however slowly most important changes take. In an age like ours, such measured speeds can feel glacial even, particularly when compared with how quickly some new things change. Flashier, faster iPhones come out yearly now. E-readers and laptops get both smaller and more powerful. Why haven’t we figured out world peace, then?! Or, at least, a perfect way to make turkey gravy every time, with little fuss and less cleaning?! The Holidays are good reminders that, however true it is that all things will pass, you don’t mess with some important things without due deliberation.

So it is I’ll head to Thanksgiving with my new potato ricer and flashy wand blender, demanding to mash potatoes but not daring to roast the turkey. I may say, “Hey Mom, perhaps we ought try brining it this year?” But if we don’t, whatever. She’s Mom; she’s got it covered. And when it’s my turn to take over, eventually, I’ll be glad she passed on what she knew.

Grace and Peace,
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Thursday, November 8, 2012

As one…

This Sunday marks the first of several experiments over the next few months. Specifically, we’re welcoming Rev. Dr. Ewen Holmes- Senior Pastor of nearby Plymouth Presbyterian Church- into our pulpit, while I’ll be at his church laying down the good Word. Pastor Ewen and I arrived in Plymouth within a month of each other. We’ve connected through IOCP, along with other similar minded pastors. Enjoying those relationships, we grab lunch or breakfast regularly. And a few months back, someone said, “Let’s do a pulpit exchange.”

Thus it is a (gasp!) Presbyterian will brave a Disciples church!

Honestly, I love the symbolism of this preaching swap the Sunday after national elections. For, if you recall, Disciples began as rebel Presbyterians. Many of our founders trained for ministry in the Presbyterian fold. Two heavyweights- Thomas and Alexander Campbell- were even from Scotland. In the early 1800s, in fact, Alexander attended seminary at the University of Edinburgh, while his father Thomas looked for work in the US. Soon, though, Thomas was fighting with local ministers and church authorities, and around 1809, declared himself a “free agent”. You ask Disciples, it’s because he’d awoken to the need for churches to forget denominational allegiance, and work for unity among the ever-more fragmenting faithful. You ask Presbyterians of that time, Thomas Campbell was an arrogant, stubborn glory-hound!

Honestly, Disciples partisan though I may be, neither story’s fully accurate. What’s most revealing, rather, is that this splinter occurred on the so-called frontier around twenty years after America’s War of Independence. In other words, freedom, autonomy and individual initiative were in the air. Especially in rural farms and small towns up and down Ohio and Kentucky- i.e. exactly where the break occurred. At the time, tempers were high: “You’re heretics!” “You’re demonic!” For all his talk of unity, Thomas Campbell likely wouldn’t have invited Presbyterian ministers into his pulpit, nor ascended one of theirs.

Two centuries later, though, it’s not only a non-issue, I even think our denominations should just merge. Probably won’t happen for a while, but we’ve really got lots in common. They could be probably teach us about organization and thoughtful planning. We could offer insights into freedom of expression and doctrinal creativity. Whatever the case, we aren’t the same church, but it’s easy enough to act as one. To swap pulpit, merge youth groups, perhaps work together in mission and service…?!

As I said, it’s a potent symbol days after the country votes. Our denomination began as an off-shot of the Presbyterian Church. Our founders railed and harangued, gave and got much abuse. Yet their heirs in faith, now, are working together and enjoying it. Not only in Plymouth, but around the country and world. I know a Disciples minister on staff of a Presbyterian church in Lexington, KY. We’ve partnered for disaster relief and missionary efforts across the globe. In other words, unity- not division nor animosity- have become our long-term trajectory. Our country, I suspect, could learn from that.

I suspect on Sunday the 11th, all sides of the political spectrum will still be elated or downtrodden. Exuberant at their sides’ prospects or anxious over their preferred partisans’ losses. We might even feel something of both within our spirits, if, say, we pick with the majority on one question but ‘lose’ on another. It could be easy, therefore, to devolve into a game of boasting and blaming, of vilifying your victorious opponents or gloating over the ‘losers.’ But the ultimate hope is that in country- as much, I pray, as in church- the long-term trajectory ought be unity, not division.

Even if that seems tough, given the current cultural atmosphere, oneness is neither naïve nor undesirable. Thomas and Alexander Campbell, and other Disciples of Christ founders, may’ve wanted unity, but didn’t achieve it in their lifetimes. Yet here we are- 2012- in Plymouth, Minnesota, receiving blessings from a blessed neighbor, a wise preacher, a...Presbyterian!

I pray you find Pastor Ewen as profound and engaging as I’ve come to regard him. After all, when we put unity before division, togetherness before denigration, it turns out we’ve all got many great gifts to receive and share.

Grace and Peace,
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Thursday, November 1, 2012


I’ve struggled for months now with whether or not to write this letter. As a Disciples of Christ minister, I believe fundamentally in unity. We avoid doctrinal litmus tests for membership in our faith community. We can believe different ideas- about God, the Bible, Jesus- and yet still, by the unconquerable grace of God, be one.

As a consequence, I also believe that all are welcome at Christ’s Table. No matter who you are, what you’ve done, where you come from, you are welcomed, by Jesus. Nothing is more critical, more inspiring to my religious identity than that declaration. I desire, I need to live as openly as I can muster; to invite myself and others to receive the eternally renewing love of God.

Which is why I intend, on November 6, to vote against the Minnesota amendment to limit our state constitution’s definition of marriage. You know the issue. A ballot question will ask us to affirm that marriage in our state should be constricted only to heterosexual men and women. Some Christian communities, of course, have strongly advocated support for that ballot question. They’re convinced that faithful Christianity only endorses marriage for one man and one woman. As I’ve preached to you before, I grew up in such churches. However, during high school, one of my best friends and Christian mentors came out of closet. She told her family and Christian community that she was a lesbian. And they condemned her. Called her evil. Basically kicked her out of the community of grace.

So I was, initially, unsure how to respond. I’d been taught that I too should reject my friend’s declaration. The Bible, in a few instances, seems to denigrate homosexual behavior. Yet in many, many more instances, it celebrates the supernatural reality of love. Indeed, 1 John claims that, “God is love,” seemingly lauding all occasions of authentic love as divine. And I love my lesbian friend. She loves her wife. Ultimately, then, I faced a choice: support the traditional view of marriage and sexuality or support my friend’s love.

I chose love. I still do. I can’t imagine Jesus denying God’s hospitality to gay women or men, to anyone. Yet I know my view on this issue isn’t shared by all my sisters and brothers of faith. To some extent, that troubles me. Don’t we all want others to agree with us?! To another extent, though, I accept that my views aren’t, and shouldn’t be, the final word. Plus, I’m the pastor of wonderful people who don’t always see eye-to-eye. You have diverse spiritual beliefs, political convictions, and I’m so very glad that’s true. So few places in our fragmented society can people of differing viewpoints still come together. Thank God we Disciples declare unity our Polar Star!

So I’ve worried that expressing my personal view on this issue would cause division or disrupt the good work we do. I mean, it’s one thing if a church member says something to another during fellowship hour. But it feels more consequential for the pastor to stake out a potentially controversial position. Nevertheless, I’ve battled a need to be authentic. With you. With myself. Before God. And because I’m concerned with what I see as the demeaning consequences of this vote, I simply felt I can’t be silent. I want all God’s children to be accepted.

I know that political issues are often, and perhaps for good reason, avoided in our community. Our church members will vote for different presidential candidates, political policies and parties. While I believe strongly in the votes I’ll cast, I respect those who differ from me. Because I know you, and love you, and believe you’re voting what you think is right and holy and good. Even if it’s different from me. Even if you vote in favor of this amendment.

But I also believe that Christians shouldn’t fear to speak their minds. And I’m convinced that if we enshrined in our state constitution a definition of marriage that the only acceptable kind was heterosexual, man and woman, then we’d limit the equality of love that God intended. To me, that’s a direct consequence of my most fundamental belief: God is love.

If you agree with me, please vote No with me. If you’re unsure, please call. I’d love to talk. If you don’t agree, then vote against me. I support your decision to follow your own conscience. But in all things, I pray we stay focused on the everlasting power that unites us always- The grace and blessing of our resurrected Savior, Light of the World, God of Love.

Grace and Peace,
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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Raising voices…

Soccer fans, the world over, love to sing. In pubs after games. In, well, pubs before games. And during games especially, at the stadiums, loudly. Fans create lyrics to popular ditties that celebrate their favored teams’ prowess, or mock chosen rivals. They raise their voices constantly, broken only by rare moments when players actually score. You can hear this tumult during soccer broadcasts, a perpetual hum beneath TV announcers. As a soccer fan, I love the spectacle. I’d sing along if I knew the words!

Well, a few weeks back, the USA national soccer team was playing. And as per usual at sporting events, just before kickoff, someone sang the national anthem. You know the drill. A person on the field belts The Star Spangled Banner with gusto. The home crowd might sing along, but barely audible, right? Usually the solo performer controls the tempo, the pitch, holding “Land of the Freeeee” longer than necessary. Sometimes the performance is understated. Sometimes it’s defiantly unique. But always, Always, the solo performer carries the song.

Except in this instance. At this game, the Kansas City crowd acted like…soccer fans. They sang along to the national anthem. Loudly. Brazenly. Thus, they utterly ignored the unspoken expectation that the on-field singer controls the singing. It was almost comical, if you ask me. The singer set one tempo, the crowd followed, until the singer slowed down for a run of vocal gymnastics. Meaning suddenly, she was totally out-of-synch with the crowd, who lumbered along. A kind of vocal battle ensued. The singer kept on as planned, forcing the fans back in step, until another miscommunication occurred and another readjustment was required. It was as surreal a national anthem as I’ve ever witnessed.

And it seemed like an unplanned metaphor worth me reading too much into. For isn’t life frequently styled a conflict between individual initiative and crowd mentality? On the one hand is the lone singer, the heroically creative savant. S/he bucks the trend, tries something new, overwhelms the masses through brilliance. On the other hand is the teeming throng, following the beat of a boring drummer. Slovenly devoted to the status quo, this collective deplores inventiveness.

Shane, you’ll say, that’s waaaay too simple a diagnosis of modern society. And you’re right, but it’s believed by many. Besides, it helps me make a point… Which is that I believe something that’s possible- not pervasive, but it happens- is that sometimes a crowd creates something spectacular. Creativity, in other words, can be as communal as it can be singular. Take Wikipedia. It’s a publicly controlled encyclopedia where anyone’s allowed to edit and input information. Some deplore this ‘open source’ method as obviously susceptible to error. Yet some studies found that in many instances it’s as reliable as Encyclopedia Britannica. When writing research papers, you should use more academic sources. But as a quick primer on unknown subjects, free-to-use Wikipedia’s quite useful.

Or take religion. Many believe that religious ideas result primarily from lone champions. Paul. St. Francis. Mother Theresa. I, too, celebrate these faith heroes, but the whole story is bigger. It’s also one of communities discovering new avenues of spirituality and compassion, together. Like Disciples on the American frontier, coming together for the sake of Unity. Like bunches of African-American churches, working together for Civil Rights. In both instances, celebrated leaders often get the credit. But Barton Stone and MKL Jr. wouldn’t have been as effective without creative crowds urging them on.

Which is why, for at least that one game, I’d have loved if this happened: Once the national anthem singer realized that this crowd was so excited to sing, so excited to support their team, so energized to laud their nation that they sang loudly, proudly, together, as one, then rather than raise her voice above their voices, rather than struggle for Star Spangled supremacy, she dropped the mic, smiled at the stands and joined the communal singing. It wouldn’t have solved our country’s disgusting divisiveness. It wouldn’t have redefined the national anthem. But for that moment, it would’ve symbolized that beautiful things can happen when we work as one.

Grace and Peace,
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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Broken windows…

The first church I joined in adulthood was Iglesia del Pueblo Christian Church in Hammond, Indiana. Why? Well, during my initial visit, a guy named Joe welcomed me with gusto! His wasn’t the quick handshake, “Nice to see you,” then forget you kind of greeting. He took much of the morning learning who I was, sharing who he was, laughing and talking with me. Not everyone’s like Joe, of course. He’s extroverted to the nth degree! But because he cared so much, not just about being nice, but really welcoming me, I felt immediately at peace in a new place. It began to fell home.

Anyway, as I became a fuller part of IDP’s life, I learned of a brewing controversy about broken windows. IDP wasn’t rich; some immigrants and many blue collar workers. But they cared deeply about their church home and using it to shine God’s light of love. Alas, over time, a window or two had cracked. So the debate was, “Should we fix it, or do we have better uses for our resources?” On the one hand, people wondered whether potential visitors would shy away from a church with apparently shoddy facilities. Appearances aren’t everything, they’d say, but they matter for building confidence. On other hand, some thought that feeding the poor was a higher priority. IDP ran weekly soup lunches for local homeless folk, often reached out to those in need in their struggling local environment. The windows still work, they said, not perfectly, but well enough. So let’s direct what we have to those in fragile situations.

I’ve been pondering this memory a lot recently, since we’ve been running a Capital Campaign at Plymouth Creek. We too have some broken windows, crumbling parking lots, etc. But our community also has poor folk in need, families struggling to make ends meet and feel at peace. I’ll be honest. At IDP, I was on the “don’t fix the windows” side. I was still new, of course, hadn’t invested much already in the infrastructure. But I felt strongly- and still do- that the point of church isn’t buildings. The reason we worship, gather in fellowship, give together and such is so, in Jesus’ words, “The Kingdom of God will come on earth as it is heaven.” Love matters more than broken windows. Meeting the needs of those in need trumps parking lots or pretty carpets every time.

Which isn’t to say I don’t believe in our Capital Campaign! Indeed, my wife and I pledged good money to help this effort be successful. But on some level, I feel a tension about this giving, a sense of the risk we’re taking. We could do as some churches do, letting a facilities’ update be a culmination. We could act like a spiffy new shine accomplishes our ultimate purpose for being a community of faith.

Or we could be earnest, bold, engaged disciples of Jesus Christ, and commit ourselves to using this rejuvenated physical plant as a springboard for greater mission. I, for one, am not attracted by churches who pat themselves on the back for looking nice. I’m inspired, rather, by gutsy communities who roll up their sleeves and work. Who resurface parking lots so they can fill parking lots with worshippers and folk seeking help. Who invest in hospitable entry ways so kids and grandmothers have inviting places to form meaningful relationships. Who redo leaking windows because they believe in good stewardship of God’s Creation, then redouble that Creation Care through community gardening, recycling, composting and more.

Because I believe in Plymouth Creek- not the building or facilities, but the people and the facilities- and because I believe we’ll keep our priorities in line, I give and remain excited. Is it risky to do what we’re doing? Could we finish the facility improvements then not redouble our efforts at actually “doing church”? Sure, it’s possible. But more likely is you’ll shine brighter with God’s light of love. Because that’s who we’ve been, and it’s who we are. Let’s make sure it continues to lead us forward.

Grace and Peace,
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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Deliver us…

“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” I suspect everyone recognizes this snippet from Jesus’ timeless, Lord’s Prayer. Although, as we also know, several varieties are used. The churches of my childhood preferred, “Forgive us our trespasses.” But the original word- ὀφείλημα pronounced, o-feh-lay-mah- means “debts,” as in money or services owed by one party to another.

Of course, since Jesus originally uttered it, it’s been commonly understood as a metaphor for sin. But scholars tell us that Jesus wasn’t just being metaphorical. Among poor, common people of his day- i.e. 90% of the population and those to whom he ministered mostly- farming, land-use, and tax debt was everyday fair. More than that, debt was crushing, a cause of widespread poverty. Many families couldn’t own the land they worked, due to high indebtedness. And those who did own often lost land to wealthy city residents who piled high debts on these peasants. They, after all, had to buy seed, farm implements and daily bread, pay temple or imperial taxes, and when harvests were tight, emergency capital was scarce. Thus, a debt industry grew to tide peasant folk through tough times, but when better times came, rarely could they work out of trouble.

Not surprising, then, that Jesus used “debts” in his famous prayer. For his ministry partners and recipients, this turmoil routinely shackled their families. To be forgiven one’s debts meant, literally, a new lease on life. And to forgive one’s debtors- folk rarely viewed with kindness and compassion- meant an act of spiritual powerlifting, a profoundly daring idea.

The prayer’s on my mind this week because I just finished a remarkable book. Titled, White House Burning: The Founding Fathers, Our National Debt and Why It Matters to You, it’s a history of America’s national indebtedness, and a treatise on how our nation might respond to the debt we collectively face. I found the book quite accessible to those not fully versed in economics, like me. I wasn’t entirely ignorant before reading, but now feel much more comfortable with the subject.

And, frankly, I’m a bit worried, not terrified, but concerned. For, truly, the consequences of unchecked debt could be stunningly…icky. Many of us know this personally; I cringe monthly at the student loan payments I make. I’m not ashamed of that debt, since it purchased an education that helps me be a better minister for this church. Still, it’ll be decades until I can shout, “Yeah! I’m debt free!” And think of all the Broncos jerseys that money could buy in the meantime…

On a national level, too, I’m not (entirely) ashamed of our debt. As the book described, in many cases it resulted from decisions our people made to make our lives better. Factions from differing political camps might (do!) take issue with some of those decisions or others. Still, in theory at least, our historically high standard of living derives from collective action we’ve taken.

But we’ve financed some of that action, not from current income, but through future borrowing. And as everyone with loans knows, the paymaster always cometh. In the coming national election, both major parties appear concerned about the debt. At least in theory, they offer competing proposals for how to tackle it, eventually. I won’t weigh in on who I think offers the best proposal, except to say I’m skeptical that either side seems really, truly committed. Still, I’d hope that every voter has an idea for how s/he’d want us to “forgive us our debts”.

Because the issue, as I see it, is that indebtedness isn’t an acceptable long-term strategy. Whether that debt is to your neighbor, for having hurt her with rudeness, to God, for having denied God’s call for justice, love and compassion, or to future generations, for having avoided responsible decisions to avert potential catastrophes of national default or environmental devastation, we ought desire forgiveness and reconciliation, not shutting our eyes and ears. After all, the ultimate goal isn’t getting all we want, whenever we want, to heck with the consequences. It’s to help “God’s Kingdom come on earth,” as best we’re able. Working together.

Grace and Peace,
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Wednesday, October 3, 2012


So… Apparently, Jesus had a wife. Or may’ve had a wife. Or some Christians once thought it was possible. Or something.

I refer, of course, to a news story that broke recently. It seems a Harvard Divinity School professor, a few years back, came upon an allegedly ancient fragment of papyrus. Written in 4th-century Egyptian (Coptic), it contained the phrase, “Jesus said unto them, ‘My wife...’” Since then, she’s subjected the document to archeological testing, written a journal article for peer review, and last month presented her work to an academic conference. As researchers do.

Recap: previously unknown words penned no earlier than three hundred years after Jesus’ death show Jesus muttering “my wife”, though the papyrus ends before further illumination can arise. Intriguing as a potential, albeit limited, window into 4th century Coptic Christianity and its diverse ideas? Sure. Useful evidence for constructing an historically rigorous picture of Mr. (and Mrs.?) Christ’s home-life? Not so much.

Therefore naturally, for a few days after the aforementioned conference, worldwide news organizations went ballistic! “Jesus was married?! OMJesus! God the Father was an in-law?!” I suspect the coverage would’ve been less intense if The Da Vinci Code hadn’t made such a splash. But it did. So now news orgs know that possible suggestions that Jesus may have had (sex) a family produce heavy traffic. Hence it is that a boringly detailed academic non-event becomes global breaking news. So much so, local suburban pastors get sucked in enough to comment.

Honestly, I doubt Jesus was married. He seemed too…peripatetic. You know, walking here, walking there, never staying anywhere all that long. Not terribly effective for nurturing an intimate relationship, right? But maybe he was. If so, good for him. It wouldn’t matter to my faith, I think. Although some Christians consider the suggestion itself evil, blasphemous, dirty.

And that has to do with sex. At least, that’s my guess. After all, we Christians have long had an awkward relationship with sexuality of all kinds. As I understand it, long ago some theologians speculatively separated the human self into Spirit v Flesh (mis-taking cues from Paul’s writings). Spirit they called good, obviously. Flesh, therefore, was bad. And though Flesh could’ve referenced many diverse things, what really got these folks worked up was carnal activity.

Which makes a kind of sense, right? Sexuality is powerful, and sometimes dangerous, and when abused, sometimes destructive to families. And family is about the most important force in human civilization. But it’s a long jump to go from those admissions to, “Only sex for the purpose of procreation is admissible, and then it’s simply tolerated.” Yet for centuries, that was more or less official Western Christian policy (strangely overlooking that healthy sexuality is highly beneficial to families).

Anyway, fast forward to now, and we’re still dealing with baggage from this centuries-long skepticism or derision of sexuality. It shows up, maybe comically, in the oversized attention the above mentioned news story received. It shows up, less comically, in the bitter fights we’re having about narrowly defining marriage in the Minnesota constitution.

But I wonder if, wherever you stand on those or other sexuality-related issues, we’d have more productive conversations if we all read Song of Songs again. And recognized the delight it takes in humanity, in “flesh”. It too acknowledges the dangers of (especially immature) sexuality. But in the context of loving commitment, this Bible book says more. Apparently, it believes we’re created, as Genesis 1 put it, “good.” Which isn’t, “Without the possibility of evil and abuse.” But rather, “Full of possibility for beauty.”

And that’s true for all humans- male, female, Jesus! Sin hasn’t so infected our “flesh” we’re incapable of doing things good and right and wonderful. Whether we’re talking sexuality or feeding the hungry or building just, decent communities, we may mess up at times, but we don’t always have to. Indeed, I believe that Jesus came to show us what more was possible if we’d better acknowledge and utilize- with God’s help!- the power  within us. If we’d more joyfully and respectfully honor the creative image of our Creator God, imprinted on our spirit and flesh. And our neighbors.

Grace and Peace,
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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Shining brighter…

Behind the Table of the church I served in Lexington stood a three-stories tall stained-glass window. Artfully declaring the good news of Jesus, it depicted both scenes of his life and modern life, in which Jesus and followers served the needy, helped the hurting, praised the glory of God. Truth be told, worshippers had trouble looking away from that window. It was that striking, that well done.

And it was there because a church member wanted to invest in his church’s future, in the mission of God in that place. Apparently, one day the music minister paid the man a visit, saw his yard needing mowing, then told his son to return on Saturday to help. Soon after, the man pulled the minister aside. “Tell your son thanks. By the way, can I help design a $100,000 stained-glass window for the church?” “Uhhh…” was the minister’s stunned response. But soon enough, the deed was done. And now the glass, the beauty the church member helped create inspires awe, evokes majesty, calls its viewers to deeper acts of faithful service. In short, it helps do what church ought do: Bring the Kingdom of God into our midst.

Over the next month, you’ll hear a lot about giving, the Kingdom of God in our midst, investing in the beauty and future of our church through your time, talent and treasures. We’ve talked some in recent months about needing to raise money for facility improvements. To date, in fact, we’ve already received $11,500! But as the Board and other leaders have looked around, talked with members, prayerfully considered our needs and options, it’s become clear that we’ll need more money to do what needs doing. Specifically, we hope to revamp our parking lot, restore our carpets, swap out sanctuary windows, fix our roof and pay down debt. One reason why is obvious; our decades-old building and grounds demand attention! The other- and to my mind, more pressing- reason has to do with our church’s mission.

Imagine you’re a young family in Plymouth, MN, wondering if any churches nearby welcome everybody, don’t tell you what you must believe, encourage warm relationships across generations and live out deepening faith through service. I believe many would find that church attractive. And I think that church is…Plymouth Creek! Then, you drive into our lot, immediately avoiding a massive hole. You enter the building, then see a funky carpet and crumbling windows. You read our budget and realize we’re good stewards of scant resources, but still spend a chunk on debt, rather than ministry to children or the poor. You’d want to make this place your home, right?! You’d want to serve and shine with us! But you might have second thoughts, “Will they make it? Can they overcome these challenges?”

Fast forward to next Spring, though, after a successful Capital Campaign, after PCCCers pledge to give x number of dollars over three years to make our church shine brighter now and for generations, we’ll be that same church with great values, boldly living 21st-century Christian faith, but all those questions about facilities, well, they’ll have diminished, maybe disappeared. For that reason, especially, is why my family will give money to this Capital Campaign. Not because we believe in Plymouth Creek’s building. We believe in our mission. We’re inspired by our vision- To become a beacon of Christian openness and service in the Northwestern suburbs. We’re grateful for the investments of generations before us, and want to do our part now.

So will you give with Tabitha and me? Again, the Campaign starts September 30 and runs for four weeks. By October 21, we hope you’ll turn pledges in for…$2,000? $20,000? We have details on the projects and spending decisions that we’ll share in other formats. Please ask all the questions you need, and pray for God’s good guidance. Can we do it? Absolutely! With God, all things are possible. And God’s called us to be, like Jesus, lights for the world around us. Let us shine, therefore, as bright now as we can, and- God willing- unto generations more!

 Grace and Peace,
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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Faithful suspicion…

Last weekend, I began a book that, in the late 1980s, caused a stir. Titled “The Satanic Verses” (referring to a disputed story from Islam’s founding), this novel narrates two men’s experiences of traveling from India to Britain. It’s a good read so far, literary and imaginative. I’ve gotten to some of the “controversial” sections and haven’t found them offensive. Of course, I’m not Ayatollah Khomeini who, in 1989, faced an angry Iranian public, tired from eight years of war with Iraq, upset by their government’s bungling, and thus- some commentators have suggested- the Ayatollah needed a scapegoat. Fortunately (for him), there was Salman Rushdie’s recently published book. So, in what I find an act of stunning hubris, he ‘informed’, “all brave Muslims of the world that the author of The Satanic Verses…(is)condemned to death. I call on all valiant Muslims wherever they may be in the world to kill (him) without delay.” This ‘ruling’, or fatwa, sparked multiple demonstrations in Muslim-majority countries, at which some were killed. And Rushdie spent the next decade-plus in hiding.

Now, I didn’t choose this novel because of recent demonstrations in Muslim-majority countries. I’ve been eyeing it for years, and recently found it on sale. Still, the parallels of that controversy and what’s been dominating recent news have seemed eerie to me, and sad.

Not that the Youtube video that sparked last week’s turmoil compares to Rushdie’s fiction. I haven’t seen the now infamous (and from all accounts, stupidly intolerant) video, but have heard it’s an amateurish, deliberate attack on the dignity of Islam and its founder. Rushdie, by contrast, painted an artistic, nuanced picture of the alleged “Satanic Verses Incident”, seeking to explore the concept of revelation. He deplores ‘fanaticism,’ self-describes as an atheist, but also professes respect for religious folk, Muslims included. Yet regardless of intent- intentionally demeaning or imaginative investigation- in both instances, people chose to take offense, leading to others’ deaths.

I suspect that today, as then, the reasons for the condemnations and resulting protests are more complex than, “The artwork offends Muslims.” For starters, some Muslims aren’t offended. And for most who are, the offense isn’t worth hurting, or murdering, other humans. But like then, these days we see hostile leaders using this otherwise obscure fiction to distract attention or gain power. For instance, on Monday, Hezbollah’s leader made a rare public appearance to denounce the anti-Islamic video and ‘warn’ the US. He’s done the latter many times before, it’s just now he sees an opportunity: Channel people’s frustrations to support his organization.

I find such behavior disgusting. Obviously, violence in reaction to art, however stupid or beautiful, offends my regard for the rights of free expression and of life itself. But beyond that, the cynical manipulation of religious sentiment for political gain in these cases angers me. Whatever the reasons for people’s protests- sincere spiritual offense, disgust with US foreign policy, frustration at inequality or poverty, or just plain ole bigotry- to then take advantage by marshaling pious devotion in favor of death and violence, that contradicts all I cherish about religion, Christian and Muslim.

After all, Jesus said, “Love your enemy.” Not that Muslims are Christian enemies, nor Muslim-majority countries the enemies of religiously-diverse America. But whomever chooses to call you ‘enemy,’ Jesus counsels, ought be treated in return with compassion, not derision. That’s the spiritually courageous, even responsible, reaction, as many Muslim leaders these days agree. For God, as Mohamed described, is All-Compassionate and Merciful. Or as 1 John puts it, God is Love. To stand up to aggression and defend the weak is, surely, a just application of those principles. But even when one must confront a bully with force (like, say, Hitler), religiously sincere people- particularly leaders- cannot advocate hate, and hate-inspired violence. It betrays the unifying, reconciling, forgiving force behind religion itself. It betrays God, as every great prophet made plain.

So whatever’s “really happening” in recent protests, I urge you to be suspicious of anyone using religion to stoke the flames. That’s not authentic Christian or Islamic faith. It’s a willful grab for power. And our God desires love and reconciliation, not division or hate.

Grace and Peace,

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

A speck…

I heard an astronomer last week describe Earth this way- “We’re a speck on a speck on a speck on a speck.” So it goes, he claimed, when you consider the vast magnitude of space. Humanity’s relationship to the endless-seeming, post-Big Bang reality.

I’ve been pondering the cosmos of late, not simply because of this comment, but so too because of amazing footing from the new Mars rover, Curiosity. Did you hear about this? Recently, NASA landed another high-tech rolling robot on the red planet, equipped with 3-D, hi-def video. Apparently, the landing involved decelerating the craft from 13,000 miles per hour to zero, in seven minutes. What’s more, NASA’s scientists couldn’t make adjustments during the landing, meaning the whole operation was pre-programmed. So once Curiosity entered Mars’ atmosphere, observers could only wait, worry and pray. Praise the Space Gods, though, it worked! Curiosity’s a-roving. And wow! At least I find the images it’s sending to be beautiful.

Funny how knowledge evolves, amen?! In Genesis 1, the scripture writer attempts her/his own “Cosmological” imagining. S/he imagines the cosmos as being contained within a great dome. There are Waters below (sea), Waters above (sky; held back by Heavenly Flood Gates), and the Land on which s/he walks is a kind of literal middle ground. Beyond the Waters are what ancients called “The Deep” and “The Heavens”. And since those were, presumably, divine domains, no one knows what’s there.

Notice what a human-centered worldview that cosmological thinking was- We are the center of God’s Creation, the Divine Plan’s culmination. After all, on the story’s supposed Seventh Day- just after creating humanity- God rests, as if to say, “I’m done, y’all! Have at it.” Nowadays, though, we know that beyond earth’s sky aren’t waters holding back Heaven. Instead, it’s this endless void called Space, of which Earth isn’t even close to the center. In fact, the above-quoted astronomer says, “There’s truly no ‘Center of the Universe’.” No one place from which gravity pulls, and around which all things rotate.

Instead, we’re “a speck on a speck on a speck on a speck”, a phrase that, I suspect, makes some feel lonely and insignificant. Certainly, when Copernicus first proposed that the Earth rotated around the Sun, not vice versa, church authorities of his day cried (my paraphrase), “Blasphemy! You’re making us feel small!” But I take another perspective. It makes me marvel at the wonder of God! The majesty of this Divine Reality whose attention encompasses all that is. Typically, we us-centered humans act like “all that is” means…our state? Nation? Civilization? Planet? But as Mars’ Curiosity reminds us, Reality is so much greater still. Yet to think, as Psalm 139 contends, “Lord, you have searched me and known me”? How cool is that?! God knows and loves us. Amidst all the endless immensity of the cosmos!

Honestly, it further impresses upon me a sense of profound responsibility. If, in fact, as our faith contends, God not only cares about life on this lonely planet, but cared enough to get involved through the life and resurrection of Jesus, shouldn’t we take that much more care of our lush, abundant home? I know some people- perhaps some of you- question the veracity of human-caused global warming. Whatever your convictions, though, about causes and solutions, none of us should be blasé about potential consequences of receding polar ice caps and 6.9 billion (and rising) people on earth. Our planet’s too fragile, too isolated, for us to shrug off possibly devastating risks. Not when we have industrial capacity to damage it. And hopefully save it.

But here’s the thing: Presumably, by getting involved in life through Jesus, et al, God thinks enough of us to believe we can handle the responsibility. We aren’t God. But we too can love. We too can work together creatively. For that reason- God’s faith in us- I have faith in our common future. We may be a speck on a speck on a speck on a speck. But that speck ultimately rests on the beating heart of God. Whose name is Love, whose hope is endless and who knows us well enough to have faith.

Grace and Peace,
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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Making commitments…

I love the freedom of our denomination. “No Creed but Christ, No Book but the Bible, No Law but Love,” and all that wonderful jazz. I love how this takes people seriously, encouraging- even expecting- diverse individuals to add value to a common, greater whole. I love how one set of songs in one church is hardly played in another church, each finding its own voice in praise to God. People can think and believe for themselves in our churches; hallelujah for that! Enough other forces in our culture demand conformity. Thank God for a church who doesn’t.

That said, it’s not like we Disciples lack things distinctive, or shared. We do weekly communion. We baptize by immersion and personal decision. We call “Unity our Polar Star,” thus working and playing well with others. And something most Disciples churches do that many others don’t is what we’ve called “The Invitation”, about which someone reminded me recently.

Brief history sidebar- The Invitation is, to my mind, an homage to our frontier, evangelical past. Folk would gather for days in revival camps, hearing rotating hoards of preachers. They’d sing and eat together, love each other, worship God. Then, inevitably, attendees would be asked to make a choice. “Will you decide to follow Jesus? Will you come forward and give your life to God?!” I’ve attended modern forms of such revival services, been egged (bullied?) into coming forward several times. It can be exhilarating, intimidating, exciting, demeaning. Depending, of course, on who the preacher is and how fervent their ‘invitation’.

Well, as our church evolved, became a gathering of settled communities with weekly services, such revival activity receded. Nevertheless, we retained The Invitation, albeit in new forms. A pastor or elder might stand up after the sermon or near the service’s end, say, “We now invite forward any who’d join our church or commit their lives to Jesus.” Typically, a song would be sung and perhaps someone might come forward. The church where I was ordained did it one way, the church I served just after seminary another. We are free, after all, but The Invitation abided.

In fact, Plymouth Creek had an Invitation when I first arrived, remember? Thus, like a good Disciples minister, I’d stand before the church, give the call, and we’d sing while I waited up front. But we stopped doing it a few years back because, well, it had started to feel awkward. Folk would look around, whispering, “You think anyone will join the church today?” And since I firmly believe churches ought never do something just because they think they should, we jettisoned The Invitation as a weekly PCCC experience. I mean, on Sundays I knew someone was joining, I’d insert it again. But mostly it’s fallen off our radar screen, and for good reason.

The other day, though, someone asked me about it. And I thought it might be interesting to reexamine this practice together. You’ll notice that in our bulletin this week, and likely for many to come, what had been titled the “Sending Song” is now the “Commitment Song.” The thinking goes that this particular element needn’t be simply about so-called ‘outsiders.’ But all churchgoers, young, old and otherwise, new to the community, founding members, everyone has the opportunity, every week, to ‘recommit’ themselves to God. To shining a beacon of openness and service in the NW suburbs of Minneapolis and beyond! In other words, The Invitation can be a reminder to us all about our faithfulness, our commitment to being the very best Christian we know how to be.

I like that idea. Thus, I’m glad someone challenged me to reintroduce it! I hope, then, you’ll see it for what it is- an encouragement, something exciting. After all, you and I and all who’d join us are invited by God- by God!- to spread unconditional hospitality, joyful service to neighbors in need, friendly, intimate community and freedom of belief. How cool is that?! Why not give ourselves regular opportunities to recommit?! I, for one, intend to take them. It’s always nice to feel invited.

Grace and Peace,

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Investing in each other…

Last year, when our church declared a new vision (all together now, “To become a beacon of Christian openness and service in the NW suburbs”!), we also claimed four core values. And one’s been on my mind recently- Friendly, intimate community.

Sometimes small churches like ours have self-image problems. They unconsciously buy into society’s myth that “Big=Good”. All would be well, they tell themselves, if only we were larger, grew 50%, if more folk were giving. Not realizing that all churches, whatever their size, face similar challenges. Nevertheless, they come to see their size as a problem, a symptom of failure, even, as if their size makes neighbors cringe and God unhappy.

By lifting up “intimate community” as a core value, however, Plymouth Creek took a different route. We acknowledge that our congregation, while not what everyone’s seeking, has a unique role to play in our community. Specifically, we claim that God’s love works most powerfully in close, intimate relationships between sisters and brothers of faith. In other words, our size helps us pursue our mission. We know each other. We can challenge and change each other, therefore, with God’s help and by sharing love in all we do. It is a good thing, indeed, to be part of Plymouth Creek, participating in friendly, intimate community that strives to reflect God’s unfailing love!

And to put that core value into greater practice, we’re changing Sunday School. Of course, we know there aren’t huge numbers of children and youth bursting the doors of Plymouth Creek, presently. So the old model of age and grade specific Sunday School can’t work in our midst. It wouldn’t be effective for the young ones, nor exciting for teachers. Yet we have some joyful, thoughtful and creative young folk whose Christian Education we ought take seriously, as well as an opportunity to offer families beyond our walls something different. And profound.

So to make that happen, we’re combining a few different models into one that, I pray, will become an exciting addition to our ministry profile. Rather than split the kids up, we’re going to put them all together, encouraging learning through relationships, through children and youth investing in each another. Get this: Every month, our Sunday School will focus on just one story, one part of the Bible’s greater story that we believe is important. But every week in the month, we’ll encounter that story in a new way. Crafts. Videos/Skits. Games/Activities. Books. Music. Therefore, by month’s end, our children and youth will really know what’s going on, having explored the Exodus, for instance, or the parable of the Good Samaritan, in a variety of formats, all exciting and meaningful.

And while I’ll lead these activities, it won’t just be Pastor Shane speaking. All participants will interact with and, therefore, teach each other. So older youth, who may know much already, will help younger ones paint pictures, create crafts, sing songs, make movies. And younger ones, through their unique ideas, will help older youth (and me!) see God’s story in whole new ways. And what’s more is I’d love it if I wasn’t the only adult participating. Wanna help me teach and learn more about the Bible?! If so, let me know. I’ll share more about our plans with you. As importantly, tell your friends about the different kind of learning their kids can do.

After all, friendly, intimate community works best when we invest in each other. So why not celebrate this God-given uniqueness of following Christ at Plymouth Creek?! Adult Sunday School will remain meeting together, and I hope more of you participate. Though I can’t promise that me, the children and youth won’t be laughing and singing loudly! But however you find it meaningful to learn and grow as a Christian, I pray you make that a priority this school year and beyond. I mean, none of us are ever finished learning more about God and God’s role in our lives, right? Indeed, if ever there’s a friendly, intimate relationship to nurture, that’s certainly the one.

Grace and Peace,
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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Little things…

I’m writing this Monday morning, sun shining, temperature mild. What a perfect day for a nice run with Fawkes the Dog! Alas, that won’t be happening, since I sit here typing with my foot elevated. For yesterday afternoon, walking through the kitchen while checking my smart phone, I failed to notice the door frame in my path, and kicked it mightily with my left foot. Now both the pinky and fourth toes on said foot bear several colorful bruises. My mobility’s severally limited. I’m contemplating a doctor visit. People tell me there’s often very little to be done about broken toes, outside of regular icing, foot elevating and avoiding long runs! Still, it’s frustrating to know I’ll be out of regular commission for some time. And to think, it’s all the fault of (my not paying attention to where I walked) two tiny, seemingly insignificant digits on my non-dominant foot.

Usually, when you or I or most people take to worrying about the future, it’s the big stuff, the massive upheavals that generate most emotion. Our nation spends considerably more attention and money each year on preparing for or working against terrorist attacks, than, say, combating childhood obesity or reducing preventable diseases caused by commonly encountered insects. Statistically, the latter are much more likely problems than the former, it’s been argued. Nevertheless, we worry more about another 9/11, for better or worse, you decide.

Indeed, as I’ve planned for navigating the possible dangers of being a homeowner, I’ve focused on the big stuff too. Fire Insurance? Check. Burglary Prevention? We’ve got a plan. But did I pad the kitchen doorway, knowing it’s more likely I’d one day run into it while distracted with updating my Twitter feed? Of course not! And now I’ve got the bruises to prove it…

All of which isn’t to say that you or I should spend more time worrying about more stuff. Indeed, I firmly believe we’d all be better off if we chose to be less fearful. Rather, I’m struck this morning by the significance of seemingly insignificant things, how a simple change to a small detail can make a big difference.

On the negative side of that equation, of course, are my battered toes, exhibit A. They barely impact my body’s balancing, yet I’m having trouble walking up the stairs. But if you think on the positive side (didn’t I preach about Living Gladly yesterday?!), I suspect that there too little things can matter.

Let’s start with the well-documented and obvious: Daily, personal prayer. Do you take brief moments each day to say, “This is the day you’ve made, Lord. I will rejoice and be glad in it!”? I hope so, but if not, let me share personal experience. When daily gratitude is part of my routine, life is simply better. I’m more patient, more compassionate, more the kind of guy I want to be. When it’s been days or weeks or more, however, I notice a diminishment. I’m quicker to blame, to complain, to give into fear or deny hope. Little things like “Thank you God!” are bigger than we imagine.

Or how about this? I knew a guy who carried a small, beat-up photograph in his wallet. It showed the aftermath of a particularly brutal massacre during the Rwandan genocide, a place he’d visited. Sounds terrible, right? Why keep that around?! Well, he said, it’s a reminder of the still urgent need to work for the Kingdom of God, the reality that it’s not yet at hand and that Christians committed to justice and love remain desperately relevant. Sounds like a little thing, but the photo held big significance to him, a constant connection to what he claimed was the deep core of his Christian faith.

I wonder, then, what the little things are for us that make a difference. And I mean in the positive sense, not simply my now-annoyingly sensitive left foot. How do the details of your life keep you shining God’s light of love more and more brightly? How might a little change make for you, and others, a world full of difference?

Grace and Peace,
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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Harmonious Matters…

At each meeting of our Servant Leaders (those spiritual leaders whom other churches call “Elders”), I ask, “How’s the health of the church?” The reason is that we’ve decided that Servant Leaders care about health; the bodily and familial health of members struggling with surgery, loss, pain, etc. But also the communal health of the church itself, our common trajectory in faithfulness.

Well, a couple months ago, responding to this question, we talked about our church’s values of “unconditional hospitality” and “freedom of belief.” Acknowledging that different folk pursue these differently, nevertheless we pondered how we could be more forthright with ourselves and guests about how this church puts those values into practice.

So the Servant Leaders decided to begin a conversation with y’all. And being Plymouth Creek, it began on a bulletin board. Have you noticed that the bulletin board outside my office has changed? On one side, there’s advertising for August 25’s School of Congregational Learning, hosted by Lake Harriet Christian Church (you should go!). But on the other side are rainbow colored Music Notes and a simple statement. Titled “There’s Harmony in Diversity,” the fuller statement reads: “We are a small church who welcomes everyone with warmth and love, regardless of age, disability, economic status, ethnicity, family status, gender, race, sexual orientation or social standing. This inclusiveness makes us an even stronger and more loving Christian community. There are notes in search of harmony in our community- How can we invite them to join in our song?”

As I’m sure you noticed, the statement begins simply. Most churches say they “welcome everyone with warmth and love.” But as it continues, more definition arises. Indeed, some of the categories it names cause consternation in many churches. Obviously, there’s the claim to welcome all regardless of sexual orientation. But even commitments to embracing diversity in ‘economic status’, ‘ethnicity,’ ‘age,’ when churches try to implement them, can produce awkward moments, perhaps serious disagreements among the faithful.

Now, I assure you, this bulletin board wasn’t attempting to pick fights! Rather, we wanted to encourage the church to think more about our values. When we claim to value ‘unconditional hospitality’ are some folk not included? Do we celebrate ‘freedom of belief’ when someone expresses beliefs we consider uncomfortable, even wrong? You likely know that I try to avoid putting limits on hospitality. It seems Christ’s job, not mine, to draw boundaries around grace. But I also honor the variety of opinions among the followers of Christ, and think that two people disagreeing around, but staying at, the Table is just about as holy a moment as we’re bound to see in these divisive days.

Nevertheless, the statement wasn’t just about what I or the Servant Leaders (who certainly don’t always agree with me!) believe about Plymouth Creek. We want to know what you think, how you’d update or amend that statement. Are there other, unstated values demanding acknowledgment and reverence? Are there ways of achieving “harmony” we failed to consider?

And more than that, the Servant Leaders want to know how you think we can make all this more than talk. Notice the final question: “There are notes in search of harmony in our community- How can we invite them to join in our song?” I firmly believe that the 21st Century Christian Church ought be a place where variety joins in praise. And I think many folk who don’t go to church now just might reconsider if they learned about a church where they can authentically be themselves. Where they’re not judged for their doubts or questions, can share and experience the unique expressions of faith they love, where they can invite friends who are skeptical of Christians by saying, “I’m telling you, Plymouth Creek is different!”

Are we that church? Do we need to do more to get there? And how should we share that identity with folk beyond our walls? No answers yet, just questions, which I hope you’ll dialogue with me about. For whatever faith is, it’s certainly a symphony of discoveries and harmonies, continually changing and evolving. And I, for one, feel richly blessed to be playing divine music with you!

Grace and Peace,
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Thursday, August 9, 2012

The power of intimacy…

I’m spending this week directing a week-long summer camp in Iowa. Again. You’ll remember that I’ve done this work, on our Region’s behalf, each of the past three years. Driving four hours south and east, sleeping amongst the trees, giving talks to and leading activities for young men and women in both Middle and High Schools, singing, running, guffawing, praying, and otherwise seeking God throughout this out-of-the-way Holy Ground.

This year’s a bit different, however, in that we’ve got only six campers. The previous years weren’t much bigger- 9 and 10, respectively. Ours is a specialty camp, Equestrian Camp, where the youth ride and care for horses every morning. And the ranch at which this equine activity occurs has capacity for only 10. Thus, we’ll always be small fish in the much larger pond of our Regional Camping Ministry. Still, being but six has an appreciably more minute feel. And I’ll be honest, when I first heard that numbers, my enthusiasm plunged.

I mean, sure, these kids deserve an enthusiastic, meaningful camp experience, and they can’t control how many others sign up. But I worried that it wouldn’t be worth my time this year. That this small group would have no energy. That we’d bore ourselves by too much contact with too few people. That the critical mass needed for transformative ministry wasn’t achieved, and we’d hate it.

But here I sit, late at night on the third day of camp, and I’m reminded of a theme I’ve preached to you over and over- God’s most transformative power expresses itself in intimacy. And know that by intimacy, I don’t mean anything sensually suggestive. Rather, I’m talking the closeness created by sharing more than superficial conversations, getting to know more than what makes others politely chuckle, but what makes them laugh hysterically. Or cry. What quirky comments your neighbor always repeats, and why that matters to him. What foibles your neighbor will commit, and how you’ve learned to appreciate her regardless. Intimacy’s entangled with humility, patience and forgiveness. And it’s only achievable in small enough groups, where two or three are gathered, like Scripture says.

Or even six. Well, eight, if you count me and my co-counselor. And what do you know? This group’s grown close quickly, and joyfully. These young people don’t see their cadre’s size as a failure, but a blessing. They’re more able to be the best self they want to be, without cowing to the socially acceptable behavioral straightjackets of typical school life. Having no cliques to navigate, they’ve made the only friends available. Each other. And they seem to find the company quite fine.

As does their director. Fact is, I’m enjoying myself much more than I expected. They’re asking interesting questions, sharing personal stories, listening to each other. Many of those things that, in my planning, I hope may occur, seem to work in this intimate setting. My campers really ‘get it.’ And sure, we haven’t enough for some usual camp activities. An epic Capture the Flag Adventure isn’t in the cards for us, alas! But that stuff, while fun, isn’t nearly as important as these youth striving to grow together, become more faithful young adults. Truly, they believe that a week at this camp can help them become better people, better Christians. And halfway through, I will say, I believe it too.

Pop Quiz: What did Jesus call the two most important commandments? Answer: Love
God fully, and love your neighbor as yourself. Now imagine loving anyone fully, imagine truly loving yourself, but doing so without nurturing a deeply intimate relationship. It doesn’t work, does it? Love requires intimacy. More than nice feelings, warm fuzzies, sentimentality, love’s a full-bodied, full-souled, full-mind-engaged undertaking. At least, at its most transformative, love demands we open ourselves to others as much as we’re able. And you just can’t do that if you’re unwilling to think small. To get involved in intimate relationships, to share life with a precious, delightful few. But Jesus suggests, as I’m re-learning this week, that kind of work contains the very power of God, who knows us, and loves us each more intimately than any.

Grace and Peace,
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Friday, August 3, 2012

Being a homer…

As I type this, I notice that the US women’s gymnastics team has just won Olympic gold. Cue chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A!” It’s always fun to watch a winner, amen?!

Being unable, alas, to see the competition for myself, I can’t say whether I agree with the judges. But being a loyal American citizen, and thereby assuming the Olympians’ victory reflects glory on me by proxy, I’ll assume they deserve the lauds and praises they received.

Of course, I imagine that patriotic individuals in other countries, whose own athletes competed fervently too, might be grumbling now about, “Having been robbed by biased judges.” We hear such comments every Olympic Games, and sometimes, they’re warranted (see: French Judge, Figure Skating, 2002). By and large, however, I believe most such complaints are simple “homerism.”

For those uninitiated into sports journalism lingo, “homerism” describes a common phenomenon. A “homer” is a fan who can’t see past her own biases, who always assumes that her “home team” is better, whatever the situation. Thus, any loss isn’t because your preferred team/athlete proved poor competition. Oh no, it was cheating, or missed calls, or “Having a bad day.” A true homer, therefore, will watch each match with passion, informing anyone within earshot why his team is truly The Best. Further, a frequent consequence of “homerism” is that every other participant must be rationalized into inferiority. “The Denver Broncos have the best quarterback, winning tradition, plus their locker room smells like peonies. Whereas the Oakland Raiders can’t be trusted to babysit children, let alone win.” It’s alleged that a certain Plymouth pastor has said before something like that before. He would be, ipso facto, an out-and-out Homer for the Denver Broncos.

And the Olympic Games, it’s been noted, produces such reactions abundantly. In fact, life itself, I would argue, yields homerism of many varieties. From the trivial- Sports loyalties- to the dangerous- say, Racism. For some reason, it’s a common human experience to identify with certain ideals or persons, and then make disparaging comments of those not included in your designated ‘in-group.’

But does that need to happen? Can’t we prefer what we prefer, choose our loyalties for whatever reason, while at the same time respecting the goodness of those we oppose? For example, the other day I read, “Only 100 days until the Presidential Election is over.” I thought, “Thank you, Good Baby Jesus, only 100 more days!” I reacted this way because I, like many, am distraught by the nastiness of modern politics. Mind you, I care deeply about politics. I love our democratic system, recognizing that how I vote has power to harm or help others in significant ways. Yet if ever there’s a modern example of “homerism” at its most petty, it’s how many politicians treat others of opposing views. Lies are developed, crafted into TV ads, sold to viewers as reasons to despise opponents. Therefore, substantive exchanges of views descend into zero-sum battles of nasty sound bites. It’s like tribalism funded by specially interested homers.

And lest we exonerate ourselves, the truth is- It’s our fault. I mean, we’re a democracy, right? Our elected officials, theoretically, respond to our wishes. Which is to say, I believe the homer-mentality of modern politics starts with us. If “We the People” didn’t reward divisive political behavior, wouldn’t our national/state/local leaders stop backbiting and name-calling? What if we, in daily conversations with folk who don’t share our political values, decided, “You know, this person, whom I don’t agree with, does care about society, and while I wish her views and vote would change, I value her as person, and fellow citizen.”

So let that be my wish for the final 100 days of this election season: That everyday people- the republic’s true power- reject political homerism. Indeed, throughout our lives, let’s resolve to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” Even those we see as ‘adversaries,’ folk whom God calls, “Beloved.”

And, while I’m at, Go Team USA!

Grace and Peace,


P.S.- This week’s spiritual practice- Scripture Memorization. Find a favorite Bible text, and memorize it by Sunday! Suggestions- Micah 6:8, Ephesians 4:1, 1 Corinthians 13:13, Psalm 23. And send me your favorites!
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