Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Underwater lighting…

Among the coolest things I’ve ever seen is an octopus swimming at night.  Did you know they glow? And their colors swirl florescent. Purples, blues and greens; like a pastel canvas with arms, infused with electricity.

Perhaps only certain octopi display this colorful barrage. I can’t say; I’m no oceanographer. Just a simple aquatic tourist, blessed with a father in love with scuba diving. In college, thinking it’d make for good parent-child bonding (which it did!), on several occasions Pops and I flew to warm places lauded for underwater excursions. And often, we took plunges after sunset, scuba diving at night. Remarkably, while the human world above prepared for sleep, the ocean hurried and bustled about. Some wildlife, certainly, hid from nocturnal hunters in coral formations or under rocks. But many fish, crabs, eels and more wandered to and fro, providing much spectacle for our viewing pleasure.

But to me the star was always the octopus! Diverse colors united, unpredictable movements, incredible agility. I’m a decent (human) swimmer, but compared to these creatures, I’m stunningly graceless. Even at great depths, with moon and stars offering little illumination, they swivel and float over rocks and sand with bursting quickness or languid ease. Knowing exactly what to expect. Whereas I lumbered sloooowly, and without a light, was ignorant of the world around me. Unless an octopus occupied my field of vision. Then this swirling, whirling, luminous friend offered guidance and delight.

As a young adult minister, I’ve heard the following question multiple times- “Shane, in this day and age, why attend church? Why be Christian at all?!” It’s been true of previous generations, but is even more true today (according many studies), that for many young people deciding how to spend time, money and establish life-long commitments, church just ain’t it. Whether it’s about their station in life, a change in culture, or churches’ incapacity for changing theology or music, who knows? But it’s happening, and people know it, and thus consider young Christian ministers odd. Which I am, in so very many ways (just ask my wife), but perhaps particularly for my ongoing devotion to organized religion.

So let me answer that question briefly (incompletely) with reference to my octopus friend. I love church because, at its best, it’s brightens a shadowed world. Think of the rich varieties of color combined in that tentacled, radiant creature. Like that, I’ve worshipped God in English and Spanish, Latin, Hebrew and Greek. And that’s but an insignificant number of languages that laud the Lord each day. It’s humbling, and inspiring, to know I’m part of a global community, who rarely agree on even the most important things (like whether Jesus actually resurrected, or ever claimed to be God), but still find ways to come together to serve the poor and honor goodness. In many situations that we privileged, first-world residents never dream of enduring- gathering daily bread in piles of Egyptian trash, suffering endemic starvation and disease in rural Ethiopia- historic Christian communities have long sheltered each other and believed in hope.

Which isn’t to say we’re always wonderful and admirable. Far from it. Alas. Especially in this nation, Christians have had frequent trouble adapting to shifting currents or receding tides, movements octopi find instinctive. Yet sometimes, we’ve done quite well; say, leading change in civil rights or women voting. And by simply welcoming each other, feeding neighbors, visiting the sick, celebrating our dead friends, there’s much that happens in most churches I know that’s powerful, bright and alive.

Plymouth Creek, you might know, has a vision to become a “beacon of openness and Christian service in the NW suburbs.” That’s because we believe Christ’s love is light, which can outshine any despairing darkness. And what’s remarkable about that vision, to me, is that it’s not about just one color or shade. The love of God we honor includes many different people, races, lifestyles, creeds- even religions- that when gathered together, united by love, amplifies in potent, stunning ways. Is delightful to behold. Becomes a glorious companion, helper or guide. May it be this Easter week, and beyond, we’re as true to that vision as possible.

Grace and Peace,

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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Eternal sunshine…

As Minnesota winters go, this year’s wasn’t one. No emergency snow days called. Higher temperatures than ever recorded. I bought an incredible snow shovel and used it three, four times at most. When Kentucky friends heard that I was moving ‘up north,’ and feared I’d freeze to death, obviously they failed to consider this scenario.

So now I’m awaiting Easter, wondering if it’s time already to mow my lawn. Or maybe grill out for Easter dinner. Weird to imagine, right? History claims that Easter coincides with pre-Christian religious festivals celebrating earth’s renewal. And why not?! The whole point is honoring Jesus’ resurrection. What better could enact that than fresh green grass and increased sunshine?

Traditional theology posits that this resurrection had consequences. Specifically, that Jesus’ followers received the ultimate prize as a result. Eternal life, unending bliss, a pre-paid pass to perpetual paradise. Indeed, such a promise remains personally precious to many, many Christians.

But you’ll notice that I spend little time discussing that belief. And it’s not that I believe it’s wrong; I’m as expectant of and grateful for life eternal as any. It’s just that God put us here for a reason, presumably, with a mission for us and others. To instigate and initiate God’s Reign of Unyielding Love in our midst. So I’d rather not worry much about heavenly things; we’ve got work yet to do.

Plus, there’s a deeper consequence to this traditional belief that many overlook. And given Easter’s near-arrival, I think it worth exploring. Again, church tradition claims that something remarkable happened on that Third Day. When the stone rolled back, not only Jesus received new life. But through His resurrection, God revealed a greater truth: that all people, in all places, of all times (and, I believe, of all faiths), are deemed eternally precious, everlastingly loved, never-to-be discarded. I.e. eternal life for all life is God’s greatest desire. And by raising Jesus from the dead, God wanted all to know that. Therefore, we say, Christ has risen! Eternal life is ours!!

One question for me, though, is- When does it begin? Once we die, right? That’s the normal answer… But why assume that? I mean, if, indeed, our life’s extended into forever by God’s love, than isn’t the clock already ticking? Isn’t death a barely-perceptible pause? In other words, hasn’t God’s gift of eternal life already begun?

Let that marinate a bit, then consider the consequences. All things wonderful and holy, glorious and sunny that we assume about life in Heaven with God, well, if eternal life in God’s love has begun, aren’t those ours already? Sure, it’ll be different once the end’s come, and this life transforms. But presuming there’s continuity between now and then, shouldn’t we live and act and worship like we’re as alive as we’ll ever be?! Like were always and already surrounded by the eternal sunshine of the Light of the World?! And if so, then just imagine what can (must?) be done… Your neighbor, who ticks you off? Living eternally in God’s love, already. Your family member, who doesn’t return your calls? In eternal relationship with God, already. The poor family down the street, struggling to feed and clothe their children? Loved eternally by God, already. Just. Like. You.

That isn’t meant to cause you shame or guilt; just the opposite, in fact! For you- You- YOU- have a pre-paid pass to perpetual paradise. And that eternal life has already begun! So cast off whatever’s holding you back; all the worry and fear, all the sin and self-defeat. God’s love has freed you, includes you, surrounds you. And will continue to do so until time, well, ends, bathing you in divine sunshine. So claim that power! Live that truth! Let it guide you and set you free!! Jesus endured the Cross, suffered the tomb, then rose again in triumph. All so we would see a truth more blessed than any I know. That eternal life in God’s glorious love is our gracefully given birthright. We don’t have to wait for its benefits to kick in. We’re living in that bright sunshine already. Whether next year’s winter is colder or not.

Happy Easter,
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