Monthly Archives: March 2013

From Peter to Francis: we have a Pope

Here we are talking about Peter… what a day to watch a new Pope elected.  I had my son (who is home sick) come watch some of the live feed with me.  After all we are watching history happen. (Okay so actually anytime you have your eyes open you are actually watching history being made… but you know what I mean.) 

Our Catholic brothers (and sisters without voice) just elected a new Pope to lead them into the future.  The next in a series of “rocks” upon which the vision and leadership of the Roman Catholic Church is built.  It was intriguing to watch:

An older, white, male – and yet born in Argentina, a Jesuit, and an staunch advocate for the poor who has lived very simply in his own life even to the point of riding the bus to work when he has the rights to a private limousine. Beyond his view of advocating for the poor he is quite socially conservative and yet he took the name Pope Francis I which (depending on your Francis but really either Assisi or Xavier will do) sets a tone that is new and refreshing.

Over all I thought to myself – it was a small step, and a giant leap for their church.

We all know the Titanic can’t turn fast, that institutions are a lot like the Titanic, and that in many forms the church is an institution.  Many people are pronouncing the Catholic Church as dying.  Many others are frustrated that it doesn’t change or that these changes come far too slowly.  And both of these are true for our denomination as well… and our own church. 

What do we do when we are caught in those moments when we wish we could get change happening faster?  What do we do in those moments when we sitting on the deck sure we are going to hit the iceberg?  What do we do when the small steps we take feel far too small and far too late?

I don’t know the answer to that… but it does make me wonder if this isn’t exactly why Jesus was always slipping off to pray.  We don’t want to not worry… because we care.  But we also can’t worry a circumstance into resolving itself faster.  Out of self-care we have to remove the worry from our patient participation and maybe that is where prayer comes in… dropping off burdens we cannot afford to carry.

I pray for the Catholic Church in this turning point for their future.

I pray for our own church in our turning points, and the lives of those I know for who my care causes me to worry for them – and with them.  God may I patiently participate in bringing forth abundant life in your world even when it’s not as much as I had hoped for – and may I do so without anxiety for all the steps to come.  Daily prayer for daily bread – and tomorrow’s steps shall wait for tomorrow.  Thanks be to God.

Get Busy Living

An intersection of thoughts today… none of them new – you will feel like you have heard this before.  But it’s what seems to wish to be said so here we go:

  • After one of the predictions of Jesus’ death which we read at church last Sunday Peter responds by saying that Jesus is talking crazy and that he can’t die.  Jesus is of a different mind… its almost exactly what he says, “You are not thinking divine thoughts.” (Matthew 16:23)
  • I engaged in a short exchange on Facebook about not failing sometimes meaning you also aren’t succeeding because what you really aren’t doing is risking anything.  Failure, as I have been told before, is good.  It can help you to find what you are looking for, or the path to find it, by virtue of showing you what it isn’t or how not to get there. It is a reminder that sometimes our greatest failures are a slow decline caused by fear of failing, or of not succeeding.
  • Luke 19 was mentioned to me in that previous exchange.  In the parable the stewards are not rewarded for coming back to their master and saying, “I have exactly what you gave me.”  The master was looking for them to turn something into more.  The key line to me is, “Then the other came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’”
  • And then finally this great quote from the movie The Shawshank Redemption.  The character of Andy Dufresne is wrongfully in prison and not getting out any time soon.  He has played nice, been helpful, and its got him even more a prisoner than ever before.  And he utters, from a place of seeming despair, “Its time to get busy living, or get busy dying.”  The next day alarms go off and Andy’s friends put together pieces of conversation and come to the conclusion that perhaps Andy has hung himself, “He asked for a piece of rope.”  It turns out an altogether different outcome has occurred.  Andy has finally decided after years of digging to the sewers, to actually act on it and escape.

In the words of his best friend, “Andy crawled to freedom through five hundred yards of **** smelling foulness I can’t even imagine, or maybe I just don’t want to. Five hundred yards… that’s the length of five football fields, just shy of half a mile… Andy Dufresne, who crawled through a river of **** and came out clean on the other side. Andy Dufresne, headed for the Pacific. Those of us who knew him best talk about him often. I swear, the stuff he pulled… Sometimes it makes me sad, though, Andy being gone. I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright and when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice, but still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they’re gone. I guess I just miss my friend.”

Yes.  I guess I just miss my friend.  Peter was going to do so also.  But in a world that is often crippled by fears…. of how we will be perceived, of how we will fail, of not doing well enough, of getting hurt, of getting others hurt… of… well a great many things.  In such a world of fear we all come to a point where we have to get busy living or get busy dying.  And sometimes those two things look a lot alike.  In fact sometimes we are living a slow death, and sometimes we die our way into new life.  Andy Dufresne died and rose again on the other side of a sewer.  Jesus died, and rose again for all of us.  Are we willing and ready when the time comes for us, to get busy living by being willing to get busy dying?

It isn’t easy – thank God we don’t do it alone.

Do you really love Jesus?

Yesterday we spent time in worship with Peter, the first of the disciples (with his brother) to be called to follow Jesus.  Peter is really eager to please, eager to get it right, eager to do amazing things with Jesus… too eager.  He falls head over heels in love with Jesus but mostly just falls on his face.

Peter gets a lot wrong, Peter doesn’t understand what is going on, and Peter becomes the voice of the disciples, particularly of their gut instincts and reactions and confusions.

Let us get this straight about the disciples as we think about what it means for us to be called as one of Christ’s disciples, very seldom do they have any idea what is going on.  If you are sitting out there and you do not know what God is calling you to – than you are in a really good place because that is the place we find the disciples most of the time.

So what is it that makes Peter, the rock upon which Christ will build the church, brings to the table? What does Jesus see in Peter?

What Peter brings is a commitment to follow Jesus through thick and thin.  Again and again in the Gospel accounts Peter doesn’t like things Jesus has to say.  Again and again Peter loses faith, or Peter gets confused.  But after every set back Peter is right back in the front row with Jesus.  Listening, learning, trying, growing.

Peter keeps following Jesus and for all his mistakes Peter never disappears from the story for much more than a moment.

And in Jesus final intimate conversation with Peter in John 21 Jesus makes it very clear to Peter that if you love Jesus you are to show that by loving Jesus people, all people.  We cannot love God apart from loving God’s creation – all of it and all of them.  We do not love Jesus, “more than these.”  We love “these” as an expression of our love of Jesus. 

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Be YOUR dream

“They asked me what I wanted to be and then told me what not to be, and I wasn’t the only one.  We were being told that we must somehow become what we are not, sacrificing what we are, to inherit the masquerade of what we will be.”

— Shane Koyczan: “To This Day” … for the bullied and beautiful

(I recommend highly watching the whole video, now or later: 

As we move from the story of Mary to that of Peter a theme is continued.  Unexpected voices.  That Jesus finds Peter, Andrew, James, and John fishing – learning the family trade – tells us something.  It tells us that the Jewish educational system had already decided they weren’t headed for leadership.  They didn’t have what it takes to be rabbis or teachers.  They had been sent back to families to learn the trade of their fathers.  And that is what they were doing… until Jesus showed up.

And Jesus says – I see something different… drop those nets that you are caught up in, and follow me.  That is to Jesus said to them: I see you as students capable of becoming teachers, disciples who will be rabbis, followers who will become leaders.  “They” don’t, but I do, so get up from that place you have been placed in and walk with me to the place you wish to go.

What did “they” tell you that you cannot be, or cannot do?  How did “they” convince you who you were or were going to be or cannot help but be?

Whatever that may be, Jesus enters the picture and tells you, drop those nets you are caught up in.  Follow me – because I see a whole different story at work in you and through you and the world is a better place BECAUSE of you!

Poets get the final word

I often recall the old adage that victors write history.  There is some truth to this adage (thus why it continues to exist). The people of power have the ability to authenticate a certain version of events and what stories get told and what stories do not get told. 

I remember for instance the first time I learned about the Philippine-American War.  Don’t look to most U.S. History books to teach much (if anything) about it.  We were the victors and we didn’t want to tell this story.  After all if France had been as imperialistic in 1780 as we were in 1899 then our Revolutionary War would have ended with us being a French colony and not our own nation.   We don’t want to tell the story about how we helped the Philippines win their independence from Spain only to “buy” them as concessions from Spain in the peace treaty.   

I’ve always espoused the theory that victors get to write history books… but it doesn’t really last.  In fact the real power lies in the poets.  When poets get a hold of the stories (and the stories get a hold of the poets) real history is “made.”   I had this thought (not for the first time but in a new way) last night when I was watching the 2010 Ridley Scott Robin Hood movie (I don’t recommend seeing it if you haven’t).  The one thing the movie does as a nod to history is that it doesn’t paint Richard the Lionhearted as a good king. 

Wait… what?  Richard is always the hero.  He was a great general, the epitome of the Christian leader bringing light in a time of great darkness.

Well… no.  Not really… not at all.

He was perhaps a great general… but many historians recounting of him goes something like, “He was a bad son, a bad husband, a bad Christian and a bad king… (frankly even a bad Englishman)… but he was a great soldier.”

But it’s hard to really imagine him thus… because the poets chose otherwise.  Richard is the valiant King who comes to save England from the poor rule of John?  That’s what all the stories say, that’s the role he plays… that is who he is – right?

Sadly no, in fact it’s arguable that John was the better king… and Richard mostly bankrupted his country he didn’t even like (he much preferred life on the “Continent”) to fight wars with little purpose and effect other than to engender hatred and strife.

So what is my point here?  My point is the poets – for the sake of story – choose to make John the miser and Richard the King.  And it had nothing to do with actual history… and yet it’s a more living history than the “truth.”  It wasn’t necessarily the victor that got to write history… it was the captivating story that won the day.

Stories are powerful, and poets prove the pen (and voice) is a more powerful shaper of life than the sword can ever be (though let us not be trite about this… the sword clearly isn’t powerless.  But it its power has limits when it comes to squashing the poets voice).  Poets provide the living memory… and they can endorse the tyrannical dictator and make him or her a hero, or it can subvert the foundations of authority and usher in revolution.  Poets can make outlaws heroes (whether its Robin of the Hood, or rap music).  Poets can decide we will sing the Star, Spangled Banner or Mary’s Magnificat. 

Wait, there is Mary again.  How did she get back in this?  Because Mary is the voice of the poet shaping what stories we tell.  Her story cries woe to the rich, woe to the powerful, woe to those who rule by the sword.  Her poetry cries justice for the oppressed, exaltation for the shamed, and tangible presence of God to the forgotten.

And her poetry cannot be denied its voice… no Roman Emperor (or Pope for that matter), or Spanish Conquistador, or Western deistic imperialists has fully succeeded in silencing her song (though plenty of efforts with some success exist even unto this day).  Her poetry gets picked up again and again to subvert the powers that oppress and seeks to bring good news to those who have none.

So with this final reflection on Mary I find myself examined by her to ask myself:

What kind of poet am I?  What stories do I share, and what story does my life speak on my behalf?

The poet wields great power… and as we all know from Spider-Man, “With great power comes great responsibility.”   The world cannot afford for us to deny our calling to be poets.  And we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to one another, we owe it the world to let our poetry be in the service life and love.

Sing, dance, draw, play… poet us into a brighter tomorrow.

From Mary (mother of Jesus) to Beyonce

One of the criticisms that are sometimes levied at Mary is that she can be read as a submissive character.  Look at Luke’s account in chapter one. That she submits to the Holy Spirit and God’s will for her to bear a son is tantamount to… well,  you can complete that thought maybe.  But it doesn’t really appear she had a lot a choice in becoming pregnant.  I think this read of that text is there… but.  But only if you stop reading the story of Luke at that point.

Mary is far more than simply a submissive woman playing a role God designed for her.  Read how she begins her famous words in the Magnificat (later in Luke chapter 1):

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;”

This is not the words of a lowly female who has submitted to the role outlined for her.  This is a woman proud of place and station, this is a woman who is standing head held high and recognizing that she in enviable.  That even men would call her blessed.  Mary sees herself as a part of creating justice in the world – and that justice starts in her own standing in the world.  Not lowly anymore, this servant of God, but blessed and revered bearer of God.

And in this Mary helps us understand that non-violent doesn’t mean passive, that humble doesn’t mean submissive, that weak doesn’t mean powerless.

(Disclosure: I’m about to go pop culture and I might lose you… come along for the ride, it might finally start to get interesting.)

Back after the Super Bowl last month there was a lot of conversation about Beyoncé’s half time presentation.  Many people reacted against it as trying to sell sex.  A whole different group rose up and said it wasn’t anything of that – she was a woman being powerful and celebrating that fact and the world can’t abide powerful woman. If you missed that whole discussion I’m sure you can find some good links to find it.  Then a week or two ago the opposite controversy happened.  Seth McFarlane’s hosting of the Academy Awards came off to many as funny but to many others as misogynistic and degrading to women.  You could call it the anti-Beyoncé moment.

Why am I going here?  Because the question of women having powerful roles is a live conversation in our society.  The objectification of women is a live conversation in our society.  And it may be that properly claiming Mary’s role in our own stories will help us come to a more just relationship of women and men.  Because Mary is no pawn in this story, Mary doesn’t simply submit.  Mary ponders and treasures.  Mary proclaims and is blessed.  Mary sees the shifting worldview that Jesus is bringing before anyone else and gets up on her stage and sings it loud and proud… and that song echoes through our hallways still today. 

Are you listening to Mary, or trying to silence her?  Mary’s story invites us to be surprised by just who will be God’s voice and bearer and through that surprise the humility in ourselves to see in all people the face and voice and will (and thus the authority) of God at work.  Thanks be to God, and to Mary!

Mother of Jesus… but not the only one.

When Jesus is at the temple at age 12 we see the beginnings perhaps of childhood rebellion.  The child, a product in many ways, of his or her parents goes through a process of self-differentiation of their own identity from that of their parents.  They become “their own authentic person” so to speak. 

 I wonder if this gives different insight to Jesus later saying he has come to set family against each other (Matthew 10:35ish) or when Jesus denies special place to his mother and brothers and sisters and claims, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35)

 Do you really think Jesus, who has come because God loves the world, wants to deny family members honor (which would break a commandment among other things)?  Or could it be that Jesus continues here what was started in the temple at age 12… a shift in identity from the child who was dependent upon his mother and father to the young adult and later adult who has – thanks to Mary among others – become a self-differentiated adult ready to fly the coup.  In that process Jesus doesn’t seek to deny family, but expand family.  Jesus must – as we must – break down the tight bonds of strong isolated family unit in order to expand his orientation towards others, outsiders, the lost and the lonely. 

 These alone are not my family Jesus is saying in Mark, but all people are my family as they seek to follow in my way and none are more, or less, entitled to my attention, honor, and care.   And what is the lesson in this to us, who are so inclined to tribal alliances of those who are in and those who are out?  What does it mean that Jesus calls us to leave such alliances behind as we grow into maturity and an ever-expanding notion of family?  How do we honor our mothers and fathers by not living exclusively oriented to them – but to the whole world?

 We are pit against family because we must, on some level, break down the walls we grew up with in order to grow into our place in the humanity where we are always our brother (and sisters) keeper, called to love neighbor, and sent out to the world to bearers of good news to all people and not just the people that look and act like we were raised. 

 We turn family into Family, church into Church, and even Jesus into the Body of Christ.

 Mary helps us get there – our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters – help us get to that point.  But we also have to get to the point where it’s about many more people than them alone.  And in that moment it can be hard to be Mary… but it is also perhaps the single most important moment as parent: to allow the child to live beyond us, apart from us (still knowing that they are a part of us).  Its hard as well for us as well, who like to be led, to realize that there is time when we need to lead.  Leading as we are led. Teacher and student.  Discipling and discipled. Lover and beloved. Individual person and yet part of a human collective family larger than we can fathom.

 Thanks be to God.

Mary: Teacher and Student of Jesus

Yesterday Joanna helped us explore the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Mary isn’t a one and done story.  She emerges in the gospels several times and she is present to Jesus from conception to death to resurrection. 

Mary is both Jesus’ teacher, as any parent or significant adult is in the life of a child, but also later his student.  And isn’t that a great model to us for all our relationships?  Isn’t that a lot about what it means to be a disciple?  We follow after Jesus and are taught and formed by him, as we are by others who follow in his way.  But we also do this for others; we become examples, teachers, and formers of others who follow Christ.  We are always both student and teacher in faith.

Humble servant.  Mary – willing to be led, but also pondering, treasuring, and teaching others by her example.  How are we also called to be humble servants who follow in the way of Christ even as we lead others in the way of service, love, and forgiveness?

Mono-tasking and The Perfect Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Last Friday I made four perfect grilled cheese sandwiches.  Really!  I mean they were perfect.  They were buttered mostly with a spread but then a pad of real butter to give that real butter taste (my wife assures me this makes a difference, it doesn’t to me but perfect means perfect even if you can’t tell the difference – and these were perfect.) A crisp golden brown bread without a hint of burn not a single section soggy or under cooked.  The cheese was like melted gold, warm and creamy and yet fully contained so not a single drop was lost to the griddle.

It was perfect.  They were perfect… four of them.  It was like catching a glimpse of heaven, or gazing at a  field of stars so crystal clear and plentiful that you are struck by such beauty you are moved to tears…. Okay so it wasn’t that good.  But it was a really good sandwich.

So why write about that here?  What does this have to do with Lent, discipleship, or wrestling with God?

Well I grew up on burned biscuits, and just good-enough grilled sandwiches.  Why?  Because first my mom was making them for a family of six with all the other distractions that come with that, and now I’m doing the same.  I rarely pay attention to just the grilling of the sandwich.  I don’t have time or the patience for that – I need to be multi-tasking.  And like most people I refuse to admit that I am any less than an expert in multi-tasking. But then… I can say that because I’m okay eating a burned grilled cheese sandwich, or at least I was before Friday. 😉

I’m not going to preach the evils of multi-tasking here.  Sometimes you really need to do it – there are lots of demands on our time.

I am going to preach the good of mono-tasking.

Sometimes we need to just let some things go, allow the clean laundry to sit in a lump on a chair until you – one outfit of at time as you put it on –just wear it straight out of the heap.  Sometimes you need recognize that you can’t make the world right for every child in every moment and they will need to just figure this one out.  Sometimes it’s okay to miss an appointment, or to not ace the spelling test, or play a subpar game because you didn’t practice as much as you might like.

There is goodness to saying today I am only going to do this one thing. I’m going to give it my whole attention, its worthy of my patient and slow application of skill, it’s good to do this to the exclusion of caring for every other voice that wants to get in.  I’m going to make the perfect grilled cheese sandwich.  Jesus – it is well known – was really good at doing one thing at time.  God – cancelled out other voices, to be wholly present in only one place to only one person… and sometimes that one person was Jesus by himself.  And it was good.  So why is that good enough for Jesus but not us?  Why do we feel we need to maintain the idea that we are more competent than God?

Try something new, not all the time, but pick a day – or an afternoon.  And mono-task.

I’m going to listen to this one person’s story without dividing my attention.

I’m going to take a nap and leave work undone.

I’m going to just make this meal and actually watch the pot until it boils just to make sure my craft is good and true.

I’m going to walk the dog and not think through a to-do list in my head but simply enjoy the sights and sounds of a creative creation all around.

I’m going to do… Because I’m not going to do… and it is good.

I made a perfect grilled cheese sandwich – and it was a spiritual gift.  I’m not going to dwell on what I didn’t do but revel in what I immersed myself in fully.  I made a sandwich, what did you do?

Also a shout out to Nikki Cooley who wrote this piece on the subject as well: http://nikkicooley.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/beware-this-is-cheesy/

Jesus’ first teacher

Mary.

We Protestants have a mom issues.  You see we tend to downplay the whole – Jesus had a mom – thing because somehow we find that threatening?   (We really have dad issues on this subject too… but that’s really for another day.)  We have to differentiate ourselves from the Catholics?  I don’t really know… but I do know we spend far too little time with Mary… frankly any of the Marys, but today I’m thinking about Mary, the mother of Jesus.

We pastors and educators are fond of repeating time and again that parents are their childrens’ number one educator.  This is true about a great many things (I just spend twenty minutes quizzing Warren on spelling words until he was sure to get the “ro” in the right order on astronaut and the “sa” included in the word sausage) but it is especially true of faith.  I heard once that our primary image of God for our life is formed by the time we are five years old.  Wow. 

Five years old = who God will be for you most of your life.

Can we change that?  Sure… but it takes hard work.  Who is primarily responsible for forming that image?  Our parents. This means, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, that Mary is Jesus’ teacher long before Jesus sets out to teach anyone else. 

In his book The Jesus Way, author Eugene Peterson says that Mary says a prayer in her initial angelic greeting, “Let it be with me according to your will.”  He then says he imagines this was a primary prayer for Mary and that she passes it on to Jesus in childhood because it shows up again… in the garden of Gethsemane, in the mouth of her son.  “Yet, not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Mary taught Jesus… what does Mary teach you?  What did your mom and dad teach you about God, faith, and the struggles to live that faith?  What spiritual parents helped you to have a life prayer to fall back on when times are tough?  Jesus did it – and that is a pretty high recommendation!