Author Archives: Andrew Kukla
Star Wars moment… but really an anything moment. Trolls will troll, and SW fans are the worst. Which is why it’s great to find an uber-fan like my friend Matthew who just appreciates and even defends while admitting the flaws and challenges… (I told you to pass on ALL that you had learned) he commented on fandoms complaints raging on “continuity errors” to the new Kenobi series. There are legit ones. But folks get so “can’t see the forest for the trees” about them. Continuity Errors is code for hating on plot choices to sacred material. It’s when something in a new movie or book is hard to line up with something from a previous book or movie. Star Wars is full of them.
You know what else is full of “continuity errors”. The Bible. (you know… that text for which a great many people claim it’s inerrant and infallible?)
And the clearest continuity errors about which there are whole courses of studies? The four (DIFFERENT) Gospel Accounts. And John? We created a category of synoptic (seen-together) Gospels because John, the sequel to the ”original” trilogy, is so full of continuity errors that the witness is clearly ‘seeing differently’.
And here is the key (yes I’m getting back to SW but you knew I was going to go far afield and then find a connection, right?)… Witness. The Gospel’s full name implies that none of the four ARE the Gospel… but each is “According to…” thus Matthew’s Gospel (and the others respectively) are “Κατα Μαθθαίον” According to Matthew. The Gospel is a story/truth/claim that has no concrete accessible reality. It is a story accessed by stories of witnesses who give us their versions… and together they paint a picture of the “truth”. It is such with all history. (I recently wrote that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address has no less than 4 authoritative versions from Lincoln himself and none of them are exactly the same as the Associate Press’ copy of the live event.)
So… what we have is witness accounts with continuity errors….
So… it was mind-blowing to me to have his epiphany that we can think this the same thing with the SW universe (which even uses the language of canon for what are authoritative texts approved by the powers that be)… none of this is objectively how it all happened a long, long time ago in a galaxy far away… its all just ”according to” material… oral histories and witness accounts rife with continuity errors… and the truth is out there… but not concrete, objective, unambiguous, attenable story. It’s all just approximations of what happened “from a certain point of view”.
I believe some of the most revelatory and empowering moments in scripture come from moments in which we experience not the divinity of God… but the deep and abiding humanity of God… and particularly God’s vulnerable solidarity with the lament and grief for the brokenness of creation.
On the day after another tragic school shooting that has left at least 19 elementary school children dead and two teachers… in which our children find themselves preparing for another round of active shooter drills in their own classrooms around the nation… in which we take “last day of school” pictures with our kids while recognizing that yesterday was the last day for 19 children and they didn’t even know it. And their parents’ and friends’ worlds were irrevocably broken and taken from them in ways that will resound with unrelenting pain for the rest of their lives… in which this particular grief joins a long litany of such grief.
In the wake of that we find our nation angry, hurt, and looking for answers…
In the wake of that we hug our children harder and longer…
In the wake of that we look at our own concerns and problems as trivial gifts of life….
In the wake of that we ask ourselves why we can’t solve this….
In the wake of that we ask our leaders why they won’t solve this…
In the wake of that we stop… and we crumble… and we grieve…
And I find myself drawn to God’s grief with us.
It was not just “Jesus wept”…
Hosea speaks out the gut-churching compassion of God…
Paul speaks of creations growing in labor-like pangs of lament for what is not yet…
Moses confronts God with responsibility to never give up working toward a better tomorrow…
Isaiah and Exodus speak of God moved to draw close hearing the cries of God’s people…
Jeremiah’s lamentations dance a complex grief with God and alongside God…
Jeremiah speaks again this complexity voicing God’s definitive word: “I am a God nearby, and not far off…”
God is moved to mourn for Moab… to wail even… to sob and weep…
And Jesus… drawing close to the cross, pulls aside to weep for Jerusalem…
“If only you knew the ways that make for peace….”
Today we give ourselves the grace to be bound up in all the feelings.
Today we give ourselves the grace to do nothing because we are world-weary.
Today we give ourselves the grace to rage at the machine and spit in the eye of the hurricane.
Today we give ourselves the grace to name the complex anger-grief that mourns, weeps, and wails.
Today we give ourselves the grace… to be wrapped in the arms of our mother-God.
But tomorrow must be different. We are long overdue to be…
Drawn close to the suffering heart of brokenness
Halted from perpetuating systems of harm and trauma…
Resolved to write a better story… to live our loss through transformed ways of being…
Formed and forming each other in the ways that make for peace…
Vulnerable before each other and with each other and for all the each others.
Oh God… our God… help us to make it so… to make it so beyond our prayers and in our actions.
Oh God… our God… make us to make it so…
Oh God… our God….
This weekend is many things to many people… to Hollywood, it’s a mega-movie weekend. School kids either get a long weekend or, as with my own, it marks the beginning of summer break. It is full of parties at parks and grilling in the backyard… it’s a day of entry into summer and a celebration of family and community. It is all these things… but at its heart, it began and continues to be a day of memory… a day to mark the pain and poignance of lives lost in defense of our country.
It is, however, more complicated than that in its origins as it was born out of the Civil War. It was born out of a conflict in which the lives lost were taken by other lives lost – a war where brother fought brother over the vision of the future of our country and the nature of our communion. In many ways, we are still fighting that war – less brutal in war dead and yet still with scars and emotions that run deep.
As we prepare to enjoy the company and companionship, the blessings of creation and the joys of creativity this weekend may we also remember the lives lost in service to the ideals of this country’s project: a place where such joy and blessing may be freely enjoyed by all. And I leave you, to that end, with these words of memorial that are Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” (the *Bliss copy):
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
*Note: I remark that this is the Bliss Copy because there is not a single version of the Gettysburg Address. The Bliss copy is the most common and most authoritative because it was signed by Lincoln himself though it was a later copy with likely revision from what was spoken at the Memorial. There are five known copies of the address plus the Associated Press version telegraphed on the day of delivery from notes taken during the event. That makes for fun reading and investigating! 🙂
Monday afternoon I drove down Harrison Blvd and took in the scenes that were… war-torn. The amazing snow we had on Monday morning had wreaked devastation on the trees. It looked like a tornado had ripped through. Warren’s comment was, “now, I know why trees shed their leaves before winter.”
I am ashamed to say I had not ever thought of the aerodynamic reasons for trees to shed their leaves. As my friend Andrew Bailey noted from a biological standpoint, “You either make your leaves small and slick (needles) or you drop them and grow new ones in the spring.” I have always understood this seasonal life cycle and I have always tried to learn from the wisdom of that… but this was a very dramatic teaching to demonstrate what happens if we try to hold onto everything. We become bloated, overdrawn, weighed down… and ultimately break apart.
Here again the words from last Sunday ring in my ears “The Lord is my Shepherd… I shall not want….” No one sets out to collect and keep and hold onto masses of things. No one sets out to be a hoarder of stuff… or books… or space… or memories… but we all feel the temptation to do so… we all use the same rationalizations, “But what if….”
Hearing Warren’s thoughts I realized that in order to live – to survive, and even to thrive – we always have to do a bit of leaning into death. We have to let go, knock dust from our sandals, and prune off the things that are holding us fast or that we are holding fast to in order to keep ourselves moving gracefully into this present moment and whatever surprises it may bring.
What are you clinging to? What is clinging to you? Where might pruning be in order?
Last Sunday’s sermon (you can watch it here) was supposed to be about the power of forgiveness to unburden ourselves and truly received Christ’s peace… it became more about the unburdening peace that comes with forgiveness as a whole… and its lasting impression on me was about fear. Many years ago somewhere I wrote about fear saying that the fact that almost every angel visit to a human begins with “do not fear” makes me believe that the greatest lesson heaven has to teach earth is that fear is the biggest factor that keeps us “locked up in tombs” rather than experiencing abundant life.
Today… I came across this 2017 quote from Dr. Brene Brown in an interview on the “crisis of disconnection” most of us are experiencing (and I remind you this was 3 years before COVID).
“But If I had to identify one core variable that magnifies our compulsion to sort ourselves into factions while at the same time cutting ourselves off from real connection with other people, my answer would be fear. Fear of vulnerability. Fear of getting hurt. Fear of the pain of disconnection. Fear of criticism and failure. Fear of conflict. Fear of not measuring up. When we ignore fear and deny vulnerability, fear grows and metastasizes. We move away from a belief in common humanity and unifying change and move into blame and shame. We will do anything that gives us a sense of more certainty and we will give our power to anyone who can promise easy answers and give us an enemy to blame.”
There are lots of enemies to blame right now… for everything. COVID, the 2016 election, Social Media, the Media as a whole, consumerism, despotic authoritarian leadership, vagrants living off of welfare, coddled children who didn’t learn to work…
We have created a lot of enemies… but all of them are us, standing within our faction of sameness, pointing outward and naming that our problem is out there. Little of it is us daring to look within ourselves and name what we are afraid of… and seek to heal those hurts and accept that even hurt and broken we are loved and lovable… Brene Brown says it better:
“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging does not require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”(to catch the whole interview from which I pulled these Brene Brown quotes, read here:
Do not be afraid… you are God’s beloved, and I love you too.
You can watch the video to this here: they are slightly different: https://youtu.be/j5kqSiyTmFQ
Also… no – this manuscript isn’t edited – life moves on and I find no inclination to do that kind of work… after all… another sermon this coming Sunday awaits… 🙂
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
We gather on a day in the familiar memory of just about everyone. Regardless of your religious tradition, cultural heritage, geographic location, or if we even celebrate it – you have a sense of what Easter is all about: Easter is about scientifically spurious, dubious and surprising claim that… bunnies that lay eggs.
I am very good a theological and philosophical gymnastics – and its never really bothered me to have these cultural celebrations of our religious holidays. I love the magic and joy of Santa and the Easter Bunny as much as a do the crazy antics of the leprechaun who comes to our house every year and throws all our furniture upside down while my children lay traps the leprechaun cleverly dismantles… and the commercial and monetary proliferation of tooth fairy is always appreciated. I get fully into all these holidays… the Easter Bunny hid 108 eggs in our house this year – as one should – because we all know that spring is about resurrection in the form of budding trees and flowers, eggs and bunnies, and the return of baseball… and there are 108 stitches on a baseball. My joy at celebrating cultural holidays is no threat to my desire to observe the religious genesis and ongoing unfolding story of grace and abundant life the in the incarnation and resurrection of the Word made flesh.
I am about as embedded in that narrative you can be. My father and I were discussing via text this morning the challenges of faith – while it was yet dark and I was just arriving at church… and he said he doesn’t sweat unbelief in children and neighbors, friends and family because, and I quote, “We don’t choose God, God chooses us. Why else would a young Polish kid sneak the family bible – King James no less – under the covers of his bed to read it when no one was looking?”
That is the faith that formed me… and my father the printing executive making a living producing junk mail but in every moment being a servant leader of the faith that found him under the covers of his bed passed that on to me… I have never been anywhere other than here – or a place just like it – on Easter morning. The power of the story of this day has captured my life – my lying down and my waking up, and no Easter bunny fun has the power to mess that up.
But… a moment of clarity is needed if we imagine that the only threat to the story of the resurrection is the Easter Bunny… the Easter Bunny as a threat pales in comparison to the larger threat: our religious observation of Easter. The brass quintet’s and the flower crosses… the fancy sermons dragging Jesus out of the tomb for yet another round of theology about the victory over death… the lilies and the butterflies – seeds that died to bring about new life…. all of that is – in its own way –the bigger threat to our understanding of the story of the resurrection. I love it all – don’t get me wrong. I want the brass to blow us out the back of the Sanctuary on Jesus Christ is Risen Today… and I want to be bedazzled with color and brilliance on Thine Be the Glory – a Glory to spectacular to be processed. Resurrection is about eggs.. and seeds… and caterpillars becoming butterflies… but – it also isn’t that easy… it isn’t that dependable… it simply isn’t that quaint.
I easter slowly… Its not that I do not like the message of an empty tomb… it isn’t that I don’t believe in the Resurrection, and its very real power in our lives. In fact I’d say it is because of my deep and abiding belief in its real and present power in real and present tombs that I easter… slowly.
This morning I arrived “while it was still dark” ala John’s Gospel… not “early dawn” like Luke -but full on “while it was still dark”. And I walked into the Narthex and I saw, as desired, the crude wooden cross we use for Holy Week centered there in the Narthex with the appropriate white cloth drapped on it to indicate liturgical white of Easter rather than the black of Friday…. But I also noticed that rather than the typical white cloth wrapped around its base – which is there to serve to hide its wooden, non-attractive, base. It stopped me. Well… I was want to say – that doesn’t look right. But… It is rigtht… in truth. Its maybe not cultureally right to let the black cloth of Friday – with its signs and seals of despair and grief invade our Easter worship… but the cross… is root in despair. The cross is root in suffering. The cross is rooted in grief… or it has lost all meaning. Easter is not a day to celebrate the negation of our suffer… but to recognize that there is a power at work in the world that empties tombs… that redeems the lost… that gives witness that the powers of love and life are strong than that of hate and death.
We don’t need Easter if everything is going well.
We don’t’ need Easter if Jesus doesn’t die.
We don’t need Easter if the powers and principalities of Rome and Temple cults aren’t a problem.
We don’t need Easter if there aren’t hungry people on the street.
We don’t need Easter if there aren’t people who dying the sickness unto death of despair and heartache.
We don’t need Easter if we already are living together in peace and harmony. Resurrection is not something that happens on a cloudless midday basking in the sun… its happens when you accompany a friend to cloth a loved one in the trappings of death when the cold grip of night is still upon us.
The Empty Cross sits the literal crossroads of injustice and mercy. Of pain and healing. Of despair and hope. And while we celebrate with the crystalline purity of bells, and the booming voice of the brass… with the angelic melodies and harmonies of choral voices… this is not meant to be a cover to disguise the truth that the power of Resurrection is still needed in this world. That Resurrection will win… doesn’t not mean that it already has. Jesus is the first fruit of resurrection but the power at work in this first story has much work yet to be done and we are – if nothing else – its instruments. The God that has found us here today at the entrance of the empty tomb has work yet for us to do… to preaching and do and following in the way of Resurrection life.
The last couple of months for me have been dominated by a lesson I’m learning through my children – or actually more through their friends. I’m learning that the world’s predominate understanding of the church is not one of Resurrection. Its more a sense of being the powers and principality that are forces for control, for discrimination, for despair. I mean.. I read those articles that the predominate understanding of the church is a that we are hypocrites… that we preach forgiveness but we practice hate. We fight… we split up over arguments… we try to keep people out more than we welcome them in… that is if they don’t look, act, and believe like us. I know that intellectually but to experience firsthand a generation that just presumes that if you are a church person that is how you think and believe… Not that long ago one of my children’s friends asked them if I was homophobic – sure that to be Christian meant one HAD to be homophobic. My child, of course, said not – went to share about advocacy and actions and set the record straight. But it struck me that this person – who I now give a hard time about as often as I can – just had never experienced the church as anything but a place of disclusion – and had no reason, nor should they, to give us the benefit of the doubt that we might be different. That there might be Christians more focused on love and acceptance… on Resurrection than on creating and keeping people in tombs.
I am name that now because it reminds me when we hang out here – when Easter together here… when we only are around other churchy people who understand that there is nuance to this name Christian – and that there are people who believe it means we follow in the way of Christ’s love and inclusion – if we only name that here – then the people out there will never get that message!. It makes me aware of just how important it is that we offer the world a reparative theology and witness. If we, as the church, in our buildings, but even more so in the world are not speaking up with clarity and power to abundant life, to healing the fractures we have caused, to welcoming all regardless of perceived worth, to affirming each person in their God bless individuality – than we are not preaching the resurrection. If we are not telling people that they are loved and worthy as they ALREADY are… and that we aren’t here to fix them, and they don’t need to fix themselves for us – than we are not letting the power of resurrection be at work in us. We may be worshiping on Easter but we are not a part of God’s power of life emptying tombs, showing solidarity with the lost and the hurting, and healing the world one relationship at a time.
This is the message Jesus died for, that Jesus rose for… that Jesus continues to lead us in preaching to the world every day. And unless we preach that louder than the others preach hate and discrimination – than the world has no reason to believe that it is true. The world needs more Resurrection and less Easter… and we are just the people called to live that life.
|Two days ago, was the highlight of Hallmark holidays: Valentine’s Day – a day when school kids everywhere buy two dozen cards, chocolates and flowers become the currency of the day, and we celebrate romance and love. There are various stories of the day’s origins, and the most popular is that the day was commemorated for St Valentine of Rome who was martyred in 269 CE. I’m not going to go into the various myths and legends associated with it or how it became what it is today, but I want to emphasize this: no matter what this day has come to mean it was not meant to celebrate romance and “being mine”. It was about love – love in the Christian tradition. That means at its heart this day was about my emotional desire to promote your well-being and naming that you make my life richer and fuller. |
You can take your spouse or partner out to eat any day you want, get them flowers and chocolates, and even a $7 card to say what you are hopefully telling them about every day in your own words and actions. I have no desire to take that away from you. But if Valentine’s Day should be a celebration of anything it should celebrate our love and regard for all people – it should be a celebration of love and not a celebration of anyone’s unique beloved.
Over the last two decades, I have done what I can to make that a bigger part of my language and intention. Caroline and I tell each other “I love you” probably half-a-dozen times a day. My kids say it to us, and us to them, at least as many times. My 16-year-old son will call out “love ya” on his way out the door regardless if his friends are there… and why shouldn’t he? Those are only words, and yet they also name real intentions and affirmations. And that is just where it starts. It was awkward at first, but I started trying to say “I love you” to far more people and far more often… to normalize the idea that love is a larger concept than that which I reserve for my spouse. And I sign off of ZOOM in worship every week at First Light saying, “I love you all, have a good week, and see you again soon.” And I mean it… I wish to say on all my phone calls and in all my abiding relationships. I love you.
When and why did we decide love was reserved for intimate and romantic coupling relationships only? It is true that I love Caroline in a different way than most anyone else – but it is not true that my relationship with Caroline is the fullest expression of love. I have way more love than that to give, to express, and to name in the world. And we claim it as a fundamental truth of how we abide in relationship with God… for “God is love. Those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
A favorite theologian of mine says this really well in one of my all-time favorite reflections of love:
“This is what love does. It does not make itself visible but rather makes others visible to us. Love does not exist but calls others into existence: for to exist means to stand forth from the background, to be brought into the foreground… Is this not the properly theological understanding of God? Not a being we directly love, but rather the depth present in the very act of love itself. Not as one who seeks to be glorified but as the cause of glorification itself? …Christianity has been called the religion of love not because Christians are more loving but because of the way that it transitions us from the idea that the highest truth is to be loved to the idea that the highest truth is love itself.” –Peter Rollins, Insurrection, p 120-122
So… I love you. And I wish to celebrate that love continually draws me to seeing you and hearing you and knowing you in deeper and more connected ways. And that is the gift that keeps on giving.
I grew up sheltered. I grew up with the shelter of a house and home. I grew up sheltered in a neighborhood of care and protection where almost everybody knew your name. I grew up sheltered in a religious community that sought to enrich and nurture me in safety and solace. I grew up sheltered by educators who cultivated an environment of learning and growth that presented challenges but at a “rate I could handle” with all the abundant resources of a high property value school district.
But I also grew up sheltered… buffered. Insulated. Because all these people and things that loved me and wanted to protect me and my childhood buffered me from realities of the world I wasn’t “ready” to experience or weren’t considered “safe”. I was buffered from racial diversity. I was buffered from poverty. I was buffered from almost everything that didn’t conform to the norms of my safe world. I was buffered so well that I find myself at times a resident alien to the world – an anomaly poorly trained at a fundamental level to engage and connect emotionally with the broad diversity of life.
I don’t fault anyone for that – who doesn’t want to protect our children? Who doesn’t choose to live in comfort? Who doesn’t secure abundance if that choice is available to them and the resources required to make it happen are given to you? And if to do that we shelter our children from the wider world, where is the harm in that? Is that not the job of a parent? There was no intent to harm here… but harm did happen. I was raised to care. But I was insulated enough that my circle of care was very small and occurred at very little cost to myself. A little hyperbole that is in fact closer to the truth than we want to admit: at best I took field trips to a different world (resident alien that I am) so that I could do some safe caring for a moment and then go back to my haven feeling better about myself. And because of this, I have come to believe that I grew up in the modern-day equivalent of the Tower of Babel: a place crafted by well-meaning people to secure an unchanging posterity-revering life of prosperity with high strong walls to keep the insiders safe from all that was outside.
What happens when the outsiders come in?
The larger Boise community has been caught in a deep and revealing conflict for the last year. A beloved institution broke an unwritten rule: they brought outsiders to our front door. Interfaith Sanctuary has been a valuable and highly lauded member of the Boise community for years. It is our city’s only no-barrier shelter for people experiencing homelessness. It provides shelter for people who have none. It is hard work. It has not always gone well. But loving and dedicated servant-leaders made sure to create an environment of dignity and health for those who too often were only shunned. And their work was recognized, and they were a respected leader in our city… and I think now I recognized that part of that was because it existed outside our walls. It was in a place where many of us never go… and it kept people there who we would rather not encounter on a daily basis. I didn’t realize that – I’m not sure Interfaith realized that – until they tried to move to a new location. A location INSIDE our walls. And then the community erupted.
I have friends and congregation members who do not approve of the Interfaith’s move proposal. They are still my friends and I’m still their pastor. I understand their reasons and sometimes I’m inclined to share them. I have friends and colleagues who are part of planning and supporting the move. I think they made some missteps and assumptions along the way, and I think the process has been obscure and poorly handled by various parties on all sides (and there are many sides to this one)… but I don’t think it means it’s not the right idea, nor do I doubt any of the motives to create well-being for all the residents of Boise. All the residents.
This conversation is a volcanic whirlwind and since we cannot go backward, we have to move forward from where we are… and the only way we can even begin to do that is if we first all put down our stones we are slinging at each other. The most hurtful part of this whole process for me, other than the stripping of dignity and worth of my neighbors who already have been stripped of house and home, is the way we have treated and characterized and bullied each other in the process. I realize that the neighborhood I live in now, like the neighborhoods of my childhood, is a construct, a house of cards – and I know now that I do not like what I see when the cards all get thrown on the table. We are harming each other by exclusion, by name-calling, by celebrating the dehumanizing of our neighbors, and by making it clear that some people are only welcome if they stay outside our walls… in other words, they aren’t welcome at all. The excuses we tell ourselves and each other are poor covers for the truth and I do not think any of us like the truths we are learning in this process. But a core value of my life is putting myself in places to grow and expand my worldview and to let go of the curtains I have used to hide the more shameful truth claims I cling to.
Since my childhood I have spent time in the rural Philippines learning and being taught by many wonderful people to see the world from other eyes, I worked as a chaplain in an inner-city hospital in Atlanta rapidly expanding my experience of diversity on all the spectrums. I have been a church pastor, a legislative advocate on behalf of the underrepresented, and become deeply involved in the work of trying to end homelessness – a goal that is laudable, and I believe achievable, but is long and hard which means in the meantime we NEED no barrier shelters that are working to maintain the dignity and health of our neighbors, friends, and family. I have learned a lot since my childhood… but that kid is still in me. I still fear. I still feel like a resident alien. I still yearn secretly for an insulated and buffered life. And I still have a temptation to “other” people who don’t look, speak, and act like me. I’m not proud of it – but it happens. I am not done learning to be more than that… I have a lot of growing and experiencing still to do.
I want to build a world where children do not carry the trauma of homelessness in their bones for the rest of their lives. I want to build a world where children do not learn to fear people who aren’t like themselves. I want to build a world of bridges and a diverse community. I want to tear down all the walls… even my own. I hope that Boise can be that kind of place. We have a lot of work to do. It will be hard. It will be scary. And that is why we have to do it together. And together starts when we all lay down our stones, come out of our glasshouses… and welcome one another in vulnerability and grace. Let’s build that Boise together.
In our Bible Study on Paul’s letter to the Church at Philippi, you get a window into Paul’s pastoral heart – and it’s filled with joy, generosity, and yearning for the well-being of the people of Philippi. In fact, it stands in stark contrast to the opinion so many people have of Paul. Paul gets accused of much, and I’m one of those people who has done it. Much of our accusations are based on a very small picture of his character: big ego, manipulative, high-level circular rhetoric… confusing as can be. We are grossly unfair to him. He didn’t know we would be reading these letters. He wasn’t writing them to us for sure, and yet we are prepared to judge him based on a view of a few poorly transcribed handwritten letters from 2,000 years ago.
I am guilty as charged. And yet… I feel very drawn to Paul. I am an easily frustrated person who is bad at hiding my frustration. I spent much of my early years “playing from behind” in sports and academics, it has created in me a natural defensiveness that is often harmful. I easily fall into hyper-critical mode and can be more than a jerk, and more than a little intellectually condescending. I also make intuitive leaps and regularly must remind myself, “let them tell me their truth – don’t assume it on their behalf or pretend you know better.” And I’m rightly judged on those faults often enough to feel some kinship with quick assessments of Paul’s character.
However, I’m more than those faults. I am good at assessing data and making jumps and correlations that others don’t always see – taking disparate building blocks and turning them into something never intended. I move from slow methodical planning to quick agile responsiveness with some ease. I have a gift for putting into words another person’s feelings or experience in ways they are grateful for – the place this comes up the most is in memorial services. Failed humility moment: I’m good at them. Because I am good at hearing the story of a person beneath the stories that get told and giving that larger story voice. And these traits are all ALSO true… alongside my jerkiness… my quick leaps to critical opinions… and my defensiveness.
We are more than our worst moments, and we are less than our best. We are a convoluted mess of gifts and challenges. All of us are – no matter how enlightened one may appear to be. It is easy to worship a person who you never drew close enough to be annoyed by… it’s also easy to demonize them. Because unless we get close enough – we will never learn the all.
We did some work as a staff with Brené Brown’s BRAVING acronym at the end of last year and one insight has stuck with me. It’s the G which stands for generosity – but maybe not how you think. “Extending the most generous interpretation to the intentions, words, and actions of others.”
Those are words I’m writing on my heart… and my doorpost and I commend them to you as well. We are a mess (in so many ways), we deserve to give ourselves and each other the most generous read possible.
I typically like to send out a reflection device for the new year to members of my congregation. Sometimes it’s a worksheet, one year we wrote “letters to the new year”, sometimes it’s just some thoughts to ponder. As I mentioned in my sermon last Sunday this year I was thinking “values audit”. What does it look like to evaluate how well our life is being lived by our core values? For some of us, that may mean even needing to identify, “what are my core values?” I think you will find we have many, and not all of them are as fundamental to our identity as others… I typically group my values into three categories:
These are things that are so important to me that to betray these values is to betray myself. These may be about family, faith, politics, personal and public economics. Regardless these are life-long enculturated and nurtured truth claims. When I find myself in a heated argument with someone it is likely because one of these values is “at stake” in the argument.
These are values I cling to but have some more give than central, core, or fundamental values. Many of these I will think of as essential values until they rub up against those core values and then they always take a back seat.
These are things you like and want to be… but they are major motivators of your actual priorities. Again, for me, what sets each tier of value apart is which ones win out (most often) when they come into conflict.
When you are “too busy” you will choose which values win.
When “money is tight” you will choose which values you put your money towards.
The Gospel of Matthew makes an important point when it says “where your treasure is, there your heart is also,” no values audit is complete without opening your checkbook or your online banking records, and seeing where your money actually goes… a budget is a values statement. So too is our family calendar because it measures the time we are willing to give to different things… and the time we are willing to give is a demonstration of values.
The point of a values audit in short is to say… does it turn out that things I would claim are central values regularly lose out in actual practice to things I claim are not? If so… I’m deceiving myself about the importance of those values or I have allowed myself to lose track of my priorities. I have lots more to say on the subject… but I think the point here is to offer you a chance to do the talking, to yourself. So, I invite you to engage yourself in your own values audit. Be honest and be open to learning things you aren’t proud of and celebrate things you haven’t given yourself credit for, and then figure out – what do I want to change here. Through it all, be grace-filled – honest interrogation can also be done gently and with care…self-care. And most likely this is also a conversation you will need to have with people in your life for whom those changes will matter because it will affect them, or you will need them to help hold you to the changes you wish to make. We cannot do it alone (central value alert!)
For further conversation about conducting your own values audit, here is a way to frame the conversation that may prove helpful: https://medium.com/the-ascent/why-i-gave-myself-a-values-audit-c1ade51af6a
And I hope this exercise proves insightful and fruitful for you.