Tag Archives: God

How to be a Christian without being a jerk about it

Dan Piraro so often gets it right.

Dan Piraro so often gets it right.

A few weeks ago, the marvelous Lindy West over at Jezebel wrote an excellent post called, “How to be an Atheist without being a dick about it.” As someone who has been the target of my fair share of dickish Atheists in my life, I really appreciated it. However, the behavior of dickish Atheists pales in comparison with some of the behavior of my Christian brothers and sisters. So, dear people, I give you some recommendations on how to be a Christian without being a jerk and turning everyone off to not only Christians, but to Jesus. (I’m going to try to cut back on the language in the event that some Christians who need to hear this are turned off by the swears. Let’s see how I do.)

1) Stop threatening people with hellfire and damnation. Nobody likes it. It achieves approximately nothing so far as spreading the gospel is concerned.

I don’t even know where to begin with this one, and I’m not going to get into my thoughts on hell and the existence thereof. I have no idea what threats of hellfire are supposed to accomplish. It’s like screaming at someone, “I think you’re ugly and awful! Date me and I’ll fix all of your flaws!” Sign me up? Not to mention the fact that most people who don’t believe in the Christian concept of God DON’T BELIEVE IN HELL. Therefore, your threats are meaningless. How does threatening someone with something they don’t believe in do anything other than make you (and by extension all Christians) look silly? That’s like telling me that if I don’t behave, Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy will boycott stopping by my home with their treasures.

“Oh, you think I’m going to hell? Well, then I’d like to be a part of your community and worship your God!” said no one, ever.

2) Stop “speaking truth in love” or whatever you call it. This includes love the sinner, hate the sin (which sounds more like hate than love every time).

Let’s be honest, the most often I see this line used is in the attempt to “correct” the gays, so that’s my primary focus here. Look, I get that for many Christians, correcting someone on their behavior can be a soul saving act. But, let me be clear: speaking the truth in love just about never feels like love. It feels like judgment, anger, hate, prejudice, bigotry, evil, immaturity and a bunch of other negative adjectives (and often times, that’s because that is what it is). Now, there may be times someone needs to be called out on their behavior, like when they are being a total jerk (see this post) or when they are harming themselves or others. Usually, it is best when someone has given permission to have truth spoken into their lives. That means they are ready for it, and what you have to say is valued. Proceed with caution and love. It is important that, in the event you feel the need to correct someone on their behavior, you ask yourself some things:

A) How well do I know this person? If the person you are about to “speak truth in love” to isn’t a close friend, stop yourself right there. Just stop. The phrase “speak truth in love” comes from the letter to the Ephesians, a worshipping community of the early church. These were people who lived in community together, not random people shouting at each other what they were doing wrong.

B) Is anyone getting hurt by this person’s behavior? And by hurt, I am not talking about the state of their everlasting souls regarding eternity in heaven or hell (which is up to God, BTW, not you or me). Drugs destroy bodies and relationships; abuse of a partner or child is life damaging and soul killing. Have the talk. The sex lives of consenting adults (unless they are cheating, knowingly spreading a disease, or engaging in super risky compulsive behavior) are not hurting anyone.

C) Have I thoroughly examined my heart to make sure I am acting out of love, not fear, prejudice, or wrong teaching? If I am not engaged in a regular prayer practice that involves looking into my own heart and confronting my own sin, I am are in no place to correct someone else. And I don’t know about you, but I still have a lot of confronting to do. A lot. Try thinking of what love is according to 1 Cor 13: 4-7:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Which brings me to #3:

3) STOP WITH THE JUDGING ALREADY

In the gospel of John, Jesus comes across a crowd of people about to stone a woman who was caught in adultery. He says to them, “If you are without sin, go ahead and cast a stone. If you have sin (which face it, is all of you) go ahead and stone her but make sure you throw some stones at yourself for good measure after you stone her.”

Wait, that’s not the story.

All too often I hear people talk about other’s sins, convict others of sins, then add at the end, “But, I mean, I’m a sinner too, I know that.” Dude, that’s not what Jesus said to do. Jesus said to stone her only if you were without sin. How about instead of stoning/judging each other, we love each other? Real, deep, compassionate love that sees the brokenness and aches to see it healed with love.

4) Stop saying that God is acting in destructive ways because of the gays, feminists, Muslims, Atheists, abortionists, communists, socialists, Obamacare, liberals, pornographers or whatever. I’ve already written about it here. These storms are happening at an increased rate not because of our personal “immorality” but our corporate sin of degrading the environment and acting like we’re just gonna get another one.

5) Get right with science. I don’t even know how to explain this one. Climate change is a thing. Evolution is also a thing. The ancient people who wrote the Bible would have looked at us like we were nuts if we told them we were taking their stories as actual fact. The United States is falling behind in global education ranking because of our math and science scores. Kids from very religious households are going to college unprepared for intro science classes because they haven’t learned about evolution and they think the Earth is 6,000 years old. There are plenty of scientists who are people of faith and believe that there is an unmoved mover behind all of this. In fact, many people believe that knowing more about science actually makes God all the more wondrous.

If you can’t get right with science, try to understand that there are very valid reasons to believe in science (I really can’t handle that I just typed believe in science, like it is a choice). We would do a better job of spreading God’s love and salvation if we listened and loved instead of shouted and judged.

6) Understand that there are people who are never going to believe, for whom the idea of God makes no sense whatsoever. Faith, according to the Bible, is a gift of the Spirit. Some people don’t have it. Be cool about it. Be friends. Love, laugh, chill and talk. Have conversations about ultimate things, come to understand why a person wouldn’t believe in God. Even for those who have been given faith, it is a hard thing to sustain in this world. Know someone who doesn’t believe in God? Love her. Be salve to his wounds. And let up on the witnessing.

7) Empower women. Paul had women working with him. The woman at the well brought her village to belief, women were the first to witness the empty tomb and tell others. Women are smart, strong and equipped for leadership at home, in the workplace and in the congregation. Our bodies are not made to be ogled at, commodified or make medical decisions about. How someone else feels about my body is not my fault. I will show others respect and Christian love. I don’t owe anyone fielty or subservience disguised as complementarianism, and I don’t have to wear long skirts or cover my head, TYVM.

8) If you know/hear/suspect someone has been molested, sexually assaulted or sexually harassed by a church member/leader, listen, trust and report it. That’s just a big old duh.

9) Stop trying to legislate using the Bible as your main argument. The Bible can’t be used to make public policy. It can certainly influence reasoning for supporting or opposing a policy, but it must not be the sole reason. Evidence, studies, economic impact, human rights and constitutionality — these are reasons to make or take down laws. Not because the Bible said so. Even in situations when our religious beliefs call us to end injustice, we must (as people living in a democracy, not a theocracy) find reasons to supplement/complement our Biblical reasons for legislation.

10) Focus more on corporate sin than personal sin. Care more about racism than what a woman is wearing or who someone is sleeping with. Get more outraged by war and poverty than something scandalous and/or titilating on tv. Worry more about the melting glaciers than who is marrying whom.

11) Understand you lose any and all moral high ground when you decide to support a racist, xenophobic, sexist, petulant, lying, cheating, oppression supporting demagogue WHO DOES NOT BELIEVE HE NEEDS TO CONFESS SIN TO GOD OR ATONE FOR ANYTHING for president. You cannot talk about the sanctity of marriage and at the same time support someone who has been married three times, cheated on his wives, and likely continues to sexually harass/intimidate women (and who will be on trial in December for raping a child). You cannot talk about how you value life and support someone who a) refuses to allow people seeking life into this country b) seems to be fine with people threatening the life of his opponent and c) still thinks innocent men should get the death penalty. And you can never, ever ask others to repent when you claim into the Christian family someone who believes he is above that.

When I was going to church camp, we used to sing a song with the refrain, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” I want that to be the truth. I want to know that when I tell people I’m a Christian, they will think of all the work my people do on behalf of the poor and outcast. I want to be proud not only of my God, but of my people. But that’s really hard. Because, right now, our public image is more like, “They will know we are Christians because our leaders say weird things about AIDS and storms, support sexist, xenophobic racists, would rather refugees die, and we yell a lot about who can marry whom.” So, let’s cut that shit out, shall we?


On my own

The view from my campsite on Lake Diablo in The North Cascades. It was a-ma-zing.

The view from my campsite on Lake Diablo in The North Cascades. It was a-ma-zing.

The other day I was grousing to a friend about all of the things I need to re-learn now that I am single. There are many, many things (did you know there are rules to texting? There are). Quite a few are simply the rules to navigating socially as a single person (specifically a 35-year-old single female almost pastor), and many of those things I’m learning for the first time (some because I didn’t learn them well the first time). Other things, however, are pieces of knowledge I once had, but somehow lost by virtue of being married to someone who was better at certain things than I was. For example, I used to be really good at hooking up electronic equipment. I recently bought some new pieces for my stereo and it took me for freaking ever to get it put together. I used to feel like I was smart about cars, I could fix basic broken things around my house. Somehow, by virtue of having a man around (and, let’s be honest, some of these things he was better at, some, not so much) I forgot how to be self-sufficient.

I remember fighting it at first, insisting to do things on my own. Then it just became easier to let him do it (with computers it really was easier. I do miss having my own personal IT guy). In doing so, I lost some of the strength that came along with being able to do things myself. Without realizing it, I gave away some of my power and became dependent on the presence of another to get through parts of my daily life.

This became glaringly apparent to me this weekend. I went on my first solo camping trip without my dog. That’s where the problem begins. I kept thinking it was my first solo camping trip. I had totally forgotten that I had gone camping with Rocky a bunch before meeting my husband.

Camping is one of the many things that is a harder to do alone if you are a woman — or at least that is the perception most women have. We (women) are so acutely aware of the dangers in our world that we often fear things that we don’t really need to fear (like camping). I was hiking solo a few weeks ago and there was a guy hiking by himself behind me. I was afraid the whole damn time he was behind me. I finally stopped so he would get in front of me. I spent 20 minutes of my hike totally stressed out about getting attacked. Ugh. We spend so much time learning about how not to be raped (because that is apparently more important than teaching men to, you know, not rape), learning about statistics about violence against women, and, likely, watching too damn many crime shows (SVU, Criminal Minds…) that we freak ourselves out. It is hard to balance a reasonable wariness of the world with the desire to explore and do new things. Plus, I’m kind of afraid of the dark. For reals.  Add this to my love for shows like Ghost Hunters, and you’ve got one nervous first-time-solo-camper.

Then I realized that it is really rare to hear a story about someone getting raped or killed while camping. In fact, I can’t think of one off the top of my head. So I started thinking about perceived danger versus actual danger and realized that much of my fear was of perceived danger, not actual danger. This doesn’t mean that bad things can’t happen while camping, but the changes are better that the bad thing is something stupid I’m going to do to myself (which I am just as likely to do at home) than something someone else is going to do to me. According to this article, of the 273 million visitors to the national parks in 2006, there were 11 violent deaths. That percentage is so small it’s barely a number.

I took precautions. I picked a spot next to some nice women who I think were professors, I listed my campsite as having two people, and I slept with my knife next to me (I’m kind of amazed I didn’t stab myself with it while searching for my headlamp. That was probably a not-safe precaution). I told a few friends where I would be.

After setting up I went for a spectacular solo hike. At one point I was so overcome by the beauty surrounding me I just stopped and got on my knees to give thanks. No joke. Then I hugged some trees (yeah, I’m a hippie, what of it?). I hiked partway back in the twilight (sadly, no sexy sparkly vampires), cooked with my camping stove and then sat on a tree trunk in the lake and watched the meteor shower. All by my damn self. All of it.

Sitting on that tree in the lake I started to remember all the things I can do by myself. The love of God overwhelmed me. I realized that I have a partner in God. I don’t need a romantic partner to do things. I don’t need to be made whole by another person, I am whole on my own. I am enough. It is nice to have someone to compliment me, and there were points when I really wish I could have expressed my appreciation for the beauty surrounding me to another person, but all in all it was pretty awesome doing it alone.

Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m saying I can get through life alone. That’s crap. I absolutely could not have gotten through the past four months without the amazing cloud of witnesses with which God has blessed me. I need love, I need hugs, and I don’t think I will ever stop hoping for that spark that happens when two people are well matched (or just think the other one is pretty neat), but I can do this on my own, with the help of my friends and family. That was an amazing thing to remember.


Ask and you shall recieve. Or, you know, not.

Sometimes you can ask, and ask and ask and... nothing seems to happen. (photo from elca.org)

Sometimes we can ask, and ask and ask and… nothing seems to happen. (photo from elca.org)

 Text: Luke 11:1-13

I find this text to be… difficult. I mean, the Lord’s Prayer, I’m fine with. Who can argue with that? The part I find difficult is at the end. “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened…” We’ve all heard it. And I think it is safe to assume we have all asked and not had it given unto us. It’s hard, and it hurts.

When I worked at Northwest Memorial in Chicago, during my seminary chaplaincy, I was called to the room of a woman who had, for lack of a better phrase, full body cancer. It had metastasized everywhere. While we were talking, she asked me about prayer. She was a lapsed Catholic and wondered if I might bring her a rosary and help her learn the Hail Mary. I went to the office and grabbed her a rosary and a Catholic prayer book, recited the Hail Mary with her (as my Swedish Lutheran grandmother’s head spun somewhere in Ohio), and said goodbye. Weeks later, she was back in and asked to see me. She wanted to tell me that she had been cured through prayer. After her last time in the hospital, she started going to church and attending a women’s prayer circle. The women prayed for her and laid hands on her every week. Now, no cancer. They were just running some final tests.

I wanted to be happy for her, I really did. I tried. But as she prayed for a cure, so did I. I prayed and prayed for my father’s brain to somehow be rid of the malignant tumor that was killing him. There was no cure. He would die. God is so fair that God is unfair, a friend once told me. Some prayers are answered in the way and time we want and, well, some just aren’t. And it sucks.

Sometimes, I watch televangelists when I can’t sleep.

I was watching a particular evangelist known for preaching what is called the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel is the idea that God wants you to have everything you want, and you will get it if only you pray hard enough and work hard enough (and, often, donate a lot to the church or preacher who is telling you this). This preacher was on a prosperity gospel roll when he remarked that people who have financial troubles have them because their faith is not strong enough. Then he went on to say that people who are ill, people who have cancer, people who are dying, are in that state because they weren’t praying hard enough.

Wait, what the what?

But there it is in the scripture, right? Ask and it shall be given unto you! Seek and you shall find! Knock and the door will be opened! Jesus said it, it’s right there. So if it’s not happening for you, there must be something wrong with you. That’s what this preacher was telling the people in his congregation and the people he reaches across the world through the glowing screen.

Few things get my hackles up as much as placing the brokenness of the world on people’s shoulders and telling then that it would go away if only they worked hard enough. I guess that is the Lutheran in me.

This kind of thinking is dangerous. It can kill faith. When we walk around with the idea that God is a cosmic butler who will respond to our desires (as long as they are Godly desires, naturally. Or maybe desires for a new car), with a resounding yes!, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.

But still, we have this section of the Bible (and in Mark and Matthew as well) that tells us that if we ask we will receive, if we seek we will find, and if we knock, a door will open. So what do we do when that doesn’t happen? What do we do when we have been unemployed for months and we are knocking and asking and seeking, but no doors seem to be opening, no answers coming, no jobs to be found? What about when a loved one is ill and we pray and pray and pray and yet there is no cure, no remission, no end to the pain?

If we have hung our faith on a God who will do exactly what we want, when we want, it may not sustain us through hard times – because that’s not how God works.

We have ways we explain God’s apparent lack of response to our prayers. God answers all prayers, sometimes the answer is no. It wasn’t the right time, be patient. But these answers are wholly unsatisfying. I want what I want and I want it now.

It’s one thing when I don’t get something I want like a parking space (yes, I have prayed for those before), or a shiny new car. Then it’s pretty sensible that God’s answer was either no or silence (because I don’t doubt God has better things to do than help me get a parking space). But when we pray for a cure, for an end to pain, for a job that will help us feed our families – then the silence on God’s end seems uncaring and distant. It is this silence that leads people to disbelief, to observe that a good God just wouldn’t let these horrible things happen, so either there is no God, or God is not good.

This misunderstands who God is, what God is, and God’s role in our lives and the universe.

God is not a genie, or a celestial butler or a vending machine. God is so much bigger and more than this. God is a mystery we have only seen in pieces and parts. But all of those pieces and parts add up to one thing: God is love. God is the creator, the ground of being, beyond our comprehension, And sometimes, this is really hard to deal with. We want a God who is like us. We want a God whose primary job it is to respond to our demands in the time we want the way we want. When we do this to God, we make God small, and relegate the source of our being to our servant.

But what so we do with the fact that something that Jesus said doesn’t jive with our experience of God and our stories of God in Jesus Christ that tell us God is a God of love? What do we do when something that Jesus said doesn’t appear to be the way the world works?

We put it back in context. We look at the verses around it, we use the rest of the Bible and our tradition to help us out. When we do this, we discover that  maybe because we aren’t making the connections Christ wants us to make, we’re making the connections we want to make, the connections that give us butler God.

To make sense of ask and it shall be given unto you, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened unto you, let’s look at the prayer Jesus taught his disciples. What are we to ask for? What are we to seek? Where shall we knock?

For Jesus, it is all about the kingdom. Start with thanksgiving, with a heart of gratitude. Ask for our basic needs to be met. Ask for forgiveness. Seek the ability to forgive others. Seek God’s will. Knock on the door of the kingdom.

I can tell you from personal experience that when things are falling apart, starting the day or your prayer with gratitude feels impossible. It is really hard. It can feel forced. But it can also switch your frame entirely and change the way you are looking at your life and change how you approach your day.  A little thanksgiving to the creator can refocus not only your day, but your life.

It’s about God and the kingdom. God wants us to seek the Kingdom, God wants us to knock on the door of the kingdom. This is the gift we are to ask for – and it is already here. The kingdom, Christ said, is here. It is in prayer that we encounter God and it is in seeking God’s will, seeking to forgive and be forgiven, to praise, to ask for salvation and to ask for our basic needs to be filled that we knock on the door of the kingdom. When we live in a Christ centered way, when we live in prayer and love, we seek the kingdom and we will find the kingdom. For most of us, the discovery will be fleeting. We will have kingdom moments, moments when we are filled with God’s love that everything feels perfect. Then the moment will fade. The world will get in our way. We will start thinking about ourselves and our needs and what we don’t have, we will compare what we have to what those around us have. Or our illness will break through, despair will grab a hold of us and we will become blind to the kingdom again. Sometimes we may pray and pray and pray and it will seem like the door isn’t opening and there is nothing to find. Then a friend will appear at the perfect moment with words of encouragement and the kingdom breaks through into our world again. And again. And again.

I don’t want to sound like I’m saying God doesn’t want us to pray for cures or love or hope or for the pain to go away or for whatever else we may be praying for. God does. God wants to know what we want, God wants us to be in relationship together and one of the paths to relationship is by being honest about what you want and need. But it’s not always going to work out the way we want it to. Sometimes it will. Cures happen, jobs appear out of the blue and sometimes love falls out of trees. But it also might not. Because the world is a broken place, and as much as God may love us as individuals and as a people, we aren’t always going to get what we want. But we will get what we need: love. Forgiveness. Community. Small glimpses of the kingdom.

The kingdom is the best gift God can give us. It is the opposite of giving a child a scorpion. The receiving, finding, and opening to God’s kingdom is the gift of eternal life. It’s not about what I want or what you want, which is hard. But it is about God’s kingdom, which, even in glimpses, is more than anything we could possibly ask for.


God’s version of okay and mine are not the same

I have a lot of stuff happening in my life lately. For the most part, half of it is really good and half is just plain awful. Painful. Crappy. It is really, really confusing to have both happening at once — I’m never quite sure how to feel, and sometimes I feel like I am feeling all the feelings exactly at once.

Fortunately, before much of the bad became evident, I had started to cultuvate a pretty decent prayer life. So, for now, I pray. A lot. I start out talking to God, praising, asking for things, giving thanks. Then I listen.

When I listen, I can so clearly hear a voice saying that it’s all going to be alright. First I ask if it is my voice that is saying that. My voice doesn’t say things like that. My voice is more likely to say, “Yeah, this sucks, you’re screwed.” So, maybe it is God’s voice (I feel weird saying I can hear God’s voice. I don’t want to come off crazy or self-absorbed).

I really, really want to lean in to the idea that it is all going to be alright. Who doesn’t?

There are a couple problems with this for me. One is that, far more often than I’d like, God’s version of alright and mine don’t look the same. Frankly, right now, I desparately want them to be the same. I want God to be on my side, to want the same things for me that I want for me. And that’s not usually how it works. ‘Cause God is smarter than me. But while I wait for God’s version of alright, I cling to my version. And it hurts. A lot.

Another problem is time. God’s time and our time are different. Kairos and chronos. I want things to be alright in Earth time, my time, RIGHT NOW time — chronos. But I have a feeling that when God tells me things will be alright, God is talking kairos. I don’t like that. It’s too nebulous, too “wait and see,” too out of control.

I just want everything to be okay, the way I define okay, and I want it now. I’m not going to get that. So how do I lean into the uncertainty of God’s plans for me in God’s time? How do I give up control and follow? What will it look like for me to do that? Who will I become?

I have no control, but I desparately want it. I want to be able to fix the broken things in my life, the broken people, and myself. But I can only fix one of those things, and even that I can only do with God’s help.

It is all going to be okay.

It is all going to be okay.

It is all going to be okay.

Write it on my heart.

Turn it into my mantra.

Trust that this is true.

 


Embody hope

Art by Banksy, photo unknown

Art by Banksy, photo unknown

A sermon for the 4th Sunday in Easter.

Revelation 7:9-19

John 10:22-30

It is part of a preacher’s job to bring good news, and have I got some good news for you: today is Sunday. That means that last week is over and we have a new week with new possibilities ahead of us. Wahoo!

Weeks like this past week are the weeks, the days, the times when it is most difficult to come up with good news and, simultaneously, the weeks when sharing, hearing, partaking in the good news is vital. When everything seems to be spinning out of control, that is when we need the good news of Jesus Christ more than ever.

I really wish I could just come up here, say, “Jesus loves you!” and sit back down. I’m angry and I’m sad and I’m frustrated with the state of the world. I’m tired of watching innocent people die, angry about the role money plays in politics, tired of people who prefer their own version of liberty to the safety of others. I’m incredibly sad that every time a terrorist attack occurs on our soil, someone decides to just start beating up anyone who looks like what they think the terrorists may have looked like (usually someone with brown skin). I’m very much over companies that complain about regulations, don’t abide by them, and then have horrific accidents that kill people. I’m outraged at the way our elected leaders have violated human rights accords and human decency. I’m kind of tired of it all. I want to take my ball and go home.

Then I am reminded of the reasons to hope, the reasons to stay and keep playing.

I have read a ton of great mini-sermons this past week that are springboards for hope and optimism. One of my favorite memes going around right now is the quote from Fred Rodgers that says, “”When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

Look for the helpers. They are everywhere. Not only in times of tragedy, but in every day life. We are surrounded by people who teach, who heal, who serve and love boundlessly.  But these aren’t the news stories. The news stories celebrate the ugly, the inhumane – the news stories celebrate our sin and keep us in a state of fear. Fear of our neighbor, fear of the other, fear of this world.

As the 24 hour news cycle rolled on and on this week, they managed to highlight the helpers, but still kept a lazer focus on the gore, the blood, the death that happened on our own soil, with nary a mention of the daily reality of terror that exists around the world or the terror that our nation has inflicted on other nations and individuals.

Sorry, I’m going down the spiral of negativity again. My bad.

Here’s another mini sermon I read this week, a quote from comedian Patton Oswalt:

I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, “Well, I’ve had it with humanity.”

But I was wrong. I don’t know what’s going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.

But here’s what I DO know. If it’s one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness.

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

 

There is a lot of gospel truth in those words. The prices and penalties incurred Oswalt is talking about is what we, as Christians, call sin. We are all broken, but every once in a while someone (or some ones) get more broken than the rest of us or they act out on their brokenness in ways most of us would never dream of.

In our brokenness, in spite of our sinful nature, most of us still try to do right. Most of us still try to follow Jesus, most people still try to do the right thing. We hear his voice beckoning us, trying to call us out of the darkness and into the light, calling us away from our self-serving ways and towards God-serving ways.

The helpers, the people who run into the violence, the people who open their homes to strangers and immediately donate blood: these are the people who follow the voice of the Good Shepherd.  These are the people who give us hope that not all is lost, that there is still love and decency in the world.

I have seen these helpers and felt sparks of hope for the world in the world. Where do I, in my cynical, irritable state, look to find hope right now in the word of God?

Revelation? Yeah, that’s totally weird for me. Revelation has never been where I have gone to for hope. Weird stories? Yes. Tales of bloodshed and war? Yes. Hope? Not usually.

But it’s right there. John has been writing for quite a few chapters about all kinds of horror. Then he takes a break and reminds us that horror, even of the kind of horror he describes in his Revelation, has an end. Pain has an end. Hunger has an end. And we have a God who wants to end all of these things for us and to wipe every tear from our eyes.

We could argue all day about what Revelation is. Is it an accurate prediction of what will happen when Jesus comes again? Is it a hallucination brought on by seizures or eating the wrong berries on the island? Is it a political tome to provide courage and hope to the Christians in the diaspora? Does it matter? However literally it is meant to be taken, Revelation is still a book of hope, of renewal, of encouragement for us when we go through our own tribulations. It is a story for when we see our worlds falling apart around us we can take a moment to remember that it hasn’t always been this way and it won’t always be this way. We can take a moment to remember that God wants to wipe every tear from our eyes.

The cynic in me asks, “If God wants us to not have any pain, then WHY IS THERE PAIN?” The cynic in me asks that a lot.

But the answer is sin. Our world is a broken place. Not everybody hears the Good Shepherd, and not everyone who hears follows. God doesn’t force us to listen. We get to make our own choices. And, sometimes, we make some really, really bad choices.

The root of our bad choices is, usually, fear. We fear for our lives, our livelihood, our safety, our belongings. In order to stay safe, to protect what is ours, we put ourselves first.

This is how common sense gun regulation supported by an overwhelming majority of the American people gets voted down. Representatives afraid of losing money, of being primaried, afraid for their careers (more so than for the lives of their representatives). This is how our leaders justify torture of prisoners – they are afraid of more injuries, more attacks and will use any means necessary to get the information. Information that usually ends up being useless. This is how terrorists rationalize what they are doing – they are protecting a way of life they fear losing. Fear is what drives racism, homophobia, misogyny – the list goes on and on.

When we trust in God, we are able to lose that fear. When we follow Jesus, we are able to let go of our fears for our own lives and worry more about the lives of others and the life of Christ.

Our world will never be free from sin. It will never be not broken. But it can be less broken. There can be less violence, less hate, less anger, if we truly hear Jesus’ voice and follow. We are called to be the helpers, we are called to be beacons of hope when the world gets dark. Our knowledge of salvation in Christ in both this life and the next allows us to hold on to hope when the rest of the world can’t, to be hope for others when their worlds are falling apart. We are called to be hope, to embody it. This is the call of the good shepherd. We are able to do this, to follow Jesus, to be hope as a gift of God in Jesus Christ.

I am still angry, I am still sad, I am still hurting for the world. But I can hear the voice of the good shepherd calling me, calling us to follow and I know that, in that call, lies hope.


Reimagning Church Camp

Imagine this: there is a place where you can be completely yourself, and be loved for everything you are. In this place you can sing, dance, laugh, pray, play, run, create, explore and live more fully than you do in your every day life — possible live the most full life you can. This is a place where you can ask questions you may be afraid to ask in your every day life and those questions will be explored, not ignored or put down. This is a place where you feel God as a real, living presence and become more aware of the value and example of the life of Jesus and of the movement of the Holy Spirit in your life. When you leave this place, the relationships you have formed will support you throughout your life. When you experience crushing loss, these friends will be there to carry you. When you experience immense joy, these friends will show up to celebrate with you. This place will feed your faith in God, in others, and in yourself.

This is how I experienced church camp. Sure, there was teenage drama — the boy I liked who didn’t like me back (oh, Cory… sigh…). But I don’t remember there being cool kids or losers like there so often are in teenage life. I do remember learning to love people I never would have talked to in my daily life and being loved in a way I never thought possible. It is the experience of Camp Mowana that grew my faith as I spent most of my teenage years at punk shows with Atheist friends. It is the love I felt at camp that lives in my heart and reminds me of God’s love when I feel unloveable and worthless. It is the friendships that I made at camp that kept me faithful during the lean years, the times when it seemed like everything was dark and God was nowhere to be found. I have said many times that my camp experiences and relationships have possibly saved my life — and definitely saved me from myself more than once. I am not the only person who can tell this story about church camp (I recognize that there are some awful church camp stories out there, that’s not what I’m goin’ for here).

There is a whole lot of happiness in this picture. You have no idea. Unless you are in it, then you do.

And yet traditional, cabin in the woods church camps seem to be dying. This makes me so sad — not just because I am so attached to my beloved Camp Mowana, but because losing camps will mean losing an amazing way to foster and feed the faith of young people. We are losing the very people we need to reach the most. The problem is, we are trying to reach them by going to places they aren’t. If our churches are shrinking and youth involvement is particularly struggling, how does it make sense to depend on local congregations to  fill the cabins? Why are camps fishing in ponds that are, by and large, dying?

The big question here is this: How can camp be missional?

What if, instead of focusing on the people in the pews, we focused on the people in the surrounding towns? What if we made camps a place where people could explore faith, not just a place where it was fed to them? Would it be possible to be open to the “spiritual but not religious” and yet retain Christian (Lutheran, in my case) integrity? Can a camp be Christian “under the hood”?

What if our camps were also vibrant spiritual communities where regular worship happened once a week? What if we invited the community in for weekend meals? Or, even crazier, what if we invited local bands in to perform, hosted yoga retreats, provided levels of Christian experience for people who weren’t too sure about church? What if we had weeks that taught farming or primitive skills or computer skills with a side of Jesus? Is any of this possible?

I’m scheming and dreaming new ways we can do church camp. Help me out. What is being tried? What is working? What isn’t? If any of my non-Christian friends read this – could anything draw you/your children/your family to a camp that was identified as Christian? What can we do to revive or rebirth outdoor ministries?


And this is why it’s dying

I’m on fire right now. Irate. Burning. I went to chapel today. I don’t go to chapel often. Here’s why.

Chapel has been arranged so that it is impossible to sneak in unnoticed if you are late (as I often am).

I remarked to a classmate, “There should be some kind of warning that you can’t sneak into the chapel anymore!” Said classmate was like, “Yeah, right?”

Another classmate said, “Well maybe you should come to chapel more.”

Me: “I would if I liked it.” (I admit, this wasn’t the best statement, but it is very true)

Another classmate (with much snark): “Good luck in your future parish, then.”

Wow. Yup. And that is why the church is dying. I don’t get much out of “traditional” worship, therefore I have no future in the church. To quote Cee-Lo, “Forget you.” Seriously. (Not the person, the attitude.)

Worship is so much bigger than we’re allowing it to be! It doesn’t have to be anything other than preaching the word and administering the sacrament — the form can be so many different things as long as it reflects the community! Acoustic guitars? Great! No instruments? Great! Hip-hop? Go for it! Bluegrass? Right on!

If your community wants to sit still in worship or they want to clap and dance, let them do it. If they want to stay quiet or they want to yell out, “AMEN!” let the spirit move them (and you), let the spirit fill all y’all! If your community wants you to preach for a half an hour, work into it, ask for help!  Yes, I realize I am using a lot of exclamation points!!!!

If we insist on restricting worship to what we know and what we are comfortable with and what we have historically done we are restricting the ways people can encounter God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. Yes, I understand the irony in me not wanting to go to a type of worship I don’t like. It’s not even about whether I like it or not. That’s actually not what bothers me. Most of my church life has been in congregations that are fairly traditional and I can hang. It’s the attitude that this is the way it has to be, that this is the only style of worship that should exist or that is right or valid that gets my panties in a bunch. This is a learning institution, for crying out loud! We should be learning about all of the possibilities in worship, experimenting with styles and genres. STUDENT WRITTEN LITURGIES SHOULD BE SUPPORTED!!!! I have had enough conversations with my community here to know that the style of worship we have every week does not reflect the skills, desires or voices of the entire community. There are many people who are fed by “traditional” worship. There are many, many more who are not. This might explain why so few people go. This is also a reason why so few people go in the rest of our society. It’s certainly not all about worship, but the refusal of so many to even think of trying anything different most certainly contributes to our declining numbers.

Get out of the box. God is bigger than the box. It’s fine if you keep your feet in, but get your arms out there and see what the world is telling you it wants and needs. More importantly, see what God is telling you the world needs. I bet you it will be much bigger than traditional hymns and a mediocre sermon on a Sunday morning.

End of rant. For now.

I am, we are 32 flavors and then some.