Friday, April 14, 2017

The Shack

I loved the movie, The Shack, and here's why.

I love the way Mack "wrestles" with God and is honest in his doubt, anger, guilt and distance from God is honest and real.  "In our doubt there is believing" is one of my favorite lines from the Hymn of Promise 707 UMH.   Movies that present Christians as so sure of themselves annoy me, because I spend way more time with people who are unsure than people who are arguing for God.

I love the images of God - Papa being a black woman, a Native American man -- coming to Mack in the way Mack needs.  There are a hundred different images of God used in the Bible:
Rock, Mother Hen, Mother Eagle, Fountain of Life, Shepherd, Gate, Lion of Judah etc.  Some are female images, some are male, some are neither.   El Shaddai can be translated "God with breasts".

Jesus says God is spirit in John 4, and we will worship God in spirit.  So there is no earthly image that completely captures who God is, God is bigger than any one picture.  All of them capture just a piece.  So we need all of the images together, and some times one image will speak to us more than another image.   Mack had a problem with his abusive father, and the image of God as father was not helpful to him.  I totally believe God's love for us would lead God to appear to us as we would best receive God -- male, female, black, white, whatever.

I love the theology of the Shack.  There is so much and it is rich and deep and good theology.  It centers on the person of the Trinity which I also believe has to be the center of Christian faith.  God is love, because God is relationship.  God, inside of God's self, is 3-in-1, unity in diversity, in relationship and love.   The conversation the Trinity has with Mack in the book explaining that no one has to be in charge is AWESOME.  I use it often in Confirmation.  I wish that dialogue had been in the movie.   Too often Christians have used the world's image of hierarchy to describe God, and to form our church.  This gets used in bad ways -- Church people demanding their own way, the church forcing its way, oppression of the poor, of women, of minorities being excused or even promoted.   Jesus preached love - for God, neighbor, enemies, everyone.

Many people are critical that God isn't powerful enough, almighty enough, in the movie or book. But this is the God who came as a baby born in a barn to teenage parents.  God who chose to die on a cross.  God whose main image in the book of Revelation is the slain lamb.   God is all powerful, but God doesn't have short man syndrome.  God doesn't go around saying "I'm the almighty cower before me".  God doesn't want cowering, God wants relationship.

Thats enough for now,  I'd love to know what your thoughts/questions were.
I'm thinking this might be a sermon series in June -good or bad idea??

Friday, February 24, 2017

Love and Marriage

The most read newspaper article of 2016 was not anything political or about the election,
it was Alain de Botton's NYT article "Why you will marry the wrong person"

Krista Tippett has a discussion wth Alain in this podcast that is brilliant, funny and insightful.
I really encourage everyone in a relationship, or hoping to be in a relationship, to listen and learn.
My cheat sheet of insights:

+ we are all broken, and need to approach the other with that understanding

+ we naturally give children more benefit of the doubt -when one is fussy or says "I hate you", we ask ourselves if they are hungry or tired or had a bad day.  We need to approach our partner the same way

+We are all hard to live with (but most of us don't realize it)

+the mundane is the reality of lived love - who cleans the toilet is a service of love

+self-righteousness is an enemy of love.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

What its like to be a pastor

Being a pastor is sometimes extremely lonely.  

You are taught in seminary:

Be professional
Don't bring your life into the pulpit (unless its a cute hokey story)
Don't cry
Don't show that you are struggling
Don't ask for help, prayers or support --
                            Pastors give those things, you don't ask for them.

The congregation needs to know you are strong
That you can be leaned on
That your family is a shining example of perfect love
That you have it all together
That you always know where God is and what God is saying
That you are there for them - the congregation - all the time.

This is what you are taught to believe it means to be a pastor.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Yoga & Christianity

Sue Debord is going to be doing chair yoga 10 AM & gentle yoga at 11 AM on Wednesdays

Some people struggle with the use of yoga by Christians.  They point to the fact that yoga is a practice of Hinduism and comes out of a different culture.  This is true.

However,  Christianity has a long history of integrating the symbols and practices of other religions into our practice.   Like a pendulum, Christians go back and forth between acceptance and rejection of borrowed practices.

The Puritan movement in the 1600's is when Christians started to reject traditions that were not Biblical, to seek a more "pure" Christianity.   This was just after the big split from the Roman Catholic Church so many of the traditions of catholicism were rejected: icons, incense, churches that were ornate with stained glass, the Rosary, clergy robes etc etc.   Puritan churches were simple, no instrumental music, no decorations, just preaching of the Word.

This impulse to go back to "pure" Christianity is still seen in many denominations and is the root compulsion at the center of those who reject Halloween, yoga, Christmas trees etc.

In the other direction, Christians have often accepted with curiosity and delight new practices and traditions of peoples that they lived amongst.  For example when Roman Christians entered into what is now Germany and encountered the winter solstice traditions that honored gods of light & life with cutting down and decorating of fir trees, the Christians embraced this tradition and incorporated it into our Christmas celebrations leading to Christmas trees.  When in Scandinavia, the tradition of counting down to the solstice with candles became our Advent wreath.  These traditions are not universal.  Christmas trees and Advent wreaths are not used by Christians in Ghana, China or Mexico because they are borrowed traditions from Northern European pagan culture.  Only when you live in a cold climate do these traditions speak to you and have meaning for you.

Christianity is a Middle Eastern religion, the traditions of Jesus and his followers were desert traditions:  washing feet, anointing with oil, dipping bread into wine.  But for Northern European Christians these traditions don't speak.  They are strange and uncomfortable.  So we discovered and borrowed and transformed other traditions so they spoke to us about Jesus's love.

This is what people are now doing with yoga.  Christian traditions of sitting and listening in church isn't speaking to some people anymore.  Yoga's movement, holding, stretching, breathing and finding balance is speaking to us in our modern culture.  The Holy Spirit is working in people through this practice.  So lets use it!  Lets connect with God in the ways that speak to us and call us to know Jesus' love.

What traditions speak to you?   What traditions have lost meaning over time?

What questions do you have about yoga?    Write in the comments!!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Marriage Pyramid

In doing research for my sermon this week I came across this really good article from Psychology Today.  It has a lot of great stuff in it about marriage and divorce.  One concept that was totally new to me was the Pyramid of Marital Needs.  I have never heard of this and it was one of those "why didn't I think of this?" moments that I thought I would share.

Safety = Mutual Trust, Honesty,
Kindness, providing for each others basic needs (shelter, food, etc)
freedom from fear of abuse

Love = Mutual affection, connection wanting the best for the other,
common interests, fun together

Esteem = personal self esteem in yourself and esteem from & for the spouse, mutual respect, common goals in life, working together

Actualization = supporting each other in reaching one's full potential, creativity, spirituality, discovery.

Unfortunately, there are way to many couples who don't even share the two foundational pieces of the pyramid - Safety and Love.  Safety, particularly freedom from abuse, is critical to moving up the pyramid.  You can't work on any other problem in marriage unless you have safety including mutual trust and honesty.  Love is also foundational, it is that feeling inside but also just sharing common interests and wanting the best for the other person.  When you honestly don't care what happens to the person then you should not be married to them.

Esteem and Actualization are growth areas that first require you to work on yourself before you can work on them as a couple.  You have to have self esteem before you can have esteem for your partner or for a co-worker.  I have seen many people ruin a relationship because they didn't have the self-esteem to stand side-by-side with their partner.  They wanted to be on top, or better than their partner and so when their partner got accolades then they were jealous, defensive and often brought their partner down.  You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else!

Actualization is one of the hardest areas and I think that it is the place where you see a couple go from and "ok" marriage to a truly "happy" marriage.  Actualization is reaching forward in life, trying new things, exploring new places, and having the freedom to make mistakes without fear of being ridiculed.  When a husband supports his wife in taking a new class, trying a new activity or going to a new place on her own without being insecure, then she can become the best "her" God made her to be.  And likewise with husbands.  Everyone needs to be able to pursue new things, and couples need to try new things together.  When we don't do this, the marriage may be ok but boring and not as fun. Its critical to be able to fail and know your spouse is there for you, and to give each other the freedom to grow without growing apart.

What area of the pyramid is solid in your marriage?
Which area needs work?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

"Love as a Way of Life"

Book Review  "Love as a Way of Life" by Gary Chapman

Gary Chapman is most famous for his hit book, "The Five Love Languages".   It is a great book and has a lot to teach particularly about how to love your spouse or partner.  This book that our Calvary Book Club read for January teaches us about the characteristics a person exhibits to convey love.  These 7 characteristics are

  • Kindness
  • Patience
  • Forgiveness
  • Courtesy
  • Humility
  • Generosity
  • Honesty
While Chapman writes without expressed faith perspective, for those versed in 1 Corinthians 13 or the teachings of Jesus, you will recognize those ideas coming through.  This book could be subtitled "How to love your neighbor as yourself".   Chapman doesn't stick to couple relationships in this book either, he talks about parenting and the workplace as well making it a great accompaniment to his Love Languages book.

Chapman goes through each of the 7 characteristics breaking each one down further.  What I find most helpful is how Chapman takes a simple trait like kindness and looks at its many facets in how it is lived.  How do you chose to be kind?  What does kindness look like?  What happens when kindness is rejected?  How do you be kind with your attitude, words and actions?

Each chapter ends with making that characteristic a habit and questions for reflection.

If you have struggled with the phrase "love your neighbor as yourself", if you have ever wondered why you do not get the responses back that you desire from others around you then this is a great book for self-reflection.  It will help you look at yourself in the mirror and evaluate how you can be more loving in practical ways.   It will help you have a Jesus-centered world-view that is counter to the growing "me first" world-view around us.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Blue Christmas

December can be a wonderful month if you love Christmas music and when your family and friends are going to be gathering around you soon for the holidays.

But December can be a very hard month when someone you love has died or is far away.
When you are struggling with an addiction, mental illness or physical illness.
When there is conflict in your family,
        when you and your spouse are fighting or divorcing,
        when your kid is struggling and there is nothing you can do to fix it for them,
        when your parent or sibling is sick or going through tough times and you can't make it better.
When you are gay or Muslim or different in some other way and you live in a place where you feel afraid that someone is going to hurt you, say something mean to you, or paint on your car or house.
When you have lost a job, or money is tight and you don't think you can afford the things we are taught to "need" to make Christmas merry.

There are so many reasons why December can be hard.

I have had many Blue Christmases over the years.   The Christmas a few months after my separation and filing for divorce, knowing my step-son was going to be taken right after Christmas to live with his Dad and I would not be given visitation was particularly hard.    The first Christmas without my dad was another.    These are just a couple.   It was very difficult both of those times to be the public face of Christian hope and Christmas joy while also going through deep personal loss and grief.

We are always living lives that are a complex mix of emotions.  Sad and happy, merry and depressed, hopeful and cynical.  Our lives are never perfectly merry and, the good news is, they are never fully dark either.  There is always a reason, no matter how small, to be thankful --even if the only thing we are thankful for is that we are not alone in the dark.   Jesus is holding our hand, walking with us, and bringing back the light bit by bit.

If you are struggling this Christmas, know that you can talk to me.  And you are invited to our Blue Christmas Service Thursday Dec 21 at 6:30 PM    You are not alone in the dark - we are with you!