From My Reading

Re: Separating parents from children at the border:  “Dealing compassionately with strangers seems to be a minimal requirement for just leadership in the model set forth by God, a theme that carries into the New Testament, where Christ’s followers are taught to view themselves as wanderers on earth, and to treat others with appropriate empathetic mercy. But some Christians aren’t strangers in the world at all. Some are very much at home here, or believe that they are, and that there is no tension between the desire of God and the desire of man. People can believe any number of things, especially given the right incentives. If you had all the power in the world, maybe you would also hear a serpent dipping its smooth body down from some shadowy bough to say: God wants you to do whatever you like with your power, and whatever you do with it is good” (Elizabeth Bruenig, The Washington Post).

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We live in a moment when millions desperately need a government and a society with a heart. Millions of Americans need health care and living wages and protection xenophobia, homophobia, systemic racism, religious bigotry, immigration resentment and climate destruction. This moment we’re in is about whether a government of the people and by the people will, in fact, serve the people. It is about whether we as a people can reconstruct the heart of our democracy” (William Barber II in Sojourners, March, 2018). 

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“As for me, I choose… to stop posing as the judge of the universe. If it brought any good results I might continue, but to date it has carried me out into the desert and left me there…. I choose another road for myself. I choose to look at people through God, using God as my glasses, colored with his love for them” (Frank Laubach quoted in the Renovare Weekly Digest, May 2. 2018).

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“A little girl on an errand took too long getting back home. ‘Why,’ Mom demanded. The youngster explained she was on her way when she met her friend who was crying because she had broken her doll. ‘Oh,’ said her mother. ‘Then you stopped to help her fix her doll?’ ‘No,’ replied her daughter. I stopped to help her cry.’ The world is filled with little girls with broken dolls, boys with broken trucks, young adults with broken dreams, and moms and dads with broken families. Will we take time to help them cry?” (Chic Broersma in Words of Hope, May, 2018.

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 “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better” (One of the core principles at the Center for Action and Contemplation founded by Richard Rohr).

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“The whole created order has been brought into being by a loving God in order that we might enter into a covenant relationship with God. The creation is intentionally incom- plete in order that we might know the awesome honor of participating with God in its completion. One day it will end. Creation’s potential–and ours–is being brought to a great finale of love. Jesus’ life was all about the passionate reckless abandon of being a co-creator with God” (N. Gordon Cosby  quoted in the Inward/Outward website).

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The Parable of the Dirty Windows

To me the most important feature of a place to live is the amount of light that comes through the doors and windows. Therefore, I was ecstatic when each time our manufactured home was finally placed on a lot (moving the home 150 miles is a blog post all its own), the sun shone through four walls of windows and two doors. I reveled in the shades of pink during both dawn and twilight and gave thanks for every sunny moment in between. 

Of course, keeping more than a dozen windows and two screen doors clean and spotless was a hindrance, but I managed to keep everything shiny for at least six months of the year. When I was no longer able to lug a step-ladder and climb to the top, two wonderful men from church took over the task.

Almost two years ago, we sold that house and moved to the second floor of an apartment complex. Now we have windows only on one side, but we do have a patio door in our living room leading out to the balcony which nearly makes up for that. Keeping the outside view from the windows clear is harder. Last year apartments in the three buildings across the street were power-washed. I gazed in envy (and frustration) as the guys loaded their trucks and left the complex without touching our building. The apartment manager told me they couldn’t afford to clean all the buildings every year; our building would probably be done next year. 

So, you can imagine my excitement a few weeks ago when I came home with a load of groceries and glimpsed the power wash truck at the far end of the block on our side of the street! As soon as I saw the two college guys in red shirts decorated with a SHINE logo approaching our building with ladders and hoses and a noisy machine, I emptied my balcony (including nearly two dozen pots of flowers) so that they could scrub the deck as well. They sprayed (powerfully) the entire side of the building, windows and all, and then one of them climbed the ladder and sprayed and scrubbed the balcony. As the young man stepped back down the ladder, I thanked him profusely.

My excitement didn’t last long. When I glanced out the air-dried dry windows, I saw nothing but huge, dusty spots.  Evidently power washing is not suitable for windows – even if the guys’ shirts promise SHINE.  

So, as always, I look for the message of the lessons life brings me. The first thing that popped into my mind was a phrase quoted frequently by my mother-in-law. “Be careful what you wish for!” I wished for clean windows and ended up with dirtier windows. Then I thought of a phrase I learned in Al-Anon, “An expectation is a premeditated resentment.” That phrase has helped me through a lot through the years, but the expectation of clean windows has been in my mind for nearly a year. I have already set myself up for resentment. Then I thought of a phrase very popular in my Dutch community where we symbolically wash the main street during Tulip Time every summer: “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”  That long-resented proverb brought some clarity. I said to myself, “This window mishap is not as bad as you are making it, Karen.”

Now as I reflect on this, Paul’s phrase in the King James Version of my childhood comes to mind: Corinthians 13:12:  “For now we see through a glass, darkly . . . .” This is a metaphor of profound implications: we need the faith to believe that what we and think we know and understand will be made crystal clear “then.” What I hope I will remember is that windows aren’t important enough to be crystal clear – now or then.

Finally, I thought of the one sentence that has truly been a life-changer for me and millions of others who take its lesson to heart. It is the first sentence in the Serenity Prayer: “Lord give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,  courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” 

I have cleaned the patio door a couple of times since then; it gives me a beautifully clear view of my surroundings. That particular dirty window I can change.  And when I look out  the other ugly spotted windows, I am grateful for a homely reminder that I can look at life with bitterness or disappointment or an “it’s not fair attitude” or I can choose to accept the things I cannot change (even the smallest things) and be rewarded with serenity.  

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What it Means to Be Human

Those of you who know me or have regularly followed this blog know that “becoming like Jesus” has been the theme of my life for decades. Being a Christ-follower is more than being theologically or Biblically correct, more than being legalistically pure, more than being devoted to a church, more than being dedicated to the conversion of others. Being a Christ-follower is being human in the way that Jesus was human, and Jesus set the bar for being human very high! Being a Christ-follower is  following the example that Christ set while he was living among us as human. Kent Dobson reminds us that Jesus shared our humanity and experienced everything that we experience. He truly is our brother.  

Jesus’s self-identifying title was ‘Son of Man,’ ben adam, a way of identifying with our shared humanity.  . . . This title alone is a clue that Jesus was more interested in being human than being a God. . . . Jesus came to teach us what it means to be human, not to announce his divinity.  He even tells the people who call him the ‘Son of God’ to be quiet. Our shared humanity is what makes Jesus’s teachings worth paying attention to. He shared our experience, in its totality, from suffering to ecstasy.  He didn’t come to take us away from our humanity, or away from the earth but more deeply into those things. This is the real genius of Christianity” (Bitten by a Camel, Leaving Church, Finding God, pgs. 105-106).

Jesus lived our life; now he expects us to live hisJesus was filled with the same Spirit that we have! Or to put it another way, we are filled with the same Spirit Jesus had. The difference is that he was fully committed to listening to, obeying, and using the power of that Spirit. Each of us can be fully like Jesus. This may seem radical or even heretical to some of you, but bear with me. I am learning that if we devote our lives to becoming the human being that Jesus exemplified, we will become everything we think a Christian should be. If we train our hearts and minds and bodies to respond to the world the way Jesus did, we will become like Jesus. 

I suspect that the reason we don’t commit more  completely to living like Jesus is that we let our vision of Jesus Christ as divine taint our perception of Jesus as human. We tell ourselves that God can’t expect us to really be like Jesus – committed to his Father, inspiring, insightful, generous, supportive, charismatic, wise, filled with brotherly love, perceptive, able to heal and forgive – because, after all, Jesus was divine. Deep down we really don’t understand (or maybe we don’t really believe) that Jesus “emptied himself” (*see Scripture below) of his divinity and came to earth as a human. We take ourselves “off the hook” of Christlikeness by telling ourselves that Jesus had a “leg up;” he was God and man at the same time.

Henri Nouwen puts it this way:

When we think about Jesus as that exceptional, unusual person who lived long ago and whose life and words continue to inspire us, we might avoid the realization that Jesus wants us to be like him. Jesus himself keeps saying in many ways that he, the Beloved Child of God, came to reveal to us that we too are God’s beloved children, loved with the same unconditional divine love. This is the great challenge of the spiritual life: to claim the identify of Jesus for ourselves and to say: ‘We are the living Christ today!” (Bread for the Journey).

We have access to the same Father, we are filled with the same Spirit, we share the human qualities that the “son of man” (who relinquished his position as the Son of God to walk this earth) displayed.  As Nouwen also proclaims, “We can enter into the same intimate, fearless, trusting, and empowering relationship with God that Jesus had. That relationship is called Spirit, and that Spirit is given to us by Jesus” (Bread for the Journey).

Discipleship is the process of becoming like Jesus. It is also the process of becoming fully human. As Dallas Willard has said, “Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if he were you.”  Blessings on that journey!

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*   “Who, being in very nature, God,  did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself  by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8 NIV).

 

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Spiritual Refugees

NOTE:  This blog now hosts more than 750 blogs.  Quite often I dig around the “archives” for a post that is particularly appropriate.  This article, published on August 10, 2015, on the state of the church, seems appropriate for 2018 when the world seems to have gone mad – and some Christians are supporting the madness.  I was reminded of this blog when a friend recommended a book by Josh Packard, Ph.D (who is quoted in the blog below) and Ashleigh Hope, also published in paper back in 2015: Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith). I highly recommend another very personal account of  questioning the church by a well-known pastor, Kent Dobson, Bitten by a Camel, Leaving Church Finding God.

Though they were committed to the church for decades often as leaders, The Dones no longer or rarely attend. Though they often worked for years to reform the church from within, they are now fed up with organized religion. Some are dissatisfied with the structure or the politics of the institutional church. Some question the social message the Church represents. Some yearn for a call to deeper commitment to spiritual formation, a challenge to drink from a deeper spiritual well. Whatever their reason, Packard says, these “spiritual refugees present a challenge to the church.”

I am one of The Dones – or at least of the Almost Dones.  More than ever I understand the power of the gospel spoken by Jesus, re-told by the disciples, or put in words as scripture – but not always reflected in the church.  People in Jesus’ times were obeying dry, stale, and often incorrect theology. Made powerless by Roman rulers and their Jewish sycophants, they were becoming slaves to the literalism of their religious leaders. The heart and passion of a Moses or a David or a Jeremiah or a Micah were hard to find. That’s why Jesus seemed radical.  We need that radical Jesus in our own age!

The Dones  that I know (and many I don’t know who read this blog) are looking for passion and fire and authenticity in their church. Some are actively contemplative (and I do see the traditional oxymoron in that phrase).  Some recognize the Power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the early disciplfish 2es and the church they created and wonder why that Power seems shackled in their church.  Some read about the disciples grappling with issues of inclusivity and coming down on the side of love, and they long for the same welcoming  spirit in their congregations.  Some wrestle with Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, but see an attitude of “what’s mine is mine” permeating their church. Basically The Dones see a Church which was originally inspired by the spirit, example, and love of Jesus but is now satisfied with the status quo.

Packard concludes his article with this challenge to the Church:  “Will churches be vibrant, indispensable guides to helping people find meaningful  life and making a difference in the world? Or will they continue to alienate some of their most passionate members?”

The answer to those questions are what The Dones and Almost Dones are hoping to see resolved soon.  If the answers are “no,” I suspect we will continue to see new and creative ways to be the body of Christ  in the future.

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Going Deeper with God – “Feed My Sheep” (John 21: 15 -17)

In Eat this Book, Eugene El Shaddi bannersPeterson teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it, and then put it to use in practical ways. Our Christian fathers and mothers called this process Lectio Divina. In this passage, John relates this post-resurrection story about Jesus’ march- ing orders to Peter.

John 21: 15-17 (NIV) – Feed My Sheep

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

 Again Jesus said, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you  know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?”He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

CHEWING

When I read this story recently, I was thrown back to the 1970’s.  I was making my bed while deliberating about whether to sign up for a 2-year teacher-training program for the Bethel Bible Series when I clearly heard a voice say, “Feed my sheep!”  Surprised, I turned to look at the radio (which was usually tuned to NPR) and found that it wasn’t even turned on! No one else was in the room – or even in the house. Who had said, “Feed my sheep?” Could this be the voice of God?  The deadline for signing up for the training had passed. I was new to the church, afraid of my shadow, and aware that I was completely unprepared for this kind of adventure. Was God really telling me to do this frightening but awesome task? I was thoroughly shaken.  Had I missed an opportunity that God was calling me to follow?

The next day was Sunday.  I went to the evening service, and, lo and behold, the person who was conducting the training was preaching. My stomach was in my throat, but I gathered enough courage rush up to him after the service and ask if I could still join the training.”  He smiled and said “There is one opening; it’s yours.” That two years and the teaching assignment that followed were huge milestones in my spiritual formation.

I imagine that Peter felt somewhat the same way when Jesus spoke those words to him. It had already been a day to beat all days. After the crucifixion, he and the other fishermen among the disciples had left Jerusalem and had gone back home to Galilee totally discouraged.  They decided to do what they did best (or perhaps to return to their careers since the time with Jesus was over) and go fishing.  They had no luck until someone on the shore yelled to throw their nets on the other side – which, of course, they had already tried.  But they did as told, and their nets were immediately so full, they almost tore. 

John (who retells this story in his Gospel) recognizes the voice and tells Peter, “It is the Lord!”  Peter, impetuously leaving the others to harvest the huge haul, jumps in the water and swims to shore where he finds Jesus tending a charcoal fire and preparing breakfast. When the other disciples join them, Jesus tells them to add some of their freshly caught fish to the fire. He then feeds them bread and fish.

After breakfast, Jesus begins the questioning that our scripture passage relates. Three times he asks, “Do you love me?” Twice Peter answers, “You know that I do.” The third time Peter is hurt because it sounds as if Jesus doubts him. And then a scene floods his memory. He was standing by a charcoal fire just a week ago when he denied three times that he even knew Jesus. It all becomes clear.

Try to imagine how Peter felt. Ashamed, guilty, afraid, embarrassed, hopeless? But still he answers, “Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.”  Eugene Peterson says, that “the three Jesus questions on the Galilee beach reverse and redeem Peter’s three denials at the trial the week before in Jerusalem.  The three affirmations of love harness Peter into continuing Jesus’ work of  feeding the sheep.”

Peterson then points out that Jesus finishes the conversation by saying, “‘Follow me.’ He    did not say ‘Lead in my name” or ‘Lead my flock.’ He says as clearly, briefly, and emphatically as possible, repeating it twice, ‘Follow  me . . . Follow me.'”  Now, try again to imagine what Peter feels.  He has been forgiven. He is still loved. He has been told to  resume the work that Jesus has started. He has been warned that his life will end just as Jesus’ had.  And yet, he grabs on with both hands and begins his ministry. Following Jesus means feeding and caring for his flock, wherever and whoever they are, using the gifts that God has given to work collaboratively with him.

DIGESTING

♥  Have you ever personally received  direction from Jesus to “Feed my lambs” or “Take care of my sheep?”  How did you live that out?  If not, reflect on taking this passage  personally and seriously. With three years of Jesus stories available, John included this one in his gospel; he must have thought it was an important instruction for all of Jesus’ disciples. How could you feed Jesus’ children, his lambs, literally?  How could you enrich the lives of others as Jesus did?

♥  What does it mean for you personally to follow Jesus right this moment?  How do you follow Jesus in your family relationships? How do you follow Jesus in the life of your church? In your work place? In your neighborhood?  How do you follow Jesus in today’s political climate? God might be calling you to something very different now than he has been in the past. 

♥  Read the quote below. What is the difference between leadership and “followership.”  How can you become less and less?  And why?

MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT

The Christian life does not consist in achieving great things for God but in allowing Jesus to use our inadequacy and failure to rehabilitate us to a life experienced as grace and love and obedience. Peter’s recovered focus on following Jesus to a sacrificial death [see John 21: 18-19], undistracted by what others might or might not be doing under Jesus’s [see John 21: 20 – 21] emphatic “Follow me” is basic for each of us. The Christian life is not about leadership but ‘followership,’ not about becoming more and more but less and less” (Eugene Peterson in As Kingfishers Catch Fire).

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Let the Little Children Come to Me (and to America)

God, for so many people facing an impossible decision—to stay home and face violence and the threat of death, or to make the dangerous journey north and face the threat of violence and separation from children—we lift prayers for wisdom. We pray for compassionate, human-centered policies. We pray for accountability when leaders fail to meet the standards we read about in Scripture—that government officials are put into place in order to do good” (Sojourners, June 1).

Here are some facts you need to know!

The Trump administration does not want you to know that children of parents coming to the US to claim asylum (because they are afraid of violence and death in their own countries) are being taken from their parents and housed often hundreds of miles away. Claiming asylum is still legal in America!

In addition, “unaccompanied minors,” whose parents have often fled to the US to find a safe place and then send for their children when they can support them, are being detained at the border until their parents come and sign for them. Of course, their parents are afraid to sign because if they are arrested, no one in their family is safe. Trump officials have said that parents who won’t come to sign for their parents are “not fit to be parents.”

These people are not immigrants; they are asylum seekers who formerly were able to apply for asylum from their home country. When it was granted, they took the journey to the U.S.  President Trump has canceled that Obama-era policy. So now people who are afraid to live in their own country because of their religion, their political view points, and the crime and violence in their world are forced to leave their country and hope that the U.S. – the land of the Statue of Liberty and the home of millions of Christians – will take them in.

These mothers and fathers and grandparents and babies and children are not “crooks” and “rapists” and “animals,” as our President enthusiastically (and falsely) brands them. They are people who need safety from their own governments and are counting on their belief that America ( a country founded by people looking for safety and freedom) is still a place of compassion and good will. They hope against hope that America and Americans will still help them.  

Many Trump Administration policies are misguided, selfish, careless, founded on lies or misinformation, or created to line the pockets of industries or groups of people. This policy is founded on cruelty and meanness and racism. It is unprecedented in American history.  President Trump is doing this because he can.  And because of political motivation to win and keep support from “his base.”  

We must stop this!

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Wounded Hearts

This blog is home to more than 700 blogs.  Once in a while I re-blog a post from the past for newer readers. This post, first published on May 17, 2015, about creating and healing wounded hearts  is never out of date. 

Today I wounded someone I love.  The arrow, straight and sharp, flew precisely and with surprising velocity directly to his heart, carrying the words to the heart-spot most vul- nerable to pain. In horror I heard his heart crack, leaving an ugly fissure.  I shrank from his anger and left the room.

How did those words get past my lips? Why on this day did my guard drop and allow this arrow to escape? The Twelve Step program warns of the imminent danger of being in a state of hunger, anger, loneliness, and/or tiredness. Flipping back the pages of past weeks in my mind, I locate all four. I see irritability over issues, big and little, rising up and unresolved. I see physical and emotional exhaustion. I also find another companion to these four  – the one with the most power: fear. I find an attitude of scarcity competing every day with an attitude of gratitude.

I muse about this all, waiting hopefully for a reconciling conversation. broken heart 2 I have learned once again the dangers of living in enemy-occupied territory. I have lost this battle of evil over love. And my heart is cracked, too.

Will this fissure cause indelible damage? Will this fault line produce a volcano? Or will shared love seal over the crack? Whatever the result, I have re-learned a hard lesson. Pain causes pain. Hurt people hurt people. Amends will be needed. But only the love of God can heal our hearts and make us whole.

Image by crosscards.com

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Embracing Revolution

“[Why] is preaching important? It develops an imagination adequate to embrace revolution” (Eugene Peterson in As Kingfishers Catch Fire, p 52).

Does this Eugene Peterson quote fire your imagination?  Or at  least your question-making machine? What kind of preaching develops our imagination? What would it mean to “embrace” revolution? And exactly what kind of revolution does Peterson have in mind?  Here are my answers.  What are yours?

What kind of preaching/teaching/writing  inspires my imagination? The kind that:

  • brings God, the cosmic creator, to life.
  • is vulnerable and personal.
  • emphasizes my place in the Kingdom of God, here and eternal.
  • encourages living simply and sharing so that others can also live.
  • points out the abundance of God’s love, not the scarcity. 
  • motivates me to see Jesus as my model, my reference point, my master teacher; preaching that pushes me to live the Way of Jesus is truly the Word of God.
  • holds me responsible to live as  a Christ-follower in a time of  lies and corruption.
  • inspires love and compassion for all.

And what is the revolution that this kind of preaching inspires? It is a revolution that inspires me to live like Jesus.  It is a way of  living that turns the world upside down. It is a passion that fires my imagination to live the kind of life I am meant to live. It is a revolution led by Jesus Christ, the Lord – not Jesus the infant. It is a consciousness that “sees” who Jesus really is. Who is the real Jesus? Henri Nouwen says that the Beatitudes offer us a “self-portrait” of Jesus.

“Jesus is the Blessed One. And the face of the Blessed One shows poverty, gentleness, grief, hunger, and thirst for uprightness, mercy, purity of heart, a desire to make peace, and the signs of persecution. The whole message of the Gospel is this: Become like Jesus. We have his self-portrait. When we keep that in front of our eyes, we will soon learn what it means to follow Jesus and become like him” (Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey).

Jesus told us all how to live when he recruited the original disciples to a revolutionary lifestyle:  “Follow me.”

And finally, what does it mean to “embrace revolution”? Read the four Gospels and the book of Acts; you can’t miss it. “Embrace” means giving everything to the cause. It means recognizing that Jesus is the Authority we must obey. It means living  deeply from the well of God’s love and the Spirit’s guidance, not sipping occasionally from a bottle of water.  It means being “all in” (to steal the title of Chris Hayes’ powerful MSNBC show). It means joining the battle described in the third verse of Onward Christian Soldiers – a song which is rightly criticized for its militaristic images, but which also speaks of the fervor we need to have for our cause:

Like a mighty army
  Moves the Church of God:
Brothers [and sisters], we are treading
  Where the saints have trod;
We are not divided,
  All one Body we—
One in faith and Spirit,
  One eternally.

I pray that the world-wide Church will preach or teach or write so that each Christ-follower catches the spirit and the imagination to embrace Christ’s revolution!

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