Saturday, May 20, 2017

When Nothing Seems to Come to Mind


Don't sit there watching the wind. Do your own work. Don't stare at the clouds. Get on with your life. - Ecclesiastes 11:4 (The Message)

I am worn out today. My mind doesn’t seem to be able to hold onto a train of thought for any reasonable length of time or for a coherent path. It is so much so that even trying to think up a word or phrase to put in my Bible search software to come up with a passage for this Musing seems nigh impossible. As an introvert, I have reached my limit and can tell that my tank is empty and even the reserve that is meant to get me to the next fill is dry. When I’m feeling this way the voice of duty and responsibility and even shame seems to shout in my head things like the above passage.

I know you have felt this way in the past. I know that I am not a bad person because I feel this way. I know that everyone at some time needs to pause and stare at the clouds or watch the wind. I just want to be able to do the things that I think are needed, necessary, important or that I know bring me life. These Musings fall into that category. That’s why I am doing this today, because it does help me, it energizes me and even though it may seem counter intuitive it really does help me recharge.

I bet you always thought these Musings were for you, the people who receive them and might read them. In fact, they are for me. They allow me to share some of who I am and what I believe and how I see and interact with the world, God and all that. They help me to organize my thoughts and feelings and give me an avenue to express myself without worrying to much about blow back. This is far different than a sermon or teaching a class. It is just me, my reflections that I just happen to share.

I am struggling to figure out how this might fit with the new position I will be taking on July 1. I have been doing these since June of 2005. 12 years of my reflections and, as George Carlin often said about his reflections, brain droppings. I think that it is time to let this expression of myself come to an end. It is time to find a new way of sharing what I think and feel and believe and muse about. What that will be is still a mystery to me. I do know that whatever it is it will be on that immortal and eternal medium known fondly as the internet. It will likely take the form of a blog but the subject or the point of it is still what is in flux.

I plan to do two more Musings. One the week of June 4 and the last one the week of June 11. I hope to have whatever I will be doing up and running the second week of July. There will be a link on the Cascadia District website when it is up and running if you happen to want to see what I will be doing, you will find it there.

I want to thank you for taking the time to read these Musings. For the replies you have sent. For the times you have shared with me how they have sparked something in you. Thank you for allowing me these opportunities to drop on you my frustrations, worries, joys, concerns, mental and emotional and spiritual failings. I truly believe in these often emotionally disconnected times, when we are more connected than ever to the world but seem so lost and disconnected from others, that honest and open sharing is important. I encourage you to muse and share your musings with others. Take the risk and be willing to just let them be without apology or defensiveness. If you get nothing else from these past 12 years please take with you the critically important reality that connections with self, God and others are what give and sustain life.

Dear God, thank you for giving me a mind to think, a heart to feel and a spirit that seeks to connect with all creation, myself and you. Amen.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Worth the Cost?



For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. - Mark 14:7 (NRSV)

The Lord said to Moses: 2 Tell the Israelites to take for me an offering; from all whose hearts prompt them to give you shall receive the offering for me. 3 This is the offering that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze… 8 And have them make me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them.  - Exodus 25:1-3, 8 (NRSV)

I saw that a congregation completed a new sanctuary. It cost them $90 million. This got me to thinking about church buildings and their cost and what they signify. So, to give some perspective I Googled “How much would it cost to build a medieval cathedral today?” Here are two of the answers I found:

 St. Peter's is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and one of the largest churches in the world.  the Great Construction of the present Basilica, replacing the Old St. Peter's Basilica of the 4th century AD, began on 18 April 1506 and was completed on 18 November 1626, almost 120 years to built so knowing the fact this project can take a lot of money according to my estimate around 600 million Dollars or may be more.

My guess would be in the neighborhood of $3/4 - 1 billion.  The National Cathedral in Washington DC was built from 1907-1990 and cost $65 million.  Figuring the cost of living during these years versus today and assuming an equal amount of work was paid for each year.  Add on the increased cost for more stringent building codes and the much higher cost of land.  Of course, the National Cathedral is one of the larger cathedrals.

We Christians, and I believe most of the world’s great religions, spend vast amounts of money and other resources to build our temples, cathedrals, shines, and places of worship. We have done so for, I would guess, as long as we have had any sort of organized religion. The question that haunts me is why? Why do we feel we must spend vast resources to build edifices for our faiths? What motivates us and what do we hope to gain from them?

Before I go any further I must confess a bias. I believe that buildings built for the sole purpose of worship are a relic of the past. If I were starting a community of faith today I would not build a building unless it was to serve a particular ministry in the neighborhood to those who live there. I would only build if the campus were to be used every day to serve and minister to those around it. A part of the space could be used for the purpose of worship when that was to happen but it would not be its sole purpose.

I understand the need to invest time, money and resources into the campuses we already have when it makes sense to keep those assets for mission and ministry with, to, and for the people who live near them. If we have no such ministries and missions then those campuses need to be looked at from the vantage point of how they might be utilized for service of the area where they are located. But to keep a campus just because it is a place of worship is bad stewardship and I think unfaithful.

I believe that in the past people funded and built these places of worship for reasons that no longer apply. They were seen as honoring God. They were ways to profess your faith. They were seen literally as the “house of God” on earth. Funding them was a way to earn indulgences (an indulgence is "a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins") for yourself or those you love. And they were ways to sanctify a place considered holy. They were meant to create a space where the presence of God was felt and the faith honored.  Most if not all of these reasons no longer seem relevant or even theologically sound. God doesn’t seek an elaborate space for honor or housed or as payment for sin or need a special space to be felt. God wants us to be inspired by creation and one another. God is honored when we accept and love each other. God is housed in each part of creation and is celebrated when we protect and preserve creation. God loves us as we are and does not expect a payment for us to earn favor or receive forgiveness.

$90 million or $1 billion or even a modest $1 million seems like a lot of resources to expend just to have a building to sit in to worship God. Don’t get me wrong. I love to walk into a massive cathedral. To stand in the muted glow of a glorious stained glass window. To hear a grand organ, belt out a Bach mass. I have felt God in sanctuaries and shines and am thankful for these glorious spaces. But I have also had those same feelings and experiences on the lakeshore at camp, standing by the ocean celebrating communion, sitting under the stars in a Taize worship experience, listen to a concert in the park, and when a community of faith gathers for worship in a gym or a restaurant or a hotel ballroom. Faith communities always should have spaces but not spaces for the sole purpose of worship. James says: The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse.  - James 2:26 (The Message) which I think applies to what I am trying to say. A building just for worship is faith without works, a body without spirit.

I hope that we can come to the place where we can see buildings like a Christian community that formed in the Arlington, Virginia after World War II known as the Church of the Savior did. They never had a church building for the sole purpose of worship. In fact, they really were a network of specific ministries addressing specific needs in the greater Washington, D.C. area. They had a coffee house before Starbucks, they operated a bakery, they ran a children’s home, etc. Each place focused on a specific ministry and when they worshiped as a community they did it in the coffee house, in the bakery, in the dining hall of the children’s home. I think this is the model for a faith community. So if we want to invest $90 million in a building let’s build apartments for low income families, a coop and training day care campus for single parents in a poor urban area, a farm that uses the best sustainable practices and teaches others how to use them, a manufacturing plant in West Virginia that uses old plastic to make bricks for building low cost structures, or as a loan pool for micro loans to poor people throughout the world to start small businesses for themselves, their families, and their villages.

Doing these things honors God, shows how faithful we are, inspires people, houses God, and are places where the holy can be known and experienced and they can also provide space for worship!


Dear God, help me to see all that I have and know that you call me to be the best steward of it that I can be. Help me to experience you in all places. Help me to honor you with all I say and do. Help us all to realize that you love us as we are and that you don’t need a grand façade because you live in each act of love and compassion. Amen.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Maintenance


"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? - Matthew 6:25 (NRSV)

Today I am sitting in the waiting area of our car dealership as they do the routine maintenance on one of our cars and it got me musing about the common, everyday things we all need to do and how they can consume so much of our time and energy. On an average day, 85 percent of women and 67 percent of men spent some time doing household activities such as housework, cooking, lawn care, or financial and other household management activities (from:
https://www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.nr0.htm). According to the DailyMail: Americans spend $140,000 in their lifetimes and 30 days every year on boring household tasks like cleaning and laundry. I couldn’t find a quick answer to the question about how much time the average American spends on car care but I think you get my point, a lot of our time is spent on routine care and maintenance of our homes, cars, and families.

This got me thinking about the time and effort I spend on the maintenance of other aspects of my life: my health, my spiritual self, my intellectual side, etc. I would guess that it isn’t what it needs to be for me to be the healthy, happy, satisfied person I want to be. It is easier to see that the dishes are dirty and need washing or the pile of laundry needs doing or the check engine light is blinking and take care of those things then it is to see the atrophy in my spirituality or the lack of muscle tone in my brain.

But you and I are both aware of the fact that regular time, attention and effort spent on our spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual health is just as important to our lives as prepping for dinner or cleaning out the lint trap. And the fact of the matter is that regular attention and maintenance of our spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual selves can be a whole lot more fun than cleaning the bathroom or changing the litter box. And I think it is just as important!

I try to take advantage of those moments in my day where I have some unexpected time. Waiting in line, sitting in traffic, even washing dishes. I will use those times for a quick breath prayer or to reflect on a passage of scripture that I am working with. I will take the time between finishing my chores and watching one of my regular TV shows to surf the channels and seek out the National Geographic or Smithsonian or Science networks and catch a few minutes of some nature or exploration show. When I am working on my computer (like now) and feel I am stuck or need to take a break I will often click on Google Earth or the NASA site and surf around. My daughter plays a game with her family that when they get change from a purchase they all guess something that happened in the year the change represents and then when they get home they search the date and see who might have been right but also learn what happened on that date (both CE and BCE are acceptable in your guess😊).

Given the way life goes we all need to take advantage of the moments we are given and use them in ways that feed us, mind and body and soul. Sometimes it means just breathing. Other times it may be a game or an internet search. And sometimes it will be meditation or prayer. And maybe even spend some of those moments just relaxing, listening to music or taking in the scene outside the window. This is called living an intentional life and I believe that it makes for a healthier, happier life. Now I’m going to finish this up and see what I can find to work my brain or deepen my spirit or help with my wellbeing.

Dear God, help to see all the moments of my life as a gift. Help me to use that gift in ways that make me a better person and in ways that make the world a better place. Help me to know that working on me is as important as any other activity I engage in. Amen.

Friday, April 28, 2017

We All Are Loved

I think that the words of this Psalm (except vss. 19-22 which are out of step with the rest of it and are not helpful to me today) are what we all need to be Musing on this day:
Psalm 139 - NRSV
The Inescapable God
To the leader. Of David. A Psalm.
1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,"
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you,
for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven
in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—
they are more than the sand;
I come to the end —I am still with you.  
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
24 See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.


God be with us all.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Using the Lord’s Name


No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter; God won't put up with the irreverent use of his name. Exodus 20:7 (The Message)

I’ve noticed something recently, Christians of good faith and spiritual maturity aren’t using the term “God” very much or even Jesus Christ when talking about why they think, feel, believe what they do. Now it may be that I just am not listening closely enough. Amy will tell you that I can be sitting there looking like I’m paying attention but really, I’m not catching anything that is being said. But I don’t think this is true in this situation even if it is true in some others.

I think that we shy away from “God” talk because we don’t want to offend or put people off. But if we fail to mention God then we lessen the impact of what we have to say. I think some folks feel that it is to presumptuous to say that “God has shown you” or “God has led me to” or some such phrase. I also think many of us (maybe me included) are worried that if we say things like this we will be ignored because it sounds like the language of those Christians that try to speak for God or those that use their religion to separate.

I was involved recently in a lot of conversation about why I am a pastor, why I believe what I believe, why I feel strongly about how the world works. It was conversation so I was listening to how others answered the questions, how they talked about the vision they have for life, the church, faithfulness, etc. In a lot of that conversation God was not claimed. People would hint at the holy connection – my faith tells me…in my pray life I have come to see…we have discerned a particular direction… these types of statements hint at the presence and influence of God but fail to name God directly.

I must tell you that I sympathize with this hesitation. To bring God or Christ or the Spirit into the picture is to take a great risk of being misinterpreted or misunderstood or dismissed entirely. But to refrain is to dismiss the source of your revelation, insight, or discernment. I think it is all in how you say it. It is in the way you present it. It is how humble and honest and authentic you are that will help you be heard.

To say, “God has shown me the way!” and do so with force, intimidation and an obvious air of superiority is to bring that declaration into question. To say, “Through my prayer, study, and reflection I sense that God is wanting us to head in this direction.” Is to be honest about how you came to your conclusion without the baggage of “divine revelation” to you and you alone. When talking about your personal vision for things or your mission in life or the vision you have for an institution and your concept of its mission it is not only appropriate but I think necessary to bring your God given insight into the conversation. But you can't do it as if yours is the one and only true and real revelation. I think God reveals things to us but because of our basic human nature we only grasp pieces and parts and it takes others to construct the whole. To own that God has been a part of your position is not to exclude the input of others. It is to honestly state how you have gotten to the place you are and can free others to share what God has shared with them.

I think as faithful people we need to speak the name of God when it is appropriate. Instead of being afraid we are using the Lord’s name in vain maybe we should fear not naming God at all. To have a faith is to be in a deep and meaningful connection with God but to refrain from naming that connection is to lessen that relationship. If you are authentic in your life others will not be put off when you use the name of God.

Dear God, help me to name you when it is appropriate. Help me to share with others what you share with me and to make sure and give you the credit. May I use your name correctly to its glory. Amen.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Living in the Gray


Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. Matthew 27:50 (NRSV)

Well here we are again at the most unpleasant time of the Christian year – the end of Holy Week. We have remembered Jesus’ final night. We have walked with him to the cross. We have flinched as we imagined the spikes being driven in. And we’ve symbolically watched as he died on that cross. And if we are honest, we are unsettled and uneasy and unsure of what to do with this reality that we visit once a year.

One aspect of the job of being a local church pastor is facing death. Everyone must deal with it at one time or another but a local church pastor spends a lot of time there. We keep vigil with a family as a loved one slowly passes. We cry with the spouse when their partner is taken suddenly or with a parent when their child dies unexpectedly. We listen to loved ones as they share about the deceased as we prepare a service of remembrance and celebration. We comfort the survivor a month, a year, a decade later. Death is part of our life, part of life but more so when you pastor a church.

Regardless of how much time I have spent with death, the end of Holy Week is still uncomfortable. And I know it isn’t the closeness of death that brothers me. That happens because it shows me the dark side of humanity and our institutions. It lays bare the reality that power and calm rely on violence. It makes me face the fact that maintaining the status quo is often more acceptable then justice. And it makes me come face to face with my own bend to seek revenge, use manipulation, resort to force, and try to keep things in check so that the relative calm can continue even when it is far from what I desire or what is right.

This is what we don’t like about Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. They make us face the darker parts of ourselves. They force us to see ourselves in the betrayal, in the denial, in the crowd, in the soldiers, in Pilate, in the religious authorities, in the criminals, in the women, and not in Jesus. They make us uncomfortable because they show us this. Because they pull back our carefully constructed vials and expose our ugliness. Because they make us so very aware of how far away from the ideal we are. It isn’t the gruesome torture and death that causes us difficulty, it is being exposed that we really don’t like.

I might be trying to lump you in with me but I think what I am saying applies to us all to some degree. I really wish it were different but time and time and time again this reality shows up. It comes out when we bomb another. It surfaces when we wish harm upon the thieves that steal from our church. It shows itself when we lament the babies dying of poison gas and ignore those dying from hunger. It comes out when we fail to love as Jesus loves.

I ask you to spend some time at the cross. See Jesus there and recognize how far from him you are. Look beyond the wounds and the face drained of life and see the reality of our all too human ways. Allow yourself to be in the darkness of these days. Don’t try to run for them or hide from them or ignore them. Let yourself see who you are in the people and events of these days. Then when Sunday comes see the light, the life and know that we all have the opportunity to get it right. We all have the possibility to live as Jesus lived and love as Jesus loved. And know to the deepest part of yourself that God’s love, grace and presence are with you in every moment of every day.

Dear God, help me to be the person you dream me to be. Amen.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Discovering Who I Am



 But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves. - John 1:12 (The Message)

Over the last few weeks I have been engaged in an effort to understand myself a bit more and how I react and interact in the world. Depending upon who you are talking with there are a variety of tools that might help you discover your true self, your way of viewing others and being in the world. There is the standard, the tried and true tool of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (those four letters that try to define you – I am an ISTJ). Another is the Predictive Index (PI for short) which I have never taken. There is the Traitify which is targeted for the Millennials and younger set and uses pictures in their process of typing you (again I have never done this one). There are two of a kind: Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence test and Adaptive Resilience Factor Inventory which bring emotional resiliency into the equation (not ones I have considered). And there is the Enneagram – which focuses on the influences of one’s basic fears and motivations (for those keeping score I am an 8). An interesting side, most ISTJs are not 8s; only 5% seem to fit into this combination.

Before I go any further I need to point something out. Any and all of these personal type tools are just that, tools. They do not fully define you and they are not all that you are. They help you know yourself and give you some insight into how you see and engage the world. They help you understand the dynamics of your interaction with others. But they do not control you and if my personal experience is any indicator, your specifics can shift and change depending upon age, stage and how you are feeling/doing at the time you take the “test”. The core of who you are may be indicated by these tools but they do not have the final say when it comes to how you see and engage others. You can develop and learn ways that are outside your “natural” self that serve you well in life. In fact, most all of us do this.

I have been delving into the Enneagram. I found a respected practitioner who evaluated me and then talked with me about how my type functions and shared practices and tools to assist me in working with others. He was very clear about the fact that what we were discussing was not the “final word” on how I see and engage others and the world but that it was a tool to help me understand why I react like I do and why others react to me the way they do. Ultimately what we are talking about is behavioral modification. I cannot change my reptilian response to the world but I can understand it and then let that understanding guide me as I try to become what God hopes I can be.

I am beginning to think that human evolution is becoming more about evolving our ways of behaving then with physical changes that allow us to better survive. All the major world religions are about evolving humans away from the fight, flight, and freeze responses. They all call us to seek a more social, interpersonal and communal way of being in the world. They all ask us to develop our compassion and to have empathy. They all look to our developing a commitment to the common good over our natural tendency to focus on what’s best for me and mine.  They all ask us to move beyond our “natural” selves and to embrace the humanity that God so wants each and every one of us to be.

I have said that I live the unexamined life. It is not a fair assessment of how I function. I examine myself but in ways that are not recognized. Only 4% of the population are 8s and 13% are ISTJs. I am one of the smallest groups (8) and largest groups (ISTJ) so I am a very unusual mix. This means that I don’t do things like others do, including self-examination. I also have to know that the way others do things will seem foreign to me, but that doesn’t make their way invalid or wrong, it’s just another way to do things. I’m 58 years old and still learning, who would have guessed? Life is a journey and if you plan to get anywhere you must learn and grow and change and modify as you go. Let the next stage begin!

Dear God, thank you for making me who I am – a unique and beautiful reflection of you. Help me to see others as unique and beautiful reflections of you. Amen.