Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Hospitality For An Inhospitable Pastor

Have you ever stepped into a big, steaming, pile of puppy poop while you were trying to do the right thing?  You know what I mean;  you're trying to …. oh, say, preach a series on "Hospitality" to help your congregation grow in it's ability to reach out to the community and all of a sudden you are faced with just how inhospitable you really are.  (In the church I grew up in they called that "being under conviction"-a phrase I really hate).

So I'm going along, doing my research, reading some really good stuff like Amy Oden, Professor of Early Church History and Spirituality at Saint Pau School of Theology (her stuff is really good, by the way).  She reminds us that for the folks in the OT and the early Church, hospitality was "welcoming the stranger," and that the stranger was identified as five vulnerable groups:  the poor; the sick; orphans and widows; foreigners or sojourners; those in prison or who are held captive or in bondage.  These folks, according to our faith, rooted in the Hebrew scriptures and reinforced by Jesus teachings (see Matthew 25 and the Great Judgement parable) are people who need special care.

So far, so good.  Especially when I get to define who the vulnerable are.  But then Jesus has to go and mess it all up.  Like in Matthew 5:44 when He says, "but I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you."
Then, in  Luke 6:27-29, He goes and says, "But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."

Jesus pulls our enemies, the folks we don't really want to take a long car ride with, into that circle of folks to whom we are supposed to be extending hospitality.  And that spiritual discipline that is based on Jesus' claim that "as you did it to the least of these, you did it also to Me"  now includes the folks I've been going to war with on Facebook and other social media  (we don't have to get into it; but there are some folks there-and you know who you are-who really piss me off).

What does hospitality look like with these folks?  How do I make room for them?  How do I extend care, provide for their needs, include them in the mundane stuff of life, and (horrors) invite them to be part of worship?

If you were looking for an answer to these questions; too bad.  I don't have one.  But I'm looking for it.  What I do know is that any answer about hospitality that doesn't find a way to include them isn't consistent with Jesus' teachings (I also, by the way, think that God has a nasty sense of humor to bring this up right now...I could be preaching an outstanding sermon series on Hospitality right now...but Noooo….)

So stay tuned.  I'm working on it.  I'm trying to figure it out.  I'll let you know what happens.


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Life In The Popcorn Popper

Lately I've begun to think that life looks a lot like standing in the middle of a hot air popcorn popper while all the various problems and issues explode around us.  You will have caught some of that feeling in the last blog that I wrote.

It makes me want to reclaim an old saw that really has a lot of wisdom...even though it has been misused in 100 different ways:  What would Jesus do? If (as I claimed in my last post) my first allegiance is to Jesus and the Kingdom of God which He is ushering in, then this is the foremost and first question I should be asking.  But it's a hard question to ask with all this popcorn going off around me.

In Aikido (the martial art which I practice) there is a free-style practice called randori.  Now the actual connotation of randori depends on the martial art within which it is being used.  In Aikido, randori is the practicing of one's techniques against multiple attackers, usually 3-5.  The secret to surviving randori is to maintain one's center and to encounter each attacker as they come, without anticipating too much of what comes next.  Don't try to push, pull, or force....just stay centered and do you technique...the rest will take care of itself.  It works remarkably well.  The few times I have been able to put myself in that mindset have been amazing (and I mean very few).  In fact, among students of Aikido, the times when one is really able to get into this zone are so memorable that they are talked about almost with awe.  It is truly a spiritual experience.

I keep wondering what it would mean if I was able to apply this to my life in Christ.  With all the furor going on around us/me in our world; what if I was able to maintain my center: "God so loved the world" that "the Word became flesh...and that Light shines on in the darkness and the darkness can never conquer It." therefore "Love one another as I have loved you."  Centered in that place of connection and power to God's will, what would it be like if I encountered each attack by simply (simple isn't easy) obeying...doing the technique, loving my neighbor, forgiving my enemies, caring for the marginalized...and trusting that everything else would take care of itself?

For my congregation I believe it would become attempting in small ways to aid hunger in our community.  We can't do a lot of other (perhaps bigger) things, but we do a good job and feeding folks.  Stay centered, trust God, feed the hungry.  Let the rest take care of itself.  Might this be our spiritual randori? Jesus said, "In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."  Stay centered, connected; obey (do the techniques of love); and trust.  When the next attack or need arises, be ready to address it in the same way.

I believe you lead a congregation by having these virtues alive in your own life.  That's where it gets hard for me.  I am quick to anger.  You only have to read my Facebook posts about what I feel are our nation's sins of racism and idolatry to power to get a taste of that anger.  And I am quicker to anger in my own personal life than I would like to admit.  And so if I am to lead, I must practice.  Stay centered, connected; obey (do the techniques of love); and trust.  Trust that even if I die before it's all worked out, that God is working God's purpose out.  That God will have the last word.  That the Kingdom will come and the day when God makes God's home among us is a promise that will not fail.

In the world you will have randori but stay centered, connected; obey and do the techniques of love; and trust the promises of God....even in the popcorn popper.


Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Christian? Citizen?

I've been struggling a lot lately with the political situation in my country.

See, I'm starting to ask questions about a lot of the things that have become second nature to my thinking, things that I grew up with.

Let me be clear from the jump, upfront about my opinion.  I believe that Donald Trump is a threat to America.  I believe that the evangelical false prophets who have twisted scripture to support him and name him as some sort of "New Cyrus" have sold out both their country and their faith...and I think the second to be a much greater sin.  I'm watching the last season of The Man In The High Castle and the similarities in thought patterns between the Nazis portrayed there and many of my fellow citizens and fellow Christians is terrifying to me.

I've been having social media conversations with a couple of folks that I have known from childhood. They are Trump supporters with deep religious convictions about that support.  I honestly believe that they would "turn me in" if it ever came to it, because of my beliefs about Trump's criminality and his behavior which I find antithetical to the teachings of the Jesus I seek to follow.

So here are two things that I am struggling with:

The first is that Christianity was born in, and has tended to flourish in, situations of oppression.  Early Christians were not people who were citizens of a democracy.  They did not have the responsibilities of citizenship that democracy demands.  I believe that these were the kind of demands that lead German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer to be involved in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.  While that was an extreme choice, I can see why he made it.  I can even see why he felt that this was where his faith lead him.  So the question comes; "how do we make decisions as Christians about what, how, and why to draw the lines between our faith and our citizenship?"

Here lies the second question.  How do I remain faithful to what I believe to be the truth that I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God first and of America second.  How do I faithfully frame the questions that will help me make decisions about my behaviors in the face of this administration's behavior?
An easy (for me) place where my citizenship and my Christianity come together well is my opposition to the incarceration of children at the border, separation of these children from their parents, and such racist attempts as the Muslim ban.

More difficult is parsing out my feelings about the rising tide of nationalism.  Not that I don't oppose it.  But how do I plant myself with an understanding that the reality is that empires rise and fall; and perhaps it is that the empire that is America is falling.  The Kingdom of God will stand.  How might I live out my faith in a time of upheaval that bordered on apochalyptic?  What might such a time demand of us who seek to live out our faith?

Finally, as a pastor, and the pastor of a congregation which because of the poverty and multi-culturalism of many of it's members is personally touched by the sins of this administration and it's supporters from the diminishment of SNAP to the refusal to speak the truth about what is happening.

There are no answers in this blog....just a sharing of the questions....and an invitation to join the conversation.  My guess is that my transitional answer will be that of Martin Luther: "Sin boldly. But believe even more boldly in Christ and rejoice."


Saturday, January 11, 2020

This I Would Spare You, My Child, If I Could, But I Cannot

This I would spare you, my child,
if I could,
But I cannot;
That day
When lying in sick
or hospital bed
You see the face of the one
That you lifted in your arms
Like a young Simba,
That you caught in strong hands
When he jumped
from pool, or bed, or tree.
Who you welcomed home
with open arms
from school, or war
or prodigal journey.
I would save you from that day,
But I cannot,
When you must see in their eyes
The shock that you
are no longer superman,
nor even immortal.
For when that day comes
you must carry the grief
Not just of your own humanity
and death,
But of their knowledge of it,
and the hole it leaves
in their heart;
Just as it left in yours
Beside your father's bed.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Samaritan In The Nursing Home

She stopped by my office to tell me
that she had cried her way through my sermon.

I thought it had been a good sermon
hitting all the right spots for a Thanksgiving week
coming of Advent proclamation:
We lean into the Hope of Advent,
thankful for what we have
brutally honest about the realities that surround us.
That hopeful leaning
calls us to honestly address
and diligently work for
justice and mercy
in the living of our daily lives.

What had caused her tears?

"I can no longer stay silent about
the problems on my job."
The ignoring of patient care needs,
the understaffing that caused
wounds to go uncared for
and patients to be ignored
she lined out for me in detail.
"Help me find out who to report this to."

a doctor in her home country,
turning patients and carrying bedpans
in her adopted home,
recognized much
that one less experienced might not see.

Putting livelihood on the line
she came to me.
I would find the numbers she needed to call.

Driving in to work
Jesus asked me,
"Which of these was more faithful to the Gospel,
the one who preached?
Or the one who lived in justice and mercy?"

"The one who lived the Gospel," I replied.

"Go thou and do likewise."

Sunday, September 22, 2019


The White Witch wanted
all Narnia to believe
that it would always be winter
but never Christmas

Rome bet that it would
always be Good Friday
Silent Saturday
but never Easter

Tortured for wearing
a t-shirt that read
"A World Without Torture,"
He walked with a crutch and a limp
But says
he'd do it all again. For
"A world without torture
is a beautiful thing."

Over a million strong
they march and strike
for climate change.
Demanding a chance
at a future
where water and air are pure.

Clad in traditional red and white
The women demonstrate
outside the UN
Peace flowers and placards
calling for an end
to genocide in Cameroon.
Far from home
The bring home's plight
to those who are supposed to care.

If a tree falls in the forest...
If a protest goes ignored...
"If the poor cry out I will hear from heaven."
"I have heard the cry of my people,
and come down to rescue them."
There is a river
that flows through the middle
of the city
And on either side are planted
the tree of life
whose leaves
are for the healing of the nations

The Arc of eternity is long
But it bends in the direction
Of Justice and Mercy
and walking Humbly
with our God.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Til They Have Faces

I have been (admittedly in a sporadic fashion) utilizing the 40-Day Journey With Howard Thurman as a devotional guide.

Today's reading utilized a quote from Thurman: "The slave was a tool, a thing, a utility, a commodity, but he was not a person. He was faced constantly with the imminent threat of death..."  As I read it, I could not help but compare this situation to that of so many today:  immigrants with deadly illnesses fearing deportation; separated children and unaccompanied minors; marginalized persons in inner cities; those from the Bahamas seeking refuge after Dorian; those caught in sex trafficking; and on...
These are the ones that Thurman refers to as "having their backs against the wall."

The scripture that was used with this quote was from Philemon, Paul's letter on behalf of a runaway slave who had been converted to Christianity: "so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother..."

My title for this particular blog is a take off on C.S. Lewis's Til We Have Faces, in which his main character speaks of the importance of relating to God in vulnerability (having a face) that lets us be truly seen.

I am concerned that much of the discussion currently regarding immigration and poverty; healthcare and homelessness sees the individuals involved as commodities, as "things" rather than people with faces and stories.

The strength, and task, of the Christian faith is to see them as brothers and sisters to care for not as commodities to be used.  The problem with political approaches to these issues is that they too often see these persons as political commodities, timing their concern and willingness to work with the opposing party to match their greatest benefit to their side.

Our task as Christians, it seems to me, is to ensure that these people have faces.  That first of all, we see them as brothers and sisters...because we have engaged in relationship with them.  This means that our first task is to discover who near us "has their backs against the wall" and get to know them as persons.  When they matter to us as family, as persons, as brothers and sisters, our advocacy becomes personal.  As they become beloved brothers and sisters we move forward and meet the Risen Christ in our relationship with them.  Our relationship becomes worship.  This is truly Kingdom work.