Sunday, April 08, 2018

Windsor Hills Camp


In the summer of 2002, my girlfriend was traveling for Eastern Nazarene College on a summer ministry team. I had opted not to try out that year as I had some other responsibilities. One day I drove the eight hours down to her hometown in Maryland to ask her parents if I could marry her. They said yes. So I drove back up to my home in southern New Hampshire, got a good night's sleep, and then the next morning drove an hour or so up to Windsor Hills Camp just outside of HIllsboro, NH  where  Meghan's team was stationed for a week to help lead teen camp.

Meghan was surprised to see me and was able to get a couple of hours off. So we drove a bit away from the campground to a nearby state park where I proposed to her. We had talked about getting married, but she was surprised nonetheless and after I asked a second time (being so surprised that she didn't say anything), she said yes.

I don't think that I mindfully considered it at the time, but it was quite appropriate for me to propose to Meghan there by Windsor Hills. So much of my life had been shaped on that campground. Meghan and I had fallen in love traveling to camps and churches when we were on the same summer ministry team the year before. And once we came back to New England after seminary, our church took an annual retreat to the camp for ten years.

Our last retreat was just in February and it looks like it will be our last at Windsor Hills as the campground is now going up for sale.

It's an awesome campground, but it takes quite a bit to keep running. Some very good friends have run the camp over the years and each one of them sacrificed mightily to make things go. I prayed often for those people. Our church did not much, but at least a little bit to support them over the years. I'm so thankful for people like Ron Boyd, Brian Kelley, Rick & Sandy Smith, Dan & Nancy Whitney, and Joe & Tammy Baldinger.

I've written on sacred space a bit before, but I'm reflecting again. There are many places that have provided the vehicular means for the sacred in my life. Some have gone and others remain. It's untrue to say that the space doesn't matter and only that which happens there does. The Christian faith believes in the sacramental and that is to say that God acts within the physical. Locations, buildings, and geography all count.

But it's also untrue to say that something can't continue to happen because of the death or loss of a certain space or location. We can lament its loss, but we need not despair in its going.

Windsor Hills has been such a huge part of my life. Since the New England District Church of the Nazarene bought the came in the 80s, there have been but two years when I didn't make it up there, and that was when I was in seminary in Kansas City. Other than that, I've been a tadpole camper, boys & girls camper, Jr. High camper, Sr. High camper, music camper (a very select few of us!), Mountain Climber, CIT (counselor-in-training), counselor, volunteer, and my church has had TEN annual retreats during the winter in the Inn. I have pictures of me helping to raise the walls of the Inn. Some people remember the yellow tent in which we had chapel, but even before that, I remember worshiping in the outdoor amphitheater that was where the lower fire ring now sits.   I will miss Windsor Hills like I miss a dead family member.   But I totally support the decision. I once heard a preacher purport that Jesus would never have owned a family photo album. I don't know if that's true, but over the years the notion has challenged some of my sentimentalism. The Kingdom exists within the material, but it doesn't exist materially. So I'll look forward to new vessels that more efficiently carry the mission for tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Facebook and the Influence of Fake News

I've always been fascinated by Mark Zuckerberg, probably mainly due to my proximity to his area of upbringing and the birthplace of Facebook, but certainly also due to his age and persona.

This article doesn't really add too much that's new to the whole conversation concerning what Facebook is and does, but it is an interesting read in considering just what is the power of Facebook. (For one: the article points out that there is now only one people sub-group larger than "Facebook users" - Christians.)

Just this past Sunday (before reading this article), I told my congregation that I was about to get all legalistic on them. And then I told them to stop using Facebook. I was somewhat joking, but they also know that I wasn't completely.

So after reading the article let me say something about myself. There is something growing inside of me that makes me very uncomfortable.

I don't care as much.

I just don't.

It's not that I don't want to care anymore. I just find myself caring less and less about what is going on in the greater world. There are a couple of reasons that I've explored within myself about this happening.

At first, I was concerned about my own spirituality, as I've tried to be a proponent of compassion and solidarity with those suffering. I've tried to use my mouthpiece - be it this blog or Twitter or Facebook or whatever - to speak for those who aren't being spoken for. I mean, Jesus doesn't want people to suffer and die, so I shouldn't either, right? But I find little desire in myself to speak out anymore. What can I say after Las Vegas? What can I say after another black man is shot in the back as he runs? People tell me that what I say matters and I believe it does. But unfortunately, the forum in which we choose to do so today provides little to no actual positive change whatsoever.

Second, I began to think that the an abundance of tragedies has caused me to become calloused. I see many people wondering about this same thing. But as I've thought about it, I don't really think that tragedy is any more present in the world than usual today. It's just that the way we receive these events and deal with it has. Which I acknowledge could mean that I'm calloused indeed. But it's not because of the amount of tragedy.

So I'm searching for why my feelings have changed. I believe that I do care. I care that people are dying and are suffering from a variety of unjust things: violence, racism, poverty, and more. I just don't see that my interaction and yelling at people about the injustice of it all will really do anything.

And so I'm searching the heart of my center which I purport to be that guy from 1st century Nazareth. It seems so right to think that he would be a loud voice in the conversations of today. But as I read the gospels, it doesn't seem to be his approach. Why wasn't he in Rome protesting the injustice and brutality of the crucifixion system? (...a violence that I don't think we really know or understand today.)

For one, he seemed to focus the angst of his message (when it showed up at all) not toward greater society, but toward those who regarded themselves to be the people of God.

You may accuse me of sticking my head in the sand, and you may be right. But I am leaning more and more to the conclusion that what we need isn't a "solution" to these world problems. That is - if I'm reading the cruciform example of Jesus Christ right - it's not really about what the world needs at all. It's about following the leading of a guy who wasn't too interested in solving big problems than he was about meeting the problems of people around him one at a time.
Even so, the atrocities of genocide and ethnic cleansing still ring loudly, whether it's 1930-40s Europe or 1990s Rwanda or (and do we even have the knowledge to say this?)...2017 Myanmar. I don't know. Feel free to help me out with this. But please...don't use the words "slippery slope" with me. I find no evidence of such speaking in Christ's ministry and it's frustratingly annoying that so many Christians continue to do so.

I don't really have a conclusion or question with this post. I guess I'm just passing the article along and asking everyone to continue to consider what Facebook is doing, more so on a smaller scale at the level of our individuals selves and our families, churches, and local communities. And I'm not really believing in any great conspiracy, as though someone(s) at Facebook have a grand plan. That's actually one of the things that I think the article points out: the phenomenon of Facebook is one that perhaps no one is controlling. Maybe it's simply happening and evolving before us. I'm not sure if that's comforting or not. It may be true that I believe that if the wrong group of people got a hold of Facebook, they could do a whole lot of damage (if they haven't already).

Again, this is not really a new consideration, although I'm trying to consider what it does to me more than others at the moment. It's easy to point and blame how fake news is spoiling everyone else around us than it is to consider how slightly fake news might be affecting my own self.

The fact is not lost on me that in my desire to share this article, I know that the best way to do so is on Facebook...I mean, I don't even have y'all's email addresses. But please, if you feel the need to respond to what I'm saying, read the article. It's pretty important to the context of what I've said here.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Cross & Culpability

I've been led to think about culpability, theologically-speaking, quite a bit in the past several months. As a participant in the Social Action committee at the General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene, it was frustrating to me how many times people stood to speak against the idea of us making a corporate statement as a denomination about a given issue in case it looked like we were then accepting culpability for something we didn't do.

At first, as a human, I understand this tendency to safe-guard reputation. As a parent, I want to warn my kids where and with whom they are seen. While I can state that physical safety is the main goal, if I'm honest, it's also because I care about their reputation. Reputation matters in this world. A good one will make things a lot easier in the long run.

But when I think theologically, and more specifically, christologically, and even more specifically, soteriologically, I am caused to remember that I have chosen to let Christ and the cross serve as the primary determinative for my perspective and action. The cross isn't simply personally salvific; it is corporately prescriptive. What the community of Christ says and does together will be shaped by the cross of Christ.

So if Christ were to have said, "I didn't do it, so I will not participate in its redemption," then damn us all.

But he didn't. Culpability is exactly what Christ took upon himself on the cross, and in doing so, he accepted it and then made way for it to be dealt with in grace and love. It wasn't the safest thing to do. And it wasn't the easiest thing to do. But it was the divine thing to do, which means it's the Christlike thing to do. Thus, it is our call.

I truly believe that in following Christ, part of our call to evangelism is to take upon ourselves the suffering of others, even if it is the result of sin for which we are not culpable, and even if it is the result of sin that those others themselves are culpable for. That is good news indeed, and not news today's society really knows much about. Everyone else is to blame and so no one is to blame.

So let's be clear: Christ's cross was never meant to save face. It was meant to save lives. Passing on the culpability of others will save face. But that wasn't Christ's game. He came to save life. And the things of violence and fear and racism are deeply embedded life problems. Let the Church be at the forefront of absorbing this pain so that it can be dealt with in grace and love.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Political Conventions and the Likelihood of a Messiah


I understand that people can't intellectually accept the idea of God, and even more specifically, Jesus Christ. I get it. There are some days even for me when deism or atheism just makes sense within all human reason.

What I can't understand is how many of these same people put just as much faith as I try to have in Christ into modern human political saviors who are just as much of a possible projection of nothingness as seems to be the story of a man who lived and died and lived again some 2000 years ago.

The amount of fervor and hope projected at a political convention can rival any church service any where. (One could make similar observations about sports or a Hollywood movie franchise, except that most people who sit in these arenas understand that athletes and characters are entertainers, even if their fans put more time and stock into them than anything else in life.) It's even more amazing that the masses continue to do this even after an every-four-years reminder that no one ever keeps all those promises. There is encouragement in this observation for me though: people have hope. Regardless of the side of the political aisle, they have hope that a human being can actually fix their problems or at least be the catalyst to do so. Many of the tactics by which they hope that this hope comes to fruition are hopeless, but it's good to at least see that people have some kind of hope in a person.

It's clear that the desire for a messiah is a rather universal human phenomenon (I'm sure there are exceptions). I accept the human notion that I'm wasting my time following a guy who's far removed from modern reasonableness. But we have yet to see that Hillary, Barack, Ronald, or the Donald are any more salvific, and certainly not remotely close to the same blamelessness.

So for me, I choose to follow the narrative and person of the humble, loving Middle Eastern guy from Nazareth. You can call me a sucker, and it's certainly possible that we'll find that to be true someday. But don't try and tell me that any of these other saviors are any closer to reality.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Humans, Pets, & Love


I am a dog lover. Always have been. I can count the number of years of my life that the household in which I live has been without a dog (or two) on one hand. I currently have a dog. Well...a Chihuahua, but close enough. I love his affection, companionship, and the safe space that he provides for me after a long day.

The question I want to pose is: To what extent can and do pets serve as a hindrance from practicing the love of God amongst humanity (a call I believe to be central to God's will)?

Some pertinent thoughts, both for and against such a question:

The joke is told: Why is a dog better than a spouse? Well...if you lock them both in the trunk of you car overnight, which one will be happier to see you in the morning?

Loving pets is mostly very easy. If you don't love them, you don't have to have them. If you do love them, it's pretty much pure joy. Loss can be hard, but in the long run, it's easy to pass love upon a pet.

It's not always so easy to love humans. Yet that is part of our primary call in the gospel: to love humanity.

It's notable to me that in the creation story, the companionship of animals did not provide what God perceived as the antithesis of loneliness. Only another human fulfilled the solution to the problem that "It's not good for man to be alone."

Animals are part of creation. Nurturing creation is part of God's will for humanity. I am one who believes that all of creation is being and will be redeemed, including animals. I look forward to an eternity that includes the whole animal kingdom.*

Yet...how much of who we are supposed to be is transferred upon animals, particularly in USian society? The financial numbers are astounding. As much as I love my dog, I am confounded by what is presented to me when we make a visit to the vet. Some who know me may remember the saga with my previous dog (a chocolate lab) who was the victim of a horribly botched spaying which led us to the animal ER where I had to make an excruciating decision of whether to save her or not (we did...and I still wrestle with it). I'm pretty sure that I'll not make the same kind of decision with our current dog (whose neutering went perfectly fine).

Anyway, I'm open to conversation. Pastorally and ecclesiologically, I see it as a potential problem; a hindrance to our work we're called to in the Church. I see people whose lives seem to bear witness to the idea that they don't need anything else because they have their pet. While on the surface this is cute and perhaps can even be called pragmatically productive, I wonder about it in the grand plan of the Kingdom of God.

Animals can certainly serve in wonderful ways that humans cannot. I have friends with service dogs, helping out in the areas of sight loss as well as anxiety prevention and transference. I think these are wonderful companions and a great example of how God meant for humans and the rest of creation to co-exist.

It is true that the divine love within us can be inappropriately transferred to pretty much anything. Whether it's money, possessions, or even inappropriate human relationship, this is often called idolatry. It's recently become popular to conclude that the opposite of addiction is human love rather than sobriety, a conclusion with which I tend to agree. There's nothing inherently evil about animals (yes, yes...even snakes and cats). I just wonder why we don't call ourselves to task on this with pets more often.

I like to go running at one of the local dog parks in Hingham (Bare Cove - it's awesome, you should go there). I love seeing people walking their dogs. Often, dogs are the beginning of human connection, the start to a conversation that likely wouldn't otherwise occur if not for the pet. But I also see a lot of people who seemingly escape human interaction via their pet.

What do you think?

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*Tangentially related, Wesley's sermon, The General Deliverance is a great read concerning the salvation of nonhuman animals.