Monday, November 21, 2011

Penn State, Fathering, & the Nonviolence of Christ via Pastor Rudy Rasmus

Often when people get into a discussion of the nonviolent response of Christ, and thus, of his followers, the typical response is a presentation of the hypothetical question: "But what about if someone is hurting someone you love? What would you do then?"

As one convinced of Christ's peaceable living, and as one who loves my wife and four children dearly...this is a haunting question. (It's also a little bit of a ridiculous question, not because I can't imagine it happening, but because there is a certain insanity after a while when it comes to hypothetical questions. Life is not hypothetical.). I recently read a short book by John Hower Yoder, who many see as the go-to when it comes to Christian pacificism that seeks to begin to "answer" this question. It was a great read. But part of the insanity of this over-simplified question is that there is no over-simplified answer, at least not for the pacifist.

Today, I found a video thanks again to from Pastor Rudy Rasmus. I've only heard of/from Rasmus a couple of times, but I perceive him to be a man of one message: love, and love at all costs. So I was intrigued as to what his response would be in light of the Penn State child sexual abuse situation. He responds not as a pastor, but as a father who follows Christ. I appreciate his honesty.

"Daddy, I would have hated to have lost twice."

Crossing Over To Love from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Great Prayer

Your kingdom come around and through and in me;
Your power and glory, let them shine through me;
Your Hallowed name, O may I bear with honor,
And may Your living Kingdom come in me.
The Bread of Life, O may I share with honor,
And may You feed a hungry world through me.

Once every three months or so, I listen to this version of Gloria Gaither's song, I Then Shall Live. I'd probably otherwise assume that the Gaither Band is a "sweet-by-and-by---someday-we'll-get-to-heaven" kind of propagation...and I'd be wrong.

Pretty much the whole song is quotable ("I've been so loved that I'll risk loving too!"), but the third verse above is such a great prayer for your day and your life, here and now.

May it be so.

Friday, November 11, 2011

After the Yellow Ribbon, Pre-Conference

Why would someone who believes in the nonviolence of the cross of Christ decide to go to a conference based around our response to and support of American soldiers?

Today is Veteran's Day. I'm right now sitting at JFK Airport in New York City on a layover from Boston to Raleigh-Durham for a Conference at Duke University. There are yellow balloons everywhere, probably 500 or so just within 100 feet of me, in bunches and making a huge archway. There is a troop of Boy Scouts, probably 15-20 of them here, waiting for soldiers from the New York National Guard to come in from a flight. My Facebook feed is saturated with patriotic pictures, thanks made to veterans, and yellow ribbons. People are remembering veterans today. This is of mixed emotions for me.

A problem with holidays is that we tend to reserve the designated celebration or thankfulness for those holidays. But my mother is my mother 365 days a year and not just a day in May. And it's good to be thankful on days other than November 25th. And we would do well to resolve to do well in our lives other than on the first day of the year.

So I fear that I will forget veterans tomorrow and the day after. It's likely that most of the country will as well. 

I've twice now read the stat that veterans of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are committing suicide at the rate of 17 a day.

...seventeen a day...

I didn't even know that there were that many vets to go around. (I still kind of question the statistic.)

The ongoing effects of war and the results of fighting in war are so incomprehensible to me. I truly can ONLY imagine. Stanley Hauerwas calls us to consider the difficult transitions and situations that soldiers go to in the video below.

Hauerwas on moral fragmentation

And so I hate the wars. I hate that the most powerful nation in the world chose to fight them in the ways that she has. I hate the money that has gone into them. I hate that men and women from the United States have died by the thousands in them. I hate that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans have died, many of whom were not soldiers. 

Selfishly, I hate most of all that Bobby Moscillo is dead today because of the war in Iraq. 

So in a few hours I will be sitting with a group of people listening to and responding to the topic of our response to the homecoming of soldiers. 

Why am I going?

Because the compassion of Christ to which I am called is for all. I'm no great futurist or sociologist, but I can imagine that there will be veterans whose lives have been drastically affected by these wars around us for decades to come. As a pastor in a small church, I expect that I will come across many of them in the coming years. Indeed, I already have.

There are a variety of ways that evil causes us to suffer. Veterans are suffering after returning home from the evils of war the likes of which I cannot imagine. Christ's call is for his followers to identify the suffering and suffer with them ("with suffering" = com - passion). 

That's why I'm going.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Wesley's Spiritual Disciplines

When my good friend, Dr. John Reilly, first spoke to me about Wesley's spiritual disciplines as though there was a set group or list of them, I was intrigued. As much as I'm not a big fan of checklists, Wesley's writings are so extensive that having a scholar succinctly translate important aspects of what he said is helpful.

After that conversation, I went home and searched for them, but didn't easily find any comprehensive or generally agreed-upon list. I emailed John, and he sent me something that had been compiled from Dr. Henry ("Hal") Knight's dissertation, which is now in published book form: The Presence of God in the Christian Life: John Wesley and the Means of Grace. Don't look for the Kindle version and be prepared to spend at least $50 if you want it in book form. This compilation/list is at the end of this post in three parts.

Recently, I was able to hear John present some work from his own dissertation, and he gave what I think is a more comprehensive work. This list is his own compilation. Some asked me to share this when I returned, so here they are - John Wesley's Spiritual Disciplines:
  • Prayer - Personal/Corporate
  • Fasting - Personal/Corporate
  • Journaling - Personal
  • Solitude - Personal/Corporate
  • Silence - Personal/Corporate
  • Bible Reading - Personal/Corporate
  • "Feeding" the Poor - Personal/Corporate
  • Christian Conferencing - Corporate
  • Circumstantial Grace - Personal/Corporate
John was continually insistent on reminding us that all of these are framed around, pointed at, and intentionally directed to a heart of love. So the practices don't matter unless they are directed at this purpose.

Now I don't believe that they were ever presented in such a list/form by Wesley himself. Let's remember that Wesley's writings are extensive. Sometimes I feel like if something can be said one way or another, then Wesley said it that way at some point. He often changed his mind. So a single voice in the totality of his writings is often difficult to ascertain. Nonetheless, I find the above list helpful as I consider my own discipleship and the oversight of others. They can certainly be demonstrated to be within the totality of Wesley's encouragement to those who listened to him.

I'd love to believe that in the next several weeks I might blog a post commenting on each one, but those who know me know that this will not happen. So let me comment generally:

For me, discipleship is firstly formed by Christ. As I look at this list, I can understand from the witness of scripture Jesus Christ himself participating in a form of each one, with the exceptions of journaling and perhaps silence (we might assume it from his regular solitude, but it's not there explicitly). But the rest are easily demonstrated to be within his own discipleship, even in both forms and all of them are within scripture. I haven't yet explained that this list was given with the distinction of whether or not each practice can be either personal, corporate, or both. Wesley apparently encouraged the distinction, and practicing each both individually and in community as was possible.

Any time a list is presented, one runs the risk of codification or fostering legalism. I'm willing to run that risk since discipleship is so impoverished these days. At least in my own tradition, discipleship generally means "Sunday School" and "book studies." The intentional and regular practice of fasting, solitude, silence, etc. is reserved for old saints, super-pastors, and monks. Even for a denomination that prides itself on compassionate ministry, it's vastly encouraged as a means to change the world rather than to change me.

There are obviously things not on the list, namely for me: evangelism. While evangelism is generally not considered an act of discipline/discipleship, I argue that it indeed is. Jesus, in forming his own disciples, sent them out to evangelize as an act. Evangelism is a spiritual discipline and is the last one Jesus handed on in the synoptics. Making disciples is part of our discipleship in Christ. 

Now, for the list as given from Dr. Knight:

All means of grace have as their end the life of love, the Christian life.

General Means of Grace
  • Universal obedience
  • Keeping all the commandments
  • Watching
  • Denying ourselves
  • Taking up our cross daily
  • Exercise of the presence of God

Instituted (Particular) Means of Grace
  • Prayer: private, family, public; consisting of deprecation, petition, intercession, thanksgiving; extemporaneous, written
  • Searching scripture by reading, meditating, hearing; attending the ministry of the word, either read or expounded
  • The Lord’s Supper
  • Fasting, or abstinence
  • Christian Conferencing, which includes both the fellowship of believers and rightly ordered conversations which minister grace to hearers

Prudential Means of Grace
  • Particular rules or acts of holy living
  • Class and band meetings
  • Prayer meetings, covenant services, watch night services, love feasts
  • Visiting the sick
  • Doing all the good one can, doing no harm
  • Reading devotional classics and all edifying literature

Monday, October 31, 2011

Why give a nod to Halloween?

I have a love-hate relationship with Halloween.

Not big on the candy, costumes, and hoop-la.
But I think it's a great opportunity to remind us of life & love.

I don't really single it out. There are aspects of Easter and Christmas that bug me too. And I find little value in Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Mothers'-Fathers' Days, and Flag Day. (Flag Day... Really?!)

Anyway, Halloween is today. Our culture knows this: the day is second only to Christmas in terms of dollars spent in anticipation of (industry expected $6.9 billion for Halloween this year). I know it goes with the ages of my children, but it seems like the hype surrounding Halloween grows each and every year. My kids were invited to wear their costumes at their music recitals. They were invited to parties (on nights other than Oct. 31). My oldest - in first grade - even got a "boo-gram" again this year. (Kind of fun, actually: another child tapes candy to a piece of paper that says, "You've been BOOED!", puts it on the doorstep, rings the bell, and runs away.) The lawn and house ornaments and lights, etc. are so overdone, it's not even funny.  There are enough blow-up spiders on roofs in Hingham to make any arachnophobe tremble. It's unbelievable.

And why...?

With Christmas or Easter, we might explain that at least most people value the story and Christian tradition behind the holidays.

But Halloween...? Do people know?

Before I get to that, I almost forgot: my first-grade son Brayden came home from school one day last week and said, "Hey Dad, do you know the holiday called 'Day of the Dead'?"

Now I vaguely remembered hearing of this Mexican holiday, but at the moment, I just assumed he was confused: "You mean All Saints' Day, right?"

Brayden: "No, Dad. We learned in Spanish today about Day of the Dead. It's in Mexico. They all go into the cemetery and think about the dead."
Me: "Okay, Brayden, but that sounds a lot like our All Saints Day."
Brayden: "Well what's All Saints Day?"
Me: "It's a day when we remember those who have died in Christ."
Brayden: "Oh, no. Not that, Dad. My teacher said Day of the Dead has nothing to do with Jesus. It's not like rising from the dead."
Me: "Um, Brayden, when is Day of the Dead?"
Brayden: "November 1st."
Me: "Hmm...that's the same day as All Saints Day. So I imagine that they're related. Jesus is kind of important to All Saints Day."
Brayden: "That's not what my teacher said. She said it has nothing to do with Jesus."

Now I have a lot of respect for public school teachers, so I let it drop for the moment. I looked it up and remembered hearing in the past about Day of the Dead, which is indeed a national holiday in Mexico. Yep: while pre-dating even Christ with Aztec roots, the day is intentionally set on November 1st and 2nd in connection with All Saints/Souls Days. Not even sure why I looked it up.

But "it's got nothing to do with Jesus," of course. :-p

Anyway, I actually want Brayden to know about All Saints Day. So we've been having some conversations. Here's why I think Halloween is an opportunity for we who follow Christ and why I am up for working a bit to re-claim All Saints Day:

We're horrible at dealing with death. I wish I was talking about just American society in general, but it's true of my church tradition as well. So All Saints Day is a wonderful way to remind us what we believe about life, death, and resurrection by the Resurrected One himself, Jesus Christ.

So, I wrote the below for our church. For the third year in a row, we are handing out hot apple cider (for warmth), glow bracelets (for safety!), and candy (I guess because we're supposed to) to those who walk by the chapel. We're also adding about 75 milk jug luminaries around the property to light up the neighborhood. I may even pull out a table and light our red sanctuary candles that we have in memory of those saints who've gone before us. I'm hoping this continues to catch on for our church community. 


Why would an evangelical Christian church do anything on Halloween?
"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear..."
John was one of the first followers of Jesus Christ. He wrote the above words in one of the books of the Bible that's attributed to him. In today’s contemporary world, one in which much is built upon or informed by fear, our church believes rather that love is to be at the heart of what we do.
So we reject any continued and intentional effort to instill fear in anyone. Quite frankly, much of what causes fear these days is nothing at all to even be feared!

Life, Death, and Resurrection
What about participating in the evil of Halloween? It's true that many see Halloween as a night of opportunity for interacting with "evil," whatever that may be or look like. And this has mostly come from the subject of death and "what happens" after death: the folklore of ghosts, ghouls, zombies, and other scary things that we'd otherwise rather avoid. The mockery made of these things may actually be well-played, for in mockery, we are often seeking to rise above the things that scare us. But sometimes we mock things as an easy way to avoid dealing with an otherwise difficult subject.

What might be well-intentioned mockery to a child (or adult!) on October 31st may take form in untrue yet seemingly realistic and very influential ways when Grandpa or Mom or Brother dies any other time of the year.

For Christians, we don't fear death. We acknowledge its reality, but we seek to overcome it by the Resurrected Christ. We seek to speak life, light, hope, and love in the midst of death. As far as we know, we will all die someday. But those who follow the Risen Christ think differently about death, knowing that death is not the end, but a state of "rest" in which the dead are "waiting" for the return of Christ and the Great Resurrection.

So people who have died aren't wandering spirits, but instead are...well...dead. You've likely seen the popular usage of "R.I.P." on decorative Halloween tombstones, which means, "rest in peace." Well this is meaningful and not at all scary for Christians: that those who have died in Christ now lay in rest, waiting for his return.

For we who remain, we remember the dead (even with sadness sometimes), but we don't fear them! We acknowledge death, but we don't "meddle" in it. Death is for real and while mockery may help ease the all-too-often real "sting," for those who follow Christ, the true avenue to overcoming death and the hurt, despair, and other difficult things surrounding it is found in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So we "practice" the things of resurrection now: life, love, light, hope, and peace.

You may know that the Halloween of today is a descendant of a holiday of the Christian Church. Even today, many churches still give a slight nod to what is called "All Saints Day" (and also for many, the subsequent "All Souls Day"). All Saints Day (or "All Hallows Day") is November 1st and the night before ("eve") has since become "All Hallows Eve" or Halloween.

For Christians, remembering our dead is a way to proclaim the continued reign of the Resurrected Christ. We don't fear them in their deaths...we celebrate their lives. Surely we miss them. But in Christ, we know that death is only temporary.

I'm looking forward to finally preaching two corresponding series this coming Lent & Easter on death and life. I think we need it. Jesus was pretty intent on bringing healing to people, good morals and all. But his life & ministry culminated on the cross and out of the empty tomb. This is our message.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Bringing a little Dorchester" to Hingham

"We're bringing a little Dorchester with us."

That's what Donnie Wahlberg said last night at the grand opening/premiere/party thing that opened up the new Wahlburgers restaurant about 2 miles from where I live, minister, and worship.

I find the statement so ironic. It's what I often wish would happen in Hingham.

Now the Wahlberg boys aren't stupid. Chef Paul (brother to the famous Donnie of NKOTB and even more famous Mark) chose the Hingham Shipyard as the location for his two (soon to be three) restaurants and not their actual hometown of Dorchester. Dorchester would have been a horrible business decision. The first restaurant is reportedly doing very well, and the second - scheduled to open to the public today - will likely as well. If the likes of the people who showed up to the private yet well-publicized premiere opening last night have anything to do with it, it will be just fine. David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, Danny Paille, and Rob Gronkowski were all there, completing the four major Boston sports teams. Alas, the minister from the closest house of worship was not invited. :-) And I'm not sure if the poor were there either. But I could be wrong.

Anyway, it's them (the poor) that made me write today.

At the very same time that these were celebrating the new establishment, much of the rest of Hingham was focused on establishing the financial foundation for a new middle school to the tune of $60.9 million. After much debate, the article at Hingham Town Meeting passed just fine by 82 votes (it now goes to general election this Saturday). I couldn't make it to the special Town Meeting as I had an Overseers meeting for the church, but I'm not sure how I would have voted had I been there. If and when I do go, I like to listen to the heart of democracy work (the New England town meeting is a thing of beauty and wonder) and then decide.

But I'm not really in the business of deciding the need for a new school. I think education is important, but I'm not overly worried about the quality of education in Hingham. I tend to think that the space is much less important than the people (teachers) and the medium (curriculum, etc.). But you do need a place to make these things happen. As it stands I "kind of" have three children in Hingham Schools: my oldest is in first grade and my twin girls go to the Integrated Preschool that we can't afford for about 10 hours a week. So I recognize and affirm the need for education and the much more subservient need for a place to do it.

...I'm just not sure why it takes $60.9 million.

Some of the scare tactics used to lobby for the school were laughable: "Crack forms in ceiling. Need new school." I guess I grew up in a different way: if the car needed a new radiator, we didn't buy a new car, we got a new radiator. I don't want to downplay the importance of fixing things for safety's sake. I do want to downplay the desire for fresh paint and an auditorium in a middle school. The middle school I went to (in a fairly wealthy town) had no auditorium. That was for the likes of a high school. And "not adequate space" for the music room? mean there's a music room!? And did you see all those instruments!? Anyway, I'm way too into details at this point.

What is my point?

It's in moments like these that I wish we could really do what Donnie Wahlberg suggests: bring a little Dorchester to Hingham. When I read the local paper and see people go on and on with the passion and zeal of Dr. King himself about where to put stoplights and whether or not the lines downtown should be yellow like everyone else's or red, white, and blue for the 4th of July, it makes me want to rent some coach buses and take my fellow Hinghamites a few miles down the road to Dorchester. Just to get out, ya know?

I want to give the town of Hingham some credit. If there's a need, the community is going to take care of it. The school system is pretty good, the roads are well-paved, and the stoplights are pretty (although the way we handle trash and recyclables needs to go!). The average home selling price is above $700,000 for good reason. Despite the "horrible" economy of the past several years, the housing market in Hingham hardly took a hit. There are houses on my street in which I could run from one side to the other in less than a second (=small...and I've got bad knees) that have sold multiple times in the last couple of years for over half a million dollars. Even the tiny house that I live in which is need of some repair and a decent paint job (again!) is assessed near $500,000 (five years ago).***

Further, there are really smart, thoughtful, and resourceful people here who know how to find money and exercise the various grants, funds, etc. available from nonprofits and levels of government outside the town. Example: did you know that there are grants that you can apply for to purchase a boat pump out stationSomeone in Hingham did. Props to them! And this $60.9 million middle school will actually "only" cost the taxpayers of Hingham $35.6 million because the state is kicking in some $25 million.

...If I lived in Dorchester, I'd kind of wonder why Hingham is getting $25 million dollars to build a new school. I mean...really? Hingham needs help building a school?

I'm not offering answers here, just throwing out these thoughts as a way of thinking more deeply than a scare-tactic YouTube video (Single-pane windows!? The horror! Can't we get new windows?). Education isn't about facility. Facilities are servants to more important things.

In six years, if I'm still in Hingham, my oldest son will go to the new middle school. I'm sure it will be great. And I understand about the opportune time in regard to the state funds.

I just struggle with the amount of money.

***Disclosure: By the way, I should really point out that I am hardly a Hingham taxpayer. I am a resident of almost six years, but the only taxes I've paid are from my vehicle and I believe, a small entertainment/food tax from the restaurants. The church owns the house we live in, and being a nonprofit, pays no real estate taxes. I'm conflicted by this when I consider town issues. So I don't even really have reason to complain as the tax increases won't affect me. I'll never be able to afford to buy in Hingham.

Friday, October 07, 2011

A Non-Resistant Ethical Blueprint?

I basically am typing this out and posting it for future reference as it describes better how nonviolence plays out for the one(s) following Christ.
If we took the precept of non-resistance as an ethical blueprint for general application, we should indeed be indulging in idealistic dreams: we should be dreaming of a utopia with laws which the world would never obey. To make non-resistance a principle for secular life is to deny God, by undermining his gracious ordinance for the preservation of the world. But Jesus is no draughtsman of political blueprints, he is the one who vanquished evil through suffering. It looked as though evil had triumphed on the cross, but the real victory belonged to Jesus. And the cross is the only justification for the precept of non-violence, for it alone can kindle a faith in the victory over evil which will enable men to obey that precept. And only such obedience is blessed with the promise that we shall be partakers of Christ's victory as well as of his sufferings. (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship)
Pardon my Bennet Brauer quotational-tendencies for a moment, but when I first starting flirting with these understandings of Christ several years ago (just out of seminary), I was told by that I would "get over it," it was "just a phase," that I was "idealistic," etc. I was "out of touch with reality." At one panel discussion on nonviolence, one senior clergy-person said to me: "Yes, but Jeremy, right now there are terrorists hiding in those mountains who have a notion to kill innocent people," as if I didn't think about that.

In the years since, I've been more silent about my understanding of the nonviolent Christ. But my faith conviction in the prescriptive cross has not gone away and has actually only been kindled as I continue to watch the powers of the world bicker and smolder in a struggle of power and control. And by "powers" I don't only mean nation-states, but also the individuals around me (including myself) who so often resort to the ways and means of control to make situations as I would have them to be.

There is no blueprint, really. That would be another Law. Rather, there is a call to follow Jesus in the moments of life. Questions of "What if someone's rapin' your Grandma?" might slightly begin to help flesh out what to do, but only obedience to the will of God by the grace of God will lead us as it did Christ.

So really, it's not about "killing or not killing" at all. If the discussion/debate focuses there, we're doing no better. It's not even a discussion at all, really. And it's certainly not a "position" (of pacifism, or whatever else you want to call it). It's a decision to follow in the path and example of the crucified Christ. Obedience...

The notion of, "Yes, but in real life..." doesn't stop Jesus. We'd all be in big trouble if it did.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Prayer on the 10th Anniversary of 9-11

I participate in the local religious leaders group here in Hingham (Hingham & Hull Religious Leaders Association). It's a great group of people. We meet monthly for fellowship, conversation, and to challenge one another, usually in the form of a current topic, issue, need, etc. We also have various events and services (MLK Day, Thanksgiving Service, etc.). This year, we are gathering in the afternoon on the 10th anniversary of 9-11 to have a service of remembrance for the day. We are also ringing our various chapel/church bells throughout town in the morning at the time of the second WTC building collapse.

This occasion is of mixed emotions for me. It's no secret that I'm not a big fan of how the United States has responded. I don't know all the answers. I know that my hope is in a peace that rises above the ever-contradictory "fight for peace." A lot of things have been said since then:
"It changed the world forever."
"We'll never be the same."
"We'll never forget."

I challenge the notion of these kinds of statements. I'm not sure we have changed. I think the world is pretty much the same as it was before: one big power struggle between human beings. The powerful have become stronger, the powerless have become weaker, and fear reigns. It's with these notions and others that I wrote this prayer for the 10th anniversary of that horrible day.

So Keep Us True to Our Words
Jeremy Scott

9-11 happened.
We responded.
And we respond.
Help us.

We've said, "We will never forget."
So help us to do so out of respect for and in memory of those lost,
And not out of revenge toward those responsible,
For we understand that to be yours.

We've said, "We will never be the same."
So help us to bring this to fruition:
That we might not be the same as those who've sought to destroy us:
Returning fire for fire; But instead, love, despite the fire.

We've said, "We will never forget."
So help us to remember that which it takes and means to make peace;
That our re-member-ance would be all 'putting-back-together'
And not an excuse for more 'tearing apart'.

We've said, "We will never be the same."
So help us to make this true:
That this day ten years ago would indeed make us different:
Our love: only genuine;
Our hate: only of those things that are evil;
Our holding on: only to that which is good.
Our quest to outdo: only in the things of honor.

We've committed to keep shopping.
So help us spend the currencies of mercy, grace, and love,
All in the favor of the universal product-good that is peace.

So cast from us fear,
Deep into your love.

Thus, keep us true to our words.


Monday, August 01, 2011

Belief, Faithing, & Doctrine

 "I believe what I write, or rather, by writing I learn to believe. But then I do not put much stock in 'believing in God.' The grammar of 'belief' invites a far too rationalistic account of what it means to be a Christian. 'Belief' implies propositions about which you get to make up your mind before you know the work they are meant to do. Does that mean I do not believe in God? Of course not, but I am far more interested in what a declaration of belief entails for how I live my life."

The above is from Stanley Hauerwas in his memoir, Hannah's Child.

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord', will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?' Then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.'"

The above is from Jesus in Matthew 7.

Why is it so hard for so many Christians to realize that Jesus' call is to action and not simply to "head-think"? "We're saved by faith and not by works!" is the general response. But the New Testament is full of statements like the one from Jesus above, not to mention that faith is inherently active in the Bible from beginning to end.

Bryan Stone points out that this is another word where the English language fails us. "Faith" is a noun and not a verb. We shift to "believe" when we want a verb, but this doesn't actually work. Dr. Stone (half-jokingly, I think I remember) proposes a new word to help us: "faithing." Faith is not faith unless it is active.

It's not unlike a marriage. If a husband sits on the computer all day, calling out "I love you!" once an hour to his wife, all the rest of the while doing nothing to demonstrate this, his words will eventually move from intimacy to platitude, from truth to lie, from actuality to fantasy. He might like the idea of loving her, but he doesn't actually love her simply by saying it.

The distinction of "saved by faith while judged by works" is helpful to begin, but it's still a head-think, doctrinal way of describing what happens. That's a start, but if faith is to be faith, our feet will move out of faith from the love and mission of God, not a law or doctrine.

Doctrine is great in telling us what happens, but not so great in helping us get there.

As usual, I appreciate Hauerwas' honesty. There is a vulnerability in writing and crafting, whether it's in a book, a sermon, on a blog, or on Facebook. The temptation is to think that we have to have everything perfect and correct before "putting it out there." And who can blame us? Our elementary, middle, and high school teachers demanded such excellence. But life is rarely lived in the finished product. We want to put out our best, but we can only get there by trying out what we've got first.

It's the same with our faith(fulness) in God, in our discipleship behind Christ. We generally read the passages of Peter, or Thomas, or Philip, or another disciple saying something stupid to Jesus with an air of pity, but at least they tried. And they eventually got it. Or even if they didn't fully grasp it (for who of us can?), moving through mistake or doubt at least eventually took them to greater places.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Wild Goose (Part 4 of the Bible)

If you're still with me after the first three parts of this, you may find yourself asking, "So what?".

I think it's important how we view scripture. Allow me to do something I'm not too big a fan of: proof-texting:
It cannot become what the Law was for the Pharisees.
It cannot replace God.
It is not God. It is God's servant.
And it is our servant (useful!).

I struggle when I see faith statements or church belief statements that begin not with God, but with scripture. Our story doesn't begin in or with scripture. It begins with God (even scripture says so). Faith does not come from the Bible, faith is fed and shaped by the Bible. The Bible is not the "source" of our faith or the "foundation" of who we are.  Jesus is (by the Holy Spirit.)

Speaking of the Holy Spirit...sometimes it feels to me like the primal authority that is often given to scripture cheapens the active presence, work, and person of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, by the way, did not leave us the Bible. Jesus left us his Holy Spirit. We didn't trust ourselves a couple of centuries later, and thusly canonized scripture (and it's a good thing, because we certainly did/do need it).

But ultimately, anything is nothing without the active presence (=inspiration) of the Holy Spirit. We can understand that this was the same Spirit of God that inspired the people who spoke and wrote scripture and is the same Spirit of God who helps us with it today.

Faith is not so easily a matter of black and white. And the spotlight of our faith (the Holy Spirit) is not a matter of black and white. There is a good reason that the Holy Spirit is called "spirit" and not a Holy "Rock" or Holy "Head" or Holy "Statue" or anything else that we can easily see, manipulate, control, or stick in our pockets. Material things can be controlled. But you can't control the things of spirit. We might even say that it blows where it pleases. Further, there are good reasons that the Holy Spirit is described by images like stillness, fire, wind, and loud noises. Again: none of those are easily controlled.

We're able to control the words of the Bible with our own power. We can shape and form them as we see fit. And we do so very often (all of us). None of us come to the scriptures with unbiased lenses. But the Holy Spirit doesn't live in our pockets or in covers with zippers that Grandma stitched. (I was recently informed that a Celtic image for the Holy Spirit is the "wild goose." Not bad. Though even a goose can be caught and manipulated for our own purposes.)

It's difficult to place too much priority on things that are of divinity, but I'm comfortable saying that the Bible is subservient to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

But it's notable how they work and dance together.

So I will continue this later with a further post on how I tend to think the various ways that authority comes to us. It's my feeling that if I give the Bible too much authority, I'm actually devaluing the living and active God. I have one or two other posts brewing as well in response to questions that have come up. I'm not sure I can do this daily from here on, but I will try.
This is Part 4 of a short series on The Bible.
Part 1 - Chan, the Bible, & Jesus
Part 2 - I love the Bible. Really.
Part 3 - A Signpost and a Compass

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Signpost & Compass (Part 3 of the Bible)

N.T. Wright is one of my favorite biblical scholars (certainly the one I've read the most from). (I realize that when I make that statement, it already puts me in the danger zone in the eyes of many of my brothers and sisters in Christ.) Wright talks about the signposts of scripture. I love this image and find it very useful in talking about what scripture is and does:

A sign along the road is something that points us in the right direction to get to a destination. It is not the destination in and of itself, but without it, we may never get to the destination. Once we've passed a road sign and arrive at our destination, we don't need the sign anymore.

So to flesh the image, the destination is to be "in Christ," with Christ, etc. The Bible is a signpost to get us there. We will always need the Bible in this lifetime. But in eternity, the Bible will be quite moot. It's not part of God's creation. It's of human hands, inspired by God.

(By the way, this is one thing that separates us from those who were directly given their scripture from God like Islam (via Mohammed) or Mormons (via Joseph Smith).)

At the same time, scripture is more like a compass than it is a roadmap. A roadmap tells us exactly where and when to turn, with every step along the way. A compass points us in a direction, and we often find we need to return to the compass to be re-aligned.

The destination is Jesus.
The point is Jesus.
The Bible tells us about the point and isn't in and of itself the point.
This is Part 3 of a series on The Bible. I'll post the fourth tomorrow.
Part 1 - Chan, the Bible, & Jesus
Part 2 - I love the Bible. Really.
Part 4 - The Wild Goose

Friday, July 08, 2011

I love the Bible. Really. (Part 2 of The Bible)

I read, study, preach, and otherwise talk about the Bible for hours every week. It's kind of important to what I do as a pastor. I love scripture. I have dozens of Bibles and hundreds of biblical commentaries. The more I read scripture, the more I love it. I love the incredible melting pot of personalities, love, anger, creativity, emotion, narrative, power, weakness, divinity, humanity, poetry, art, inspiration, and so much more that the Bible is. I love reading about the people of the Bible. I'll never forget staying up late reading my children's bible as a kid (I particularly liked Joseph, David, and Daniel). Today, the gospels sit at the center for me, while Paul's description of the sacrifice of Christ and the community of his Body (the Church) continually inspire and challenge me.

But the Bible is not God, falls well short of God, is temporal, and should not be made more than it actually is. I even believe that the Church is above scripture, always has been, and always will be, even despite our whorish and schismatic brokenness today (a predicament that makes what I'm saying here challenging in orthopraxy, I know).

All by the grace and inspiration of God, the Bible was:
formed by the Church (the people of God),
selected by the Church,
has been maintained by the Church,
and is taught by the Church.

Unless one is part of a church that only reads from the original text in Hebrew, Greek, and the little bit of Aramaic and Latin (meaning no preaching, no teaching, or anything else other than reading verbatim from the original text), this is pretty much how everyone operates. Interpretation has begun the very moment that someone opens their mouth with words other than the text to explain the text.

I am glad that the Bible is the most printed book in all of history, and I am glad that it's so accessible and more accessible every day. I wish everyone in the world had a Bible. But...there is something to the concern that the RCC had about the Bible being in the hands of all during the Reformation. They were wrong in their monopolization and fist-grip, but they were partly right in their concern about what might happen. (As an aside, I loved how the movie The Book of Eli dealt in the slight with this.) Some of the greatest acts of history were inspired by the words of scripture. And some of the worst atrocities of history were supported by the same.

Don't get me wrong: I believe that God will use whatever vessel, means, path, or anything else to reveal Godself to people. If someone wants to begin with the Bible, I believe that God will honor that. But the Bible simply cannot become God, or the only source by which one finds God throughout the whole of life.

Tim Suttle discusses this wonderfully in his new book:
...the Bible is not self-explanatory. Just as the Ethiopian eunuch needed Philip to help him understand what he was reading, we need help as well. No one can read the Bible apart from community. For one thing it is a written document. You cannot read it unless you’ve been taught how to read. One has to know the language, and language is socially and culturally mediated. You have to be taught the meaning of words by someone else before you can read them. No one is born with the ability to read and understand words. For another thing, the Bible was written in languages hardly any of us can read. It has to be translated into a language which we can understand. This means as soon as we pick up an English translation, we are reading a text which has been mediated by someone else. Lastly, the Bible was never intended to be read apart from community. For the first fifteen hundred years of the Bible’s existence, until the invention of the printing press, it was read privately only in very rare cases. Our ability to read comes from community, as does the Bible itself. People love to point to the case of the addict who grabs the Gideon’s Bible from the hotel room and comes to faith in Christ as an individualistic event. But, who taught him to read? Who put the Bible there? Who translated it into English? Who authored it? Who decided what writings would be included and not included in the canon? Much of what we know about God has come to us through community and has been mediated by that community under the guidance of the Spirit. (An Evangelical Social Gospel?: Finding God's Story in the Midst of Extremes, Chapter 5)
That bold and underline emphasis is mine. The Bible is nothing without the Holy Spirit, which I'll deal with in the next post.

This is Part 2 of a series on The Bible.
Part 1 - Chan, the Bible, & Jesus
Part 3 - A Signpost and a Compass
Part 4 - The Wild Goose

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Chan, the Bible, & Jesus

So Francis Chan spoke tonight at Nazarene Youth Conference. The die-down on Twitter and Facebook of chatter piqued my curiosity a bit. People were excited about him being there. There's no doubt why: he's popular, catchy, cool, and has written what I've been told is a good book (sound familiar?, I mean really...look at those two pictures side-by-side again). But I don't see how Chan's very Wesleyan. I'm sure that he loves Jesus, Jesus loves him, and I could learn a lot from his incredible example. I hope and pray that people were changed tonight for eternity. I trust that it happened and is happening.

But if so, it was because he showed them Jesus and not just the Bible.

Several weeks ago someone posted this video on Facebook. I appreciate much of what Chan says (love the part about clay telling clay about the potter). I had to chuckle at the coupled warning to "be careful what we read" with the blatant "buy my forthcoming book" (on hell). And I find the reaction to Bell's book on hell predictable. Both Chan and Bell have ingenious marketing folk.

But the video has led me back to thinking about what I believe is the primary difference and divide amongst so many in evangelical, mainline, and other circles of the Body of Christ today.

We can list issues that vigorously separate Christians today: homosexuality, abortion, peace/war, atonement theories, the age-old Reformed/Arminian spectrum, and more. But it's more than likely that the position held by someone(s) boils down to one thing: how we read, use, and view scripture, its authority, revelation, and inspiration. That's a lot of words, but it boils down to: the Bible.

(By the way, in the time that I took to type this post out, some chatter has arisen on Twitter about NYC and how great Chan was tonight. Awesome!)

This is Part 1 of a series on The Bible.
Part 2 - I love the Bible. Really.
Part 3 - A Signpost and a Compass
Part 4 - The Wild Goose

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Some more thoughts on compassion

In the below video of Brene Brown (yeah, I'm a big fan) from Altar Video Magazine, she quotes Buddhist nun Pema Chodron who says, "Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals."

Part of her point is that we can only become truly com-passionate ("suffering with") once we have realized and actualized our own brokenness. I'm not sure I completely agree (it seems like Chodron is describing empathy more than "suffering with").

But it's likely that I'm drastically influenced by the compassion of Christ, who was both at the same time: equals ("man") and also healer ("God").  However, I definitely like how Chodron (and Brown as well) are challenging people to realize that compassion is hardly just the healthy helping the unhealthy and cannot be equated with charity.  It sounds familiar. The Incarnation is all about this.

Anyone else have thoughts?

Learning How To Sit In The Dark from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Leaving [a] Church

I'm reading a great book right now by Tim Suttle, who I had a class or two with in seminary. Perhaps I'll write a review when I'm done, but probably not. I always say I'll do something on this blog and then don't, so don't count on it (I'm sure you were).

There are a lot of "take-homes" from this book. But this paragraph is particularly chewable:
I’ve noticed a pattern within this phenomenon. People who tell me they are leaving our church always begin the decision with the same three words: “We have decided.” By the time those words are uttered, faith has already been broken. These are some of the most painful words I ever have to hear. “We have decided to leave for this or that reason.” The reasons they give vary and they usually have at least some merit. Yet they pale in comparison to the egregious sin of breaking fellowship—read faith, fidelity, faithfulness, allegiance, pistis—with that part of the body of Christ to which they have been given. This is one of the most insidious forms of individualism. Why do people feel as though they can make the decision to leave their community of faith in private, without ever submitting this decision to the rest of the body? In truth this action violates the unity of the body. It runs counter to the notion that our worship runs much deeper than simply where we go to church on Sunday. Rather worship involves the whole of our lives. To “decide” privately to leave a church means we sever deep bonds of friendship and community that are meant to be reciprocal relationships. The phrase, “We have decided,” is a sign that individualism has so pervaded our lives and our Christian faith that we think we are fully justified in making decisions on behalf of everyone in our community without consulting them. This, I believe, is one of the most damaging effects of individualism on the church.

Ouch. What's often sensitively difficult about these situations is that these people most often try to demonstrate "concern" about hurting the feelings of the pastor (me). They'll make statements like, "We really like you, but..." or "It's not you, it's..." These statements only add to the disconnect between who the Church is perceived to be (largely pastor-driven, pastor-led) and who it should be (a community of people following Christ who have a pastor).*

But I also have a bit of a difficulty with what Tim's saying, as it assumes that this kind of reciprocal relationship was ever there in the first place. That's perhaps even more disturbing.

I Corinthians 12 continues to be formational for my ecclesiology (=theology of the Church). It's such a far cry from what the typical local church looks like today. For sure, we are a much more transient society than in Paul and Corinth's day. People are going to move geographically and as such, change local churches. And no one's saying that no one should ever leave a church body. But the flippancy with which it happens these days is whorish.

And if one does leave a church, let the church send you! What a beautiful way for the Body of Christ to participate in the on-going revelation of the Kingdom of God in the commissioning and sending of one another. If indeed it is right for an individual or family to move from one church to another (even if it's across the street), couldn't we all participate in that?

When a family or individual leaves a church, the most grievous moments are the ones when we remember such things as their marriage, or the baptism of their child, or the grief that we shared together in the death of a loved one.  It's these kinds of sacramental moments that make us responsible for one another in Christ and by the grace and love of Christ, can over-power the fickle temptation to run elsewhere in the moment of disagreement, misunderstanding, hurt, or offense.

(By the way, Tim does wonderfully in responding more to this issue in the book. Read it!)

*I do want to give some credit to those who would at least talk to a pastor or better yet, several people in their church community, before moving on rather than just simply moving on. But even then, as Tim says, the decision is usually already made. I also want to acknowledge that the last I knew, the average pastoral tenure in my own denomination (the Church of the Nazarene) was less than 4.5 years. Pastors apparently are no different, and perhaps even worse.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Ordination Invocation

God our Father in Heaven, your name is holy.

As this corner of your Kingdom gathers now,
This limb of the Body of Christ coming together
To be joined by the sinew of your Holy Spirit,
Would you hit us with these reminders this morning:

Of the call of your whole church to the work and movement of your mission (your Kingdom come)
Of the hope that is in what you want for your people and the whole world (your will be done)
Of the field in which we find ourselves to fulfill these things (on earth)
Of your mission already at work (as it is in heaven)
Of your hand full of those things that we need (give us this day our daily bread)
Of your call to the ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation (forgive us as we we forgive)
Of your guidance and direction to good ends (lead us not into temptation)
And of your great sacrifice of liberation in Jesus Christ (so deliver us from evil)

That today is not an end, but a beginning:
An endeavor of authentication, authorization, recognition, and confirmation
To be stewards, proclaimers, gospel-bearers, and holy witnesses
Fed by the gifts and graces swathed upon our backs by your good hand.

Ever and always...this kingdom: yours.
And each day, week, season, and year...the power: yours.
And today, even in this great moment for your church and her ministers...the glory: yours.
In the name of the First Beloved Ordinand at whose initiation you were greatly pleased,
Jesus Christ,

Written for the 2011 New England District Church of the Nazarene Assembly Ordination Service, May 21, 2011

Joe Baldinger (who I'm pretty sure I remember giving me a ride on his motorcycle when I was a kid), Nell Becker Sweeden (with whom I was in seminary), Sharon Desrochers (who was youth group leader when I was a teen at the Lowell First CotN), Melissa DeBono (who is such a great friend), my colleague: Lynnette McCabe (pastoring in Pawtucket, RI), and Tom Quattrociocchi were all ordained as elders into ministry in the Church of the Nazarene this morning. As always, I really appreciated the service.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thoughts on Food, The Biggest Loser, and another Dinner Prayer

A couple of years ago, I wrote a dinner prayer for our family. You can read it here. It has stuck, the kids know it, and I love it when we pray it (we also still often pray the other ones that I mentioned in that post).

I wrote another one this past week:

Lord God,
We’ve gathered at this table here,
The food before us all to share.
We take it just as Christ has done.
Thank you for this course we’ll run.
We break it: make us, Lord as one.
We give it, God, as did your Son.
And in his name we ask your seal
Upon and in and through this meal,
His presence in our bond revealed.

I was preparing to preach on Jesus' meal with the two from Emmaus, and was reminded that there is a repeated pattern in the meals Jesus oversaw. Jesus, in numerous places, takes the food, thanks God for it, breaks it, and gives it. He did this at the Emmaus table, in the feeding of the 5000 in Luke, and at the Lord's Supper in Luke (I haven't looked at the pattern in the other gospels at this point). If we pray before eating, we generally are good at the second part (thanking). And we do the first as well, but almost exclusively subconsciously and involuntarily.

The main point of the sermon this past week was that we can let our meal times be a reminder to us of Christ's presence to us. I find this encouraging, refreshing, and strengthening. It's to be celebrated! In our eating, God gives us the opportunity to be reminded of what God has done and what God is doing.

Call me old-fashioned, but I'm more and more convinced that our meal times are so very often wasted. We rush them, make them happen as an aside to other activities, and otherwise unhealthily abuse them. When I noted on Sunday morning that this is abnormal in comparison to much of the rest of the world and the rest of human history, the five or so people seated in our sanctuary who have served on the mission field nodded their heads, some of them vigorously so. For most of the rest of humanity and for most of the rest of human history, food is the #1 order of the day. Daily schedules are centered around putting food on the table and eating it. In our society, it's mostly centered around things and other various often meaningless activities.

I am a huge closet fan of the show, The Biggest Loser. Some reality shows have come and gone on my list of what I watch, especially as the list has grown shorter and shorter due to time and the capacity to care. But The Biggest Loser has remained. Call me a sucker, but I love it. While I realize that the bottom line of pretty much anything we see on television is money and ratings, I do appreciate how the show maintains that it isn't just about weight loss, but about not allowing the things of food, depression, self-worthlessness, and other various forms of abuse control us.

Food and the practices surrounding it is a major problem in our American society. So take time to pray and be thankful, to break and share. Enjoy your food, but don't let it control you. And enjoy the ones with whom you eat. If you usually eat alone, try and find time and space to not to. It's harder to sin in general when you're with others, and similarly, eating with others might be a good way to change some of your eating habits for the better. And while fights can certainly be had at the dinner table, it's generally true that it's harder to fight with someone when you're sharing some good food.

(I appear to some to be becoming more and more drawn to the things of the "whacko" Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren. Yes, that's true. Guilty as charged. :-)

Monday, May 02, 2011

Even Exchange?

Five years ago yesterday (5/1/2006), my little buddy Bobby Moscillo was killed in Iraq.  "Different war," yeah I know.  Yesterday (5/1/2011), Osama bin Laden was killed.

Even exchange?

Tauros. Skubala.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Will My Son Be a Christian?

Sometimes I read something that completely nails how I feel about something.  This is one of those times: from Miroslav Volf, the first paragraph of his article entitled Will My Son Be a Christian?
The statistics are clearly in my favor.  An overwhelming majority of children adopt the religion of their parents. So I shouldn't worry. It is highly probably that my son Nathanael - and his younger brother, Aaron - will grow up in some sense a Christian.  But I still worry, mainly because I am not satisfied with his being a Christian "in some sense."  Mindful of Kierkegaard's critique of Christendom, I'd almost rather that he be no Christian than an indifferent Christian, or, even worse, a zealous Christian manipulating faith to promote his own selfish ends. But I want him to embrace Christianity as a faith by which to live and for which to die.


It reminds me of these words from Stanley Hauerwas in the below video:
"One of the most heart-breaking aspects of our lives today are young people, desperate to have something to die for, and we're afraid to give it to them."

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

Good Friday is always such a weird day.  It's difficult to wrap our minds around: Why's it "good"? What was really going on? How can God die? Why didn't Jesus do something? Was it really a transaction? Did the Father forsake the Son? Did the Trinity lose a member for three days? Why did Jesus have to die?

And so on.

I've come to appreciate that these tensions are better left taut than exhaustively figured out.  It better typifies actual life.  Words so often fall short.  But other forms of expression might speak better in these times.  I've found the following songs and visuals to be great focal points for a day like today.

Oh My God
A Portrait of Jesus
Why We Call It That

Any others?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Lenten Journey 2011

I haven't posted in a while, but it doesn't mean I haven't been writing. I'm again writing with a group of others for a season of the Church.  We wrote together during Advent, and are now in Lent.  Two of my short reflections are out as of the moment, and I thought I'd post them here as well.  I'll post the rest as they come out.

March 9, 2011 - Decisions & Directives
March 18, 2011 - Solidarity in Christ
March 28, 2011 - The King's Face
April 6, 2011 - Spirit & Clay
April 15, 2011 - ...that we may die with him.
April 25, 2011

...that we may die with him.

(This post is a copy from the Lenten Journey website.  I wrote with a number of other pastors during the season of Lent, 2011.  Each day, we reflected on one passage from the Daily Office.  It's best to read the passage before the reflection.)

April 15, 2011 - ...that we might die with him.
Jeremy D. Scott

My list of biblical personalities that “get-a-bad-rap-but-maybe-shouldn’t” is growing. Thomas has been on there for a while. The fact that his best known moniker includes “Doubting” is usually seen as a detriment to his faith and character. We’ll leave the debate over that sentiment for another day, but for today’s passage, Thomas’ input is one of the most powerful and challenging statements in scripture:
Let us also go, that we may die with him.

This is a wonderful summary-statement for the whole of the season of Lent. We might do well to quote it every day during Lent:
Let us also go, that we may die with him.

We can quickly point out Thomas’ misunderstanding about what was happening in this moment. The disciples believed that if Jesus headed to Bethany, and thus, Judea, he would surely be killed by the people there who were feeling challenged by what he was saying and doing. Jesus, undeterred by the notion, determined to go nonetheless. And it’s then that Thomas gives what we might see as a William Wallace-like rally cry:
Let us also go, that we may die with him.

Turns out he was right. His timing was off, but Thomas was right. Jesus would die. But not yet, and better yet...not finally. Though the path in both situations went through death - whether Lazarus’ or Jesus’ - God’s glory was going to come about in a surprising clash of celebration, victory, and life.

Many have a difficult time accepting the season of Lent. This is understandable as for we who follow and worship the one who has won victory over death, it might seem odd to revisit the things of death. But this is part of Jesus’ story. And we find in life, that it is still yet a part of our story. We can’t ignore it.  There is no resurrection without death. And while we may not experience the nails of the cross, we indeed are called to its cruciformity: a pattern by which we come to see the heart of the nature of God and better yet...the victorious glory of God.

So Thomas was right. But he was only partly right.

Let us also go, that we may die with him...
...and thus know him and the power of his resurrection.

Make these words of Paul your prayer for this day:
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Amen.
- Philippians 3:10-11

Monday, April 11, 2011

Do you sit in the dark with your children?

I'm still being challenged by yesterday's Word from John 11.  At the moment, what's chewing on me is what did/didn't happen when Jesus showed up in the midst of a mourning crowd (those who loved the now-dead Lazarus).

It's notable what Jesus didn't say: "There, there, now don't cry.  [God just needed another angel in his heavenly choir.]"

And it's notable what Jesus did: Jesus wept with them.

This situation, like others, serves as a microcosm of the whole Incarnation: Jesus entering into the situation of humanity, not simply as an emergency helicopter out (though he does do that sometimes, at least from the trials of the lives of some who needed healing).  Rather, Jesus showed up.

As a parent, I'm still learning.  And Meghan and I wrestle with the tension of protecting our children and allowing them to experience life.  Some people didn't like some of the implications of my reflections on letting Brayden go to school on the bus (and public school at that...oh the horror!).  The people who didn't like it were current parents of young children.  But many more people resonated with what I was feeling and encouraged me.  These were generally parents whose children had grown up and moved on.

In this video-interview, Brene Brown (who I'm becoming a huge fan of), talks about sitting with our kids in the dark (as opposed to always choosing to turn the lights on).

Funny thing: as I'm sitting here typing this, I'm outside while the kids play.  A friend from my six-year-old son's kindergarten class walks by with her mother (who's also pushing a little boy in the stroller).  They ask if he wants to come along for some ice cream.  Now I know this mother.  I know her husband - they seem to be great people.  We've met them several times at school events and as we each walk through the neighborhood.  My son has been over their house for a playdate before.  I have no reason not to trust them.

But as I sit here, watching them walk away with him, I still have a feeling in the pit of my stomach.  And what's crazy is that I live in an incredibly safe neighborhood, in an incredibly well-established town.  If anyone has nothing to worry about in this's me.

Yet I know that for my son, it's good for him.  Not just to have fun and eat ice cream, but to experience the realm of "the other."  There are certainly boundary-lines for six-year-olds.  And there will be boundary-lines for ten-year-olds.  And the same for sixteen-year-olds.  But at some point, the leash has to be slowly released.  Otherwise, it may end up choking them and/or breaking free at the wrong point.

Anyway, the above may or may not relate to what I'm talking about for you.  But it does for me.  I could have come up with a good reason to not allow him to go (we're about to eat dinner, we have to go somewhere).  We can do all sorts of things in an attempt to protect those we love.

Jesus could have gone and healed Lazarus.
God could have skipped the whole wilderness thing and sent them directly to Canaan.
God could have chopped down the tree of the knowledge of good & evil.
God could have killed Hitler in 1920.*
God could...

It's less clear, although rather so to me, that God does not send his children to difficult situations (just as I wouldn't take an infant to sit in the bleachers at Fenway for a Sox-Yankees game).  But when they arise, we might understand how those situations can be used for the better.

God didn't do the above list.  But what God did do in Christ was come to be alongside us in these things.  In the overall picture of life, is there a more loving thing to do?  It's not an easy question.

*Whether or not God's action such as this would challenge his loving nature is a debate for another time.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Each Other

Having seen Jars of Clay in concert this past Sunday night for the first time in over a decade, I am listening quite a bit to them lately (and Derek Webb as well).  I bought their newest album when it came out and loved it, but it's poking me again these days.  I was doing something I've not done in years (actually reading the booklet that comes with it - this one an "e-booklet", of course), and came across this quote from David Dark:

"The idea that any of us can have meaning alone or be the authors of our own significance or have joy for which we only have ourselves to thank is a death-dealing delusion, a psycho covenant that implies that a strong, successful few of us might somehow gain our lives without losing them."

That's all.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Spirit & Clay

(This post is a copy from the Lenten Journey website.  I wrote with a number of other pastors during the season of Lent, 2011.  Each day, we reflected on one passage from the Daily Office.  It's best to read the passage before the reflection.)

April 6, 2011 - Spirit & Clay
Jeremy D. Scott

The thing about fresh clay is that it’s workable, malleable, and generally open to being shaped into something new. A finished piece of pottery is something that’s turned hard. It might good for one thing: to hold water, prop flowers, contain food, or a number of other meaningful uses. But the finished earthen vessel will have a difficult time being formed into something new.

The thing about “spirit” is that it’s of unpredictable formation. The biblical images are all things that are hard to contain: wind, fire, water. You might be able to control these things in small amounts, but in any kind of mass bigger than us, they become as wild as can be: forces of unstoppable mission. Whether it’s a tank-like tornado, a consuming conflagration, or a sweeping tsunami, one thing is for sure in the wake of this kind of Spirit-storm: things will not be like they were before. The Spirit is ever moving to do something new.

The fruitful infusion of these two - clay and spirit - will only come about in an environment of shifting, openness, and a vulnerable humility to something outside itself. This Lenten season is an opportunity to be re-membered as Christ would have us to be (that is, to be put back together again). The brokenness that follows repentance is fertile ground for the pieces of our lives to be washed and worked into a fresh clay. With the victory and power of resurrection looming on the other side, it may not be too early to ask the question: Is the Potter seeking to re-work your functionality?

We could ask it otherwise in this season:
Have the weedy plants of last season’s garden been raked up to make room for new growth?
Are there messy and choking cobwebs that need some cleaning out so fresh air might come into the house?
Do we need a month or two of spring training to be ready for the marathon that is the regular season?

For Lent and the soon-coming Good Friday, we might even ask:
Does something need to die?

There is no resurrection without death.

Indeed: “He who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”

Lord, in this season, break me such that your crafting may make in me a vessel of usefulness, wherein your wonderful treasure can reside, move, and thrive.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The King's Face

(This post is a copy from the Lenten Journey website.  I wrote with a number of other pastors during the season of Lent, 2011.  Each day, we reflected on one passage from the Daily Office.  It's best to read the passage before the reflection.)

March 28, 2011 - The King's Face
Jeremy D. Scott

I’m not very good at making eye contact with people.

It’s something that I’ve worked on (actually, it was a practice I challenged myself to last year during Lent). Making eye contact has various implications in different cultures. For my culture, it’s a sign of respect for the other, relationship, and a general sign of healthy communication. When we make eye contact with someone who is speaking to us, we are telling them, “I hear you” without even opening our mouths. It’s an acknowledgement of the other.

It’s said that this is in play in the second third of the high priestly prayer (Numbers 6):
The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you...

The ancient picture is of a kingdom subject, perhaps a peasant or slave, who happens to gain admittance into the throne room of the king. It’s one thing for the lowly to be present before the king. But it’s a whole other thing if the king would actually turn his face toward him, to acknowledge his presence. The notion of well-being (“shining” face!) would be the absolute best situation possible: Graciousness distributed from the king to the lowly.

Some know or remember the thrill of the lead singer at a rock concert looking and pointing at them at a specific point in a song. Or perhaps you’ve been to a professional sports event and seen the joy on a child’s face who waits by the tunnel for a high five from one of the players as they leave the arena (remember “Mean Joe Greene”?). There’s something about being noticed by those in the limelight.

This is the prayer of Psalm 80 - Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved. Yet this is no rock singer or point guard, but our very creator and the one from whom all blessings flow. Inherent in the prayer is the acknowledgement that this One can save us.

We’re well into Lent now (this is the 17th day, almost halfway through!). The ashes are long gone, yet we’re hope-fully moving along with the reminder that we are in such great need of God’s restoration. The reminders of this season are not far off from the image of the king-subject relationship. A true monarchy works such that the poor peasant and indeed all the people are at the whim of the king. With all that we can “do” in today’s world, this is a good reminder this season: God is God, and we are not. So we pray:

Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see;
Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.