Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Being Light

This last week a very bright, articulate and sensitive man killed himself.  Two days before he took this action he sat in the our little church sanctuary and was part of our fellowship.  And yet he walked out, and ultimately felt so empty, so sad, so hopeless, that he took his life.

We try to preach good news.  We try to give people hope.  We try to be the “light”.  But how does that work?  What would it have meant to be light for this hurting man?

In the church we talk a  lot  about  light.  Jesus is the light!  We are the light.  We as Christians are to be people who make a difference in the world - who share the love of God  - who make the sacred present in a very secular world.

But there is a problem.  The first problem is that for all its “talk” about being light, sharing the good news, being a presence in the world, the church does a lousy job of it.   About 10 years ago a sociologist did a survey where he asked people about their behaviors and attitudes.  In the demographic component he determined whether people classified themselves as Christian or non-Christian, and then compared the results.  His findings were interesting.  Let’s look for example at behaviors.  There were 25 behaviors explored.  For example, "Gave money to a homeless person or poor person, in past year"   Of the Christians, 24% had done so.  Among the non-Christians?  34%   "Attended a community meeting on local issue, in past year"  Christians - 37%; Non-Christians - 42%.  The behavior of Christians often cannot be differentiate for that of non- Christians.  Where’s the light?

The other problem is that even though Christians are supposedly working hard to “be light” they aren’t making a very good impression.  In another study done in 2007 young people ranked the attributes of Christians as they perceived them.   Nine of the 12 most common attributes they named were negative ones. According to the study, "Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%)."  And this wasn't just ignorance talking. The youth interviewed had significant contact with Christians.  They had attended churches, were connected with Christians.  So this is the “image” of the sacred we project?

How do we function as light in this world?  In part it is how we act.  We must be kind.  We must listen.  We must act in caring ways.  But the reality is that it is probably more about who we are as people.  Our acts come from deep inside.  In Luke, after telling us to put the “lamp” (Jesus) where people can see it, Jesus says these words (Luke 11:34-41).  “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp shines on you…  Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But give what is inside [the dish] to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.   

We cannot put on a mask of piety, and think we are being the light of the world.
We cannot be pious and judgmental, and think we are being the light
We cannot hide behind words, behind engagement in the church, and think we are being the light
No,  being a lamp, being light is a matter of letting people see us… No pretense!  No hypocrisy…  It is letting people look into the center of who we are. 

And it is being clear, that this person (me) - who is good and bad, strong and weak, hopeful and hopeless – that this person is Christ’s person.  Loved by God.  Forgiven by God.  Empowered by God.  A flawed vessel bearing the beauty of the creator. 

Dallas Willard once wrote  “The positive characterization of the kingdom attitude is agape love… Jesus calls us to him to impart himself to us.  He does not call us to do what he did, but to be who he was, permeated with love.  Then the doing of what he said and did becomes the natural expression of who we are in him.”  We are to be people permeated by God’s love.  That is what our whole self is to be about.  It does not make us perfect, or without flaw.  But it makes us people who have an impact.

And when people can look at us, and see this authentic self, permeated with love…. Well there is an important message here isn’t there?  If Christ can love us – as we are ???  The real us? Well then there can be no doubt, God also loves them.

So lets get back to that original idea of being light
We now know for sure what it is it not….It is not mere words… sharing formulas, standard phrases
It putting forth a “holy exterior”

It is interfacing with others in a unique way.  It is seeing people with the eyes of grace
It is helping them to see themselves through the eyes of grace.
It is also allowing people to see us
It is ultimately connecting with them at the level of the soul
It is building a  bridge of love
A relational bridge
Across which the love, the grace, the forgiveness of God can cross. . .   To heal, to empower
It is letting the real Christ
Who exists, who lives, who is present,  in the real us…
Shine into the real world, the real darkness

Corey my friend.  Rest in peace

Friday, September 17, 2010

Planks and Sawdust

I was reading some parables in look and ran across the familiar parable of the “log” and the “speck”  It reminded me of a sad reality, our propensity as human beings to judge other people.  We judge spouses, kids, friends, co workers, presidents, movie stars - pretty much anyone we see or hear or interact with.  And whomever it is we judge we seem to find some sort of satisfaction in being able to find a weakness or a fault in another, and nail them for it.  And we are good at it – at finding that “speck of sawdust” or something bigger, and making sure that it does not go unnoticed.  We may masquerade it as humor, or concern, or many other things.  But it is judgmentalism.

Why do we like this stuff?  Why is it so “rewarding” to find something about someone else that we can criticize, or ridicule?  Why do we not only point out the “speck of sawdust” in the other’s eye, but actually search diligently for it!  And when we find it, use it to assail the other?  Perhaps because then we don’t have to look at our own stuff.  Perhaps because it is easier to see the flaws in others than to see them in ourselves.  That speck over there is a lot easier to look at than this log – right here! Perhaps it is about power!  We can use our judgments to create a sense of superiority.  I suspect there can be many reasons.

Whatever the reason, Jesus knew about this tendency.  And he knew that often those most powerfully afflicted by this “disease” were those who claimed to speak in God’s name, the religious.  And so Jesus, knowing that this is how we are, felt it important to issue a strong caution to his people:  “Do not judge… do not condemn… why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye?“

What is Jesus saying here ?  Is he saying that we can’t stand for anything? That if we recognize things that are not right, we have to remain silent, that we can’t respond to what we see?  I don’t think so.  If we look at the end of the passage Jesus talks about taking the speck out of the neighbor’s eye.  But Christ clearly says that there is something we must do first before we can even think about doing this.  He tells us we must look first to ourselves.  We must have self awareness.  First notice, and then take the log out of your own eye.  Then you can think about the speck in your neighbor’s.

We must see our own “stuff”, and we must deal with our own stuff before we can even begin to think about anyone else.  This means the beginning of the process is seeing ourselves for who we really are.  It is a prerequisite – that before we start judging, criticizing, correcting others – we look hard at ourselves, and we essentially judge and  correct ourselves.

Actually I hate to use the word judge.  What we need to do, quite simply, is see our own humanity.  We need to see ourselves as a mix of good and not so good, as those who have done well, and done poorly.  As those who sometimes love and sometimes hate.  As those who sometimes live lives that glorify god and sometimes, are rather toadish creatures.

What we need to do is begin the process is abandon the idea that we are  morally superior beings.  We are people who are totally and irrevocably dependent upon the grace of God.  We are the “blind” who would lead the blind.  The ones with a “log” in our eye.

Sometimes we aren’t very “self” aware.  Many of you may be aware of the church in Florida that had set a Quran Burning Day for September 11th.  When asked why they wanted to do this the pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center said they wanted to burn Qurans "to warn about the teaching and ideology of Islam, which we do hate as it is hateful."  That is like saying, “there are people who hate people and I  hate people like that!”

There is something wrong there isn’t there?  Can we be hateful and condemn those who are hateful?  We can condemn hate.  But can we do that in a hateful way and still be authentic?

Before we judge, we have to look long and hard at ourselves.  This reminds us that we too are people who have faults, who have made mistakes.  We too are people who hurt others. Who need to be forgiven, who need grace.  We always have to remember this.  That we are ultimately, no different from those we would judge and condemn.  “Why point out the speck in that person’s eye, and ignore the log in your own?” 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Politics and Faith

I have been watching the recent political scene with some interest. In part because I work with vulnerable people who are often the pawns in the entire political process, and in part because politics reveal so much about us spiritually. I have been fascinated by the recent polls that say that the GOP is better at the economy that the Democrats, in spite of the numbers which show the average American does way better under the Democrats economically. I am also stunned that people want to go back to the very policies that drove us into the current recession. Reminds me of the old AA adage, "insanity is continuing to do the same thing an expecting a different result."

What on earth are we thinking? I have decided that it is because we as humans have an incredible propensity to look for the "easy answer." When change is needed. When we have gotten ourselves in a bad place, we want the quick and easy way out. We don't want slow and difficult. And so we reject the hard way, and grab for the easy way. Right now voters don't want to believe there is no easy fix to our economy. They don't want to believe that the way out is difficult and slow, and will entail real changes to the way things have been. So they are grabbing for those who promise a quicker easier solution (trickle down economics, benefit the rich and eventually it will help the poor? Pleeeeease). This quick easy solution doesn't work. It has never worked, but. . .

The tendency we have to grab for the easy, and yes, external solution is evident as well in our faith. When we are unhappy, when life is not going well, we tend to do the same thing. We look outside ourselves, for the quick easy solution. More stuff. Substances. Power. Sex. Whatever it is we can grab that will give us the quick fix.

Only the fix is only quick, but not lasting. And sometimes there is not "fix" at all, just faux relief. Usually the real relief comes as we day the inner road, the slower road, the more difficult road of really looking at ourselves, and making real and sometimes difficult or painful choices.

As Jesus noted, the way is sometimes narrow, and sometimes difficult. But the good news is that real change is possible.