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

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Thinking about Names

Names can be pretty critical.  They can make you sound distinguished, or feel down right silly.  My grandfather was Peter Albert Kliewer… now doesn’t that sound distinguished?  And he was.  However then there are the clever names like Wrigley Fields, and Justin Credible, and odd hippy kind of names like Misty Dawn or what can only be called redneck names - like Bud Light… son of Steve Light?

Biblically?  Well the role of names In the Bible is considerable.
Biblically lots of people get name changes – or have names that have significance
Abram (father) to Abraham (father of many)
Jacob to Israel (one who wrestles with God) changed after his fight with the angel of God in Genesis
Simon to Peter (the rock and foundation of the church)
Saul to Paul - After Paul met Jesus on the Damascus Road he was a new man with a new heart. The old man with the old beliefs were a thing of the past. Paul may have believed that this new man with a new heart required a new name.

What is critical about a name….well it identifies us.  Reveals things.. like culture (Hussein)… perhaps age (Mable)  But there is more!  If you have a person’s name…. Well it changes things.  You have a certain access.  In a crowd – works a lot better to say, “Hey Chris”, than “Hey You”.
On the internet – you have a name and you have just about everything – or you can Goggle it.

Names also give us a certain power!  When you say I love you it is oh so much more powerful when there is a name

I love you Sarah
I love you Susan
I love you Scott
I love you Josh

No wonder Moses wants a name when he meets God in the Burning Bush
Does Moses really get a name?  (I am – or actually ‘he is’)  But he wanted access to God, and yes, perhaps a little bit of a claim on God.

At the end of Paul’s gospel we have a chapter (16) that is very, in many ways, mundane.  We have Paul greeting the people he is writing to by name.  A name, a little piece of information, another name…

But I think this list of names is more than mundane.  I think it reminds us that the church should be the place where people have a name, or to use the words of the old Cheers song…. “where everybody knows your name.”  The church should be the place where people know God calls them by name
And where people name each other……Bottom line?  Where people know… and are known - where we know each other….

But let’s face it, we are at least a tad uncomfortable with familiarity, closeness.  However you want to think about it.  This is downright scary.  For a lot of reasons! The more we love the more we can be hurt.  But probably the big problem is that the more we are open.  The closer we get to one another.  The more personal we become…. the more real we have to be…

And that is really, really scary!  Because there are things about us we really rather not have others know.  There are things going on we’d rather not talk about.  Anthony de Mello in his book “The Song of the Bird” tells of a time a preacher put this question to a class of children:  “If all the good people were white and all the bad people were red, what color would you be?  Little Mary replied.  “Sir, I’d be streaky!”

We are all streaky…so getting close is risky
But being a part of God’s family is about being personal
About being known by God, by name
And by knowing, and naming, each other

Think about that list at the beginning of Romans 16:  Greet Priscilla and Aquila.  Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, greet Mary, greet Andronicus and Junias - greet Ampliatus, and Urbanus, and my dear friend Stachys. Greet Apelles,  Aristobulus, Herodion, Narcissus, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus….. On and on it goes, name after name… ending with these words  Greet one another with a holy kiss. Talk about being familiar.  Greet one another with a holy kiss….I am not sure what a holy kiss is but I know it isn’t a handshake… or even holding hands in a circle!

This is about knowing and being known!  Openness, reaching out, connecting, risking.  This is about knowing each other by name

Do we dare do this?   Can we dare do this?
Lay it all out there?  Share who we really are?
Learn about each other, about who we really are?

Yes… we can.  Because this is all about God.  We are indeed all streaky.  But in God we are all white as snow.  We all have strengths and weaknesses.  But we are God’s people. We have Christ in us.  We have the Spirit.  Yes don’t forget that, not today, because today is Pentecost, the day when the Spirit fell upon God’s people.

We can dare to be real
Because we are all justified by faith and grace
We have our standing by faith and grace
We are part of this fellowship by faith and grace
As streaky as we are….

And it is as we know each other, as we are real, that we can minister to each other
It is as we know each other, that we can support, and care, and give to each other.
Help each other, and be helped by one another.

We need to know each other’s strengths. We need to celebrate them.  And use them!

We also need to know each other’s weaknesses
If I know a person is frightened I can pray for them
If I know they are struggling with a deep hurt, I can offer them loving kindness
If I know a person is afraid, I can offer them support
If I know a person needs money for fuel, I can help with that too….

If we don’t know strengths how do we know where to turn for help?
If we don’t know each other’s weaknesses, how can we care effectively?
If we don’t offer our strengths, how can we be in ministry?
If we don’t share our weakness, how can we be ministered to?

I am not suggesting that we put a sign out front that says “Abandon Boundaries, all who enter here!”
But I am suggesting that God’s people need to know each other by name…

And it really is OK
Toward the end of his little book “Love Wins”  Rob Bell writes “Jesus invites us to trust that the lover we fear is too good to be true is actually good enough to be true…Jesus invites us to become, to be drawn into this love as it shapes us forms us and takes over our lives… Jesus calls us to have our minds and hearts transformed so that we see everything differently.  It will require a death, a leaving behind of the old mind.. it will require and opening up, loosening our hold, and letting go, so that we can receive, expand, find hear, see…. And enjoy!

To that, I can simply say…. Amen!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

On truth telling. A question for public dialog

With the revelations about Rep. Weiner of New York there has been a lot of talk, much of it moralistic, from other politicians about being truthful.  There has been verbiage about the "public trust", and violations of that trust.  So here is the question.

When a politician - any politician - tells a lie, or even a half truth for the purpose of influencing peoples view of things, or for the purpose of affecting a piece of legislation, is that "as bad", "not as bad" or "worse" than what Rep. Weiner did when he lied about his tweets?

So when Sen Kyle from Arizona, the Senate Minority Whip (the second highest position in the Republican Party leadership in the Senate) lies in public testimony, testimony designed to be factual debate and affecting legislation, legislation that profoundly affects the lives of vulnerable American people, is that less wrong that what Weiner did? (Acknowledging that what Weiner did WAS wrong?).  No, saying you never meant it to be factual is not an excuse, because it is clear that he presented it as factual.

If a liberal politician were to lie about how much a social services program was going to cost, or inflate statistics related to the environment or and particular social issue, in order to gain support for a particular piece of legislation, how would that measure up to what Weiner did?

There is a lot of moralizing going on, a lot of fingers being pointed, but after what study have shown to be the least truthful campaign in US history (2010), where basically EVERYONE lied, and lied about things at the heart of their role as our leaders (according to the study only 10% of what was said was actually clean fact), I wonder.....

I personally find the ongoing lies being put out there by Americas so called leaders more troublesome.  I want to know the truth.  Not the truth as twisted to support an ideology, but the truth.  The truth about what happens to all those tax cuts that go to the rich.  The truth about what happens to people when programs are cut.  The truth about what the economy is really like.  The truth about government waste. 

What do you think?

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Family? of God

When God talks about his people, he often uses the image of the family
Take for example the passage from Romans that I often use as a benediction (Rom 15:5-8).

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

JB Phillips translates it a bit more powerfully, to my way of thinking.
And now may the God who suffers us to endure, and gives us a father’s care, give us a mind united toward one another because of our common loyalty to Jesus Christ.  And then as one person we will sing from the heart the praises of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  So open your hearts to one another, as Christ has opened his hear to you, and God will be glorified.

As Christians we are family – for better or worse

How are we family?  Because we are bound together by a common parent.  God, Phillips uses the word Father, but you could use mother just as well… God, this Holy Parent, gives us a mind united toward one another.  God gives us a Spirit of unity.

So we are family, brothers and sisters together, because God, in the power of the Spirit, brings us together.  OK, no big news there….

But I want us to notice something.  Paul talks about a God who gives us endurance and encouragement.  He talks about a God who suffers us to endure….

This is a powerful reality that Paul is talking about.  What we must notice, what gives this little verse depth, is the fact that this unity is forged in the  real world.
This is not some sort of shallow, “happy family” thing Paul is talking about.
This is not the ideal family of Ward and June Cleaver, and the Beaver. 

I remember a while back learning some hard things about what I had thought was the perfect family
This was a family of relatively healthy parents who had been married for decades, were successful, each in their own careers, and seemed in love.  This family had children who seemed healthy and were doing well in school.  But what I learned about were affairs, and abuse.  I heard a wife talk about being called put down horribly by her husband in front of his friends for uttering a remark he disagreed with. She talked about being involved in multiple, demeaning affairs.

Family can cause pain.  Families often live in pain.  Fathers, mothers, wives, husbands, yes, children die.  Failing economies can tear at the fabric of a family’s dream.  Relationships can struggle.  Intimacy can become isolation.  There are joys, but also sadness.  There are successes, but also moments of failure…But still, in the best of cases, there is the family. And this family is bound together, often no as much by the victories and joys, as by the moments of hurt, despair, even failure….

We often find God in our pain……and find that God is real, and there, and compassionate….When we experience the compassion and love of God in our private pain, it is a powerful thing.  When we experience that love in our common pain, as a family of God, is it an amazing thing.  What happens when in moments of struggle we experience the endurance and encouragement of God?  Brennan Manning once wrote, “pain is the crucible in which one is made tender.”  Paul put it this way… when we are touched by the love of God, when we have that common experience, the we find we develop a “spirit of unity”  We get a “mind united toward one another”.  Think about 911… and how for a moment we as a nation were united in our common pain, our common hurt, and how we were equally united by the many acts of love and compassion that emerged from that tragedy….

What happens is that as we are touched by God – commonly – we begin to look at each other in a different way, a new way.  We have this shared experience of pain.  We have this shared experience of grace.  And something happens!  Christ becomes real in us.  Christ is in you, and you, and you, and Christ is in me, and in the end, as St. Augustine put it, “there will be the one Christ loving himself.”  :Loving the body of Christ, the gathered people of God.

And so the unity goes from being an idea, a theological construct, to being something that is lived out  “Open your hearts to one another as Christ has opened his heart to you”

Christ has opened his heart to us!  Think about that… think about a time, if you can
When you felt totally and completely loved by another…When you felt safe, connected, cared for, free, open.  That is what is available with God -  total connection - total love
Every aspect of who we are, loved
Everything about us, loved,
No matter what we have done, loved
No matter the circumstances, loved
It is a safe love, because we know, it will never be withdrawn….

God’s whole being is open to us… in Christ
As we accept that love … do you think that doesn’t make a difference?

What happens is that we gain a capacity to open our hearts to one another
We can move from isolation to intimacy

Open your hearts   What does that look like?  It means that the wall, the membrane, however you want to think of it, that divides “me” from “you” gets thinner, more permeable….In short our sense of isolation begins to dissipate and we begin to feel connected.

In other words we begin to understand that our feelings of separateness are merely the products of a fearful mind, and that it is more accurate to recognize that, as the Mayan saying goes, “I am your other self.”  When the Quakers gather they speak of honoring “that of God which is in every person.”  In the Hindu tradition, the greeting Namaste may be translated as “I see and honor the divined within you, and you see and honor the divine within me.” 

Or if we are to move that into Paul’s framework… I see and honor the Christ in you, and you see and honor the Christ in me.  As we rest in the open heart of God, we are changed.  We learn to feel confident enough to see and name what is most deeply true about ourselves, and we become more skillful in naming what is true and beautiful in others.  We feel our own hurt, and fear, tenderness and love, and we begin to recognize those same feelings in others.

And so we become softer.  More open.  Warmer.  More real.  And slowly we may begin to feel less alone, and more a part of a family of children, all of whom hurt, all of whom ache for love.  And all of whom search for wholeness in the open heart of God, and in a fellowship of open hearts.

I n Vietnam there is a traditional folk tale that describes the difference between heaven and hell.  In hell everyone is given an abundance of food, and then given chopsticks that are a yard long.  Each person has all the food they need, but because the chopsticks are too long, the food never touches their mouths.

In heaven the image is exactly the same; everyone is given an abundance of food, and their chopsticks are also a yard long.  But in heaven the people use their chopsticks to fee one another.

That could also be the tale of the church.  The place of abundance.  The place where God’s heart is open.  And the place where in the safety of that open heart, people are opening their hearts to one another.  Feeding each other, if you will, with love and compassion

As we open our hearts to one another, as we open our hands in service to those in need.  As we forgive and care.  As we share and listen.  As we forgive and are forgiven.  As we heal and are healed… we are working together, united in the Spirit, to find wholeness in the open heart of God.  We are creating a space in which God and God’s love is present.

And the final result?
Paul puts it briefly and strongly
God will be glorified!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Being not doing

In Romans 14 Paul uses a certain phrase a lot.  That phrase is "to the Lord”

The one who abstains does so "to the Lord"
The one who eats does so, to the Lord
The one who keeps the Sabbath does so, to the Lord
The one who lives, lives to the Lord
The one who dies, dies to the Lord
We belong………….to the Lord

To the Lord.  What the heck does that mean?  I think you could replace the phrase with several other options -  Live to the Lord, Live for the Lord, Live in the Lord, Live with the Lord

But the import, it seems is this -  We are called to be  so connected to Christ that everything
All the rules, all the priorities
Is secondary to that relationship, and the love.

This has been said by people other than Paul
Martin Luther is credited with saying what is much the same thing  “Love God and sin boldly”
He didn’t actually say that.  What he did say was  "Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly... Pray boldly - for you too are a mighty sinner."  Which says much the same thing….

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.” 

Jesus said,  “You are the light of the world (Matthew 5) - -  see too it then that the light within you is not darkness, therefore if your whole body is full of light, and not part of it dark, it will be completely lighted” (Luke 11)

A lot of people think the question is “What would Jesus do?”  But the it is not so much a matter of asking “What would Jesus do?” as it is asking “how would Jesus BE.”  Or better, “How can I let Jesus BE IN THIS SITUATION – WITH THIS PERSON”?  Or even more clearly, how can I be so permeated with the presence of God, that I have the perspective of Jesus, the eyes of Jesus, the love…. Above all the love… of Jesus – so that in my life, and in my actions Jesus is present?

You know when we ask “what would Jesus do?” we have this tendency to edge back into LAW and away from GRACE.  We are so well intentioned.  We want to be good people.  But we end up majoring in minors.  We end up wrapped up in all kinds of stuff.  Like THE RULES

What is “right”.  What is “wrong”.  Think about the examples Paul used.  What were people worrying about.  What was OK to eat (like pork or no pork) and what was not OK to eat.  What day should the Sabbath be.  Saturday or Sunday.  You see where this is going don’t you ?

It is all too easy for us to get wrapped up in should and oughts.  Not only with respect to ourselves… but others. 

Living the faith is not about following some rule.  It is about being so filled with God
So aware of God’s love
So overwhelmed but our sense of being forgiven
That we are simply, different

And what does that “different” look like?
According to Paul in Romans 14 it looks like accepting weakness, and not chastising and not screaming about “accountability”  I looks like forgiving, not judging.  It looks like doing what leads to peace...
It looks like being the kind of people who are bring forth mutual growth, understanding, and knowledge

It becomes a matter of priorities
About what is important.
What is important, Paul says, is (Romans 14:20) “not destroying the work of God”
In short, not getting in the way of the Gospel

And Paul is most adamant that we not let our ideology get in the way of grace.  I find this statement in verse 22 amazing.  “So whatever you believe about these things (essentially all these “moral rules” and all our ideological stances), keep that between yourself and God”.

Why?  Because in our hands the rules, the ideology can become a club we use on others, and we end up “no longer acting in love… and we destroy rather than build.”

Being love, Being grace.  Those are the priorities.  Paul has given us a great start at understanding what that looks like.  Forgiveness, patience, peace making.  And he has given us a great start at understanding what it isn’t.  It is not enforcing the rules.  Not pushing a holy agenda.  Not stuffing ideology down people’s throats

Think about how different things would be if we merely focused on living life “to God”
If our first priority was to get connected to God, permeated as Willard puts it with God
And our Second priority was to be loved by God, forgiven by God
And then our third priority was to be like Christ for others… to be love, unconditional, extravagant love

Think about how that would impact our decisions.  We are in a time when we have to cut government budgets.  If we are “being love” how does that impact our thinking?  Jim Wallis of Sojourners illustrates it with his striking question, “What Would Jesus Cut?”  Good question, but we can’t even get there until we are willing to be permeated with Jesus and be love… in the power of the Spirit.

How does that impact how we look at the unemployed, the person afflicted with addiction, or mental illness, or the person in debt?  How does that impact how we are with them…Because it really comes down to that… how we are with them.

I have a friend who is into what are called the “metta  phrases”  There are four.  And they are wishes, one could see them as prayers, for good things.  They were originally designed for self compassion.  So a person with anxiety for example, or in emotional pain, would say “May I be safe, may I be healed, may I be happy, may I be at ease”  But you can use these phrases for others.  May you be safe, may you be healed… may you be happy, may you be at ease.”  You can you these phrases for your worst enemy… or the person you might naturally look down on or despise. … “May my enemy be safe, may the one who wronged me be healed, may the one who hurt me be happy, may the one who created chaos in my life, be at ease.” 

But we get the idea don’t we?  As we are faced with hard decisions.  As we encounter people who make us cringe.  As we struggle with human weakness, and we seek to live a life that makes a difference and does not “destroy the work of God” … we are called to be people who simply try to let Christ be… active and present - in us, and through us.  When we want to hold other’s accountable.  When we want to straighten out other’s theological stances… when we are tempted to get caught up in the rules, the oughts, the shoulds….. we need to simply let Christ be… in us and through us… and….

I suspect that God will do the rest. . .
It is, his work