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A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Lenten Truth Facing Week 2: Lack of Certainty

Here is week 2 of Lenten Truth Facing.  I have proposed the Lenten discipline of facing a new truth about faith or life each week.  If you missed last week or want to review, I have included last week's post below.  
Week 2:  Face honestly the limits of faith.  Being a Christian does not mean we know what happens after we die.  It does not mean we have an answer for everything.   It does not mean certainty about anything.  It does not mean we know exactly what God wants us to do with our lives.  It is perfectly possible to have great faith in something and be absolutely flat out wrong.  Think through your own personal creeds and beliefs and callings and consider the possibility you might be wrong about any of them.   Talk with a friend about one thing you feel sure about and then ponder together what it would mean if the opposite were true.  Face the truth you might be wrong. 


Last week's post:   In preparation for Ash Wednesday I wrote these words: “It is easy for Christianity to dissolve into platitudes.  What is intended to be about speaking hope can become dodging reality.  We speak platitudes to diminish the pain of others.  We speak platitudes to run away from our doubts.  But tonight we stand boldly on the edge of the abyss, acknowledging our faith does not prevent death.  We stand on the edge of the abyss with nothingness spread out before us and proclaim there is hope to be found even here.”

It did my heart good to think about the church boldly facing reality.  But it lead me to wonder at how many ways we, the church, fail to face reality or even do things which intentionally obscure reality.  How do we use faith to avoid uncomfortable truth?  How does such behavior damage any credibility the church might have and get in the way of being love and justice in the world?   

So, I propose a different Lenten discipline: each week of Lent let’s face honestly a new truth about church, faith or life.  Such as: 
  

Week 1:  Speak honestly about someone else’s pain.  I don’t mean tell someone else how they feel, but resist temptation to minimize someone else’s pain.  We use our religion to minimize the pain of others all the time.  We use euphemisms and platitudes.  We talk about faith as though it is proof against pain.  We talk about ministry as though it is a prize for suffering.  This week, pay attention to how you react to other people’s difficulties.  At least once, respond to someone by frankly acknowledging hurt without any caveats or comforts.  Resist using phrases like “passed away” “with the angels” or describing how God is at work.  Say something like “I am sorry he died” or “that sucks” or “how awful” or just “I am sorry.”  Listen without fixing or comforting.  Face the brutal reality of suffering in this world. 


Friday, February 20, 2015

Lenten Truth Facing and Death

In preparation for Ash Wednesday I wrote these words: “It is easy for Christianity to dissolve into platitudes.  What is intended to be about speaking hope can become dodging reality.  We speak platitudes to diminish the pain of others.  We speak platitudes to run away from our doubts.  But tonight we stand boldly on the edge of the abyss, acknowledging our faith does not prevent death.  We stand on the edge of the abyss with nothingness spread out before us and proclaim there is hope to be found even here.”

It did my heart good to think about the church boldly facing reality.  But it lead me to wonder at how many ways we, the church, fail to face reality or even do things which intentionally obscure reality.  How do we use faith to avoid uncomfortable truth?  How does such behavior damage any credibility the church might have and get in the way of being love and justice in the world?   

So, I propose a different Lenten discipline: each week of Lent let’s face honestly a new truth about church, faith or life.  Such as: 
  

Week 1:  Speak honestly about someone else’s pain.  I don’t mean tell someone else how they feel, but resist temptation to minimize someone else’s pain.  We use our religion to minimize the pain of others all the time.  We use euphemisms and platitudes.  We talk about faith as though it is proof against pain.  We talk about ministry as though it is a prize for suffering.  This week, pay attention to how you react to other people’s difficulties.  At least once, respond to someone by frankly acknowledging hurt without any caveats or comforts.  Resist using phrases like “passed away” “with the angels” or describing how God is at work.  Say something like “I am sorry he died” or “that sucks” or “how awful” or just “I am sorry.”  Listen without fixing or comforting.  Face the brutal reality of suffering in this world. 

I had planned on posting the other weeks of Lenten truth facing.  But last night brought the death of another young child in our community.  Our hearts are heavy.  So, it seems this is all which needs to be said for now.  I will post the other weeks some other time.  A child has died and it is horrible.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Sledgehammer of Truth

When I sat down after preaching recently, the first thought which went through my mind was “maybe this will be the time when they have finally had enough of my liberal preaching and will throw me out.”  Then I thought “@!#$ it!”  How is that for a holy, meditative frame of mind? 

Then I spent the rest of the service thinking about how wonderful this congregation is, what good and often difficult work they do, how I don’t do enough for them, etc.  Well, along with things like “my tooth hurts, I have to remember to make a dentist appointment”... “I wonder if I will remember who gets gluten free today”... “jeepers that communion wafer was crunchy”... and other random thoughts.  Pastors are people too.  My point is I didn’t think “!@#$ it” because I don’t care or think poorly of the people in the pews.  I thought those thoughts because it can be exhausting to know my beliefs differ from those to whom I am preaching and to continually attempt to figure out what I can say which will be true to what I believe without causing extreme anger or hurt.  Again this isn’t about anything being wrong with those to whom I am preaching.  I am not sure I have ever preached to a congregation where there weren’t a significant portion with beliefs very different from my own.  Changes in my own faith in recent years accentuate these differences.  The question is what to do about it?  

I found myself wondering if I was being hypocritical.  I have been annoyed with some of my colleagues who seem to believe they should just preach the truth as they see it and if people get upset it is just proof those people are sinful jerks.  Or proof the preacher is a prophet.  How different is it for me to decide I have to preach what I do even if it makes people angry?  

Maybe I am fooling myself but I think the difference is I try not to go after a topic with a sledgehammer when more delicacy might be helpful.  My goal is not to prove others are jerks or to make myself into a prophet.  My goal is to speak truth in ways which might move someone to greater compassion or to work toward justice.  I don’t feel like I am in the pulpit to speak the truth and never mind the consequences.  I feel like the point is for my words to have some effect.  Usually the best way to do this is more subtle than telling people they are wrong or casting about judgment.  How to speak truth in a way which might have a chance of changing hearts?  The really tricky thing for me is my theology is so different from many in my area I often don’t realize how controversial my words are until they are coming out of my mouth.  So, maybe I am doing no better than my sledge hammer of truth wielding colleagues.   


 Assuming we want our pastors to speak honestly about what they believe and since it is doubtful we will always agree with them, how would you like pastors (or politicians, or teachers or whomever) to speak about controversial issues?  What are some methods of communication which you have found helpful, refreshing, or at least less offensive?  What gives you pause to ponder rather than provoking defensiveness?