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

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Think of the Children

Lately the phrase “think of the children!” has come to mind a few times.  Of course, this immediately makes me recall a Simpson’s episode in which a woman repeatedly shrieks “Think of the children!” and “Won’t someone please think of the children!”  Ah, the Simpsons.  Indeed such a cry can be a meaningless play on emotions, as it was intended to portray in the aforementioned episode but recently it seems to me thinking of the children might be an extremely helpful thing to do.  

One of the most obvious areas in which we need to “think of the children” is education.  Slashing funding for public schools seems to be par for the course in many areas around the country.  Legislatures are not content to limit themselves to cutting funding either.  Mandates about curriculum,bonds, school boards have all been tossed about without any seeming understanding of what will even work let alone what will benefit children’s education.  When it comes to education, thinking of our children should be the focus.  It is what our teachers, principles, paras, aides, cooks, custodians and all other staff at our schools are engaged in throughout the school year.  It is what will benefit our society, our legal system, and political system.  Having educated citizens impacts nearly every aspect of our lives.  Whether we have children ourselves or not, we all definitely need to “think of the children.”

We could also stand to “think of the children” when considering political campaigns.  In this case, such thoughts might clarify what should be obvious to us anyway.  Do we want national leaders who teach hatred?  When we teach children how to be good citizens, how to be good neighbors, and so on do we tell them saying hateful, ignorant, and cruel things is okay as long as you are using “straight talk?”   Do we teach our children basic decency and kindness is kowtowing to political correctness?  It is frightening to think we might have to ban children from watching the President of the United States make a speech for fear children would copy his speech at school and end up in deep trouble. 

Let’s reign in our political bickering, divisiveness, and party loyalty.  Please, think of the children.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Preaching My Way Into Hope

I have begun to despair lately.  I have come to wonder if there is anything left to say which will have an affect on anyone who does not already agree with the speaker.  We seem so divided, so fearful, so angry.  This week I found myself writing a sermon which ended up being my own attempt to preach my way out of despair and back into hope.  Thought I would share it in case others are feeling similarly.  Here it is:

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius…(Luke 3:1)”  Thus the gospel reading begins by trumpeting the name of the emperor and follows with a litany of men of power: governors, rulers, high priests.  Contrasted against this rapid fire list of the influential and the commanding, the word of God drops instead into the wilderness.  The word of God comes from the mouth of John, preparing the way for Jesus with a call to repentance, a call to turn in a new direction.   The word of God comes from the wilderness, not the temple made by human hands with ulterior motives.  Not from the high priest whose religion is undermined by benefitting from the ways of the world.  Mention of the wilderness brings forth many associations for people of Israel whose history is punctuated by difficult and dangerous journeys through the wilderness.  The wilderness is often where the children of Abraham encounter God. 

Finding God in the wilderness rather than places of power ought to make some sense to us as well.  After all, we do not come to be followers of Jesus as princes and princesses born into our faith through our ancestry nor by our own power.  We come as children of God by God’s grace, by God’s love, welcomed home from our own wilderness wanderings and taken in and adopted by the power of love not inheritance or might.  Sometimes we seem to forget this, calling this a Christian nation as though we have inherited some special treatment and privileges, as though the history of this nation is pristine and without sin.  We are called to the wilderness, to turn away from worldly powers, away from prestige.  We are called to repentance not recollections of some supposed glory days but remembering our own hardships and learned humility, recalling who we are, the wildernesses of our past, and what we have learned.  

This time of year is a time of waiting.  We are waiting for God to show up.  Don’t get me wrong, I trust God is all around us and within us.  Yet my trust is hazy at times as it is felt dimly through the clamor of day to day life and hammered repeatedly by the despair,violence, and selfishness present in our world.  I long for God to show up in a way obvious even to my hazy sensibilities.  This time of year such longing fits with the season.  We are awaiting God’s presence through a babe born in circumstances both extraordinary and oh so ordinary.  We are waiting for God to show up in new and unexpected places in that time when all things will be made new.  We are waiting for God to show up in our lives in a way which will renew our faith, our trust.  But we are called to do more than just wait.  We are also called to turn in repentance.  We are called to turn toward those who speak truth whatever they look like.  Then it was camel’s hair clothing now it might be a hijab, a hoodie, or someone drenched in dirt and grime from a desperate journey fleeing a shattered homeland.  We are called to turn to the wilderness of the powerless, the impoverished, the broken, the wounded, the outcast, and hear their voices as fellow adopted children of God.

If we listen to words bandied about on our televisions and computers, in our neighborhoods and stores, by politicians and reporters we will hear much fear.  Certainly there is much in this time which is uncertain.  But fear is rarely the source of good decision making.  Time and again throughout scriptures God calls us to “be not afraid.”  So, this season let us pray God will show up in a way that will rebuild our trust, our faith, and our hope.  Let us pray this is not a trust which sits back and does nothing.  Better yet, let us repent of apathetic trust, blind trust, trust which washes our hands of all responsibility beyond a few mumbled prayers.  Let us repent and pray for a renewed trust and faithfulness which sees brothers and sisters not threats, which breathes in hope and steps forth in compassion, a stalwart faith which stands, struggles and fights alongside those in need.  Let us pray for God to show up in the midst of our waiting and kindle within us anew a faith which lives out love.  Come Lord Jesus.  May it be so.  Amen.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Religion Interfering With Altruism?

There has been some mention, lately, of a study which showed children who are raised without religion tend to be more altruistic.  The scientific validity of this study is uncertain but to me this is beside the point.  The undertaking of such a study combined with the response to it calls to attention the number of people for whom this study would simply verify their own experiences with Christianity.  For example, those who have been wounded by religion and those whose only exposure to religion is hate mongers who fill the media with the portrayal of an angry, judgmental, anti-homosexual, anti-sex, misogynistic, God with a persecution complex.  For such people the idea religion might interfere with the development of altruism might seem rather obvious.  As a person familiar with both the good and the bad of the church,  even for me several reasons why religion might hamper altruism immediately sprang to mind. 

It seems to me the underlying problem which has created a church with a reputation quite out of tune with “they will know we are Christians by our love” is a view of Christianity which emphasizes obedience to God before love of neighbor.  To many there seems to be no problem with such an approach but to me this seems highly unhealthy.  If God is the God of love then obedience to God would be love of neighbor and anything which looks like blind obedience would be contrary to that love.  In fact any God worthy of the label “God of love” and worthy of our faith would demand of us such a great commitment to loving one another that we would stand up even to God, for the sake of our brothers and sisters.  

There are even scriptures which support this idea.  Moses stands up to God for the sake of the people.  Abraham stands up to God multiple times for the sake of Sodom.  The Syrophoenician woman stands up to Jesus for the sake of her daughter.  True, there are other scriptures which seem to demand blind obedience.  But, if I have to choose between scriptures which portray God as a petty, fickle, arrogant jerk who demands obedience or God as one who calls us to stand up for justice, mercy, and peace then I think I will go with the latter.  Because any God worthy of faith would rather we turn our back on God than we turn our backs on our brothers and sisters.  God is God.  God can take it.  Our brothers and sisters need us.  They need us to be a stalwart, persistent, and passionate voice for justice, mercy, and peace.  They need our love.  They need our action.  And, for the sake of all that is holy, they need us so committed to love we would fight with all that is in us against the remotest possibility our religion might get in the way of teaching our children things like altruism and compassion.  

Let us set aside defensiveness in favor of introspection and repentance.