Faith, Life

What God Made Us For

God made the Sabbath for us. God did not make us for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27, my paraphrase)

I’ve read the words I don’t know how many times and thought, “That’s cool. Way to go Jesus. Showing those Pharisees what’s what.” But for some reason I had to read it a thousand times before I thought about what that really meant about our place in Creation

See, this is why I love scripture. It haunts you. Like a song your mother taught you that only comes back when you start singing lullabies to your own children. And that song’s absence from your life in the intervening years only magnifies the realization: wow, she really loves me, and wow, life is beautiful. This is what scripture can do if we tuck it into the seat cushions of our hearts and wait to find it again right when we need it. Wow, God loves us. Wow, life is beautiful.

So that’s where I started today in Mark 2, with Jesus’s words:

“The Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the sabbath,”

 

but this is where it took me:

God made the church for us. God did not make us for the church.

God made the law for us. God did not make us for the law.

God made morals and virtues for us. As a tool to help us in the struggle of life. God did not make us just so that we would become moral and virtuous.

God made fear for us. For our survival. God did not make us to be afraid.

 

God made sex for us. God made it so beautiful and enjoyable for us. God did not make us simply to be objects of sex.

God made ambition and desire for us. To drive us to be better. God did not make us just to be slaves to our desires.

God made storm clouds and mountains. God made pinky toe nails. God made music and the uncontrollable urge to dance. God made taste – in fine wine, in theater, in a succulent steak. God made an entire Earth and solar system that has conspired to protect us in this nursery of life. God made our children’s ridiculous laughs and crocodile tears. God made charlie horses and gut-wrenching grief. God made strawberries so full of flavor that they’re about to burst.milky-way

God made it all for us, for us humans and for our animal cousins. God made it so that we can find how deep and beautiful and precious and valuable we really are.

God made it so that we would always be drawn away from the easy answers about ourselves –

  • that we are just flesh and bone,
  • that we are failures, that we don’t measure up,
  • that we need success or wealth or beauty to matter,
  • or that we don’t really matter in the big scheme of things.

God made all this impossible universe so that we would know that those answers are not good enough. God made it all to make us look deeper into ourselves to see what depths are truly there, and in so doing, so that we would also find God. And find a god who is not an absentee landlord or a vicious dictator or a temperamental, moody deity on Mount Olympus. God made it all so that we would discover a god that exudes love in every itch and every inch. So that we would discover that our God has decided to need us.

God did not make us to fulfill creation. God made creation to fulfill us.

We have been God’s mission all along. We are not a means to another end. We are God’s end.

 

Someone might rightfully and rationally criticize God as being weak for making such a decision, but such is love, open to criticism and open to vulnerability but ultimately a force that cannot be denied.

O God, help me to hold on to this moment where I can see what you’re up to with us. Help me to hold onto this one moment where I get it and I somehow overcome my instinct to think that’s crazy and that you cannot possibly love me that much. Remind me when I start doubting myself again in 5 minutes that for this one moment I got a picture of how precious we all are to you. Remind me how my gratitude ran so deep that it tapped into the well of tears. Thank you thank you thank you O God. Amen.

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Faith

To the Woman at the Red Microphone

One image I cannot get out of my head from last week’s General Assembly for the Disciples of Christ is the woman who went to the microphone in opposition to the “Black Lives Matter” resolution. She announced that her church had met before the Assembly, reviewed the resolution, and voted to send her to tell the Assembly that the resolution should be renamed “ALL Lives Matter.” I suppose that stays with me because that scene, a church voting to change it to ALL lives matter, just sounds so thoroughly normal and unsurprising. That sounds just like churches I’ve been a part of.

I got a sense of disgust from the rest of the Assembly towards her words (maybe I’m just projecting my gut response, but I doubt that’s all it was). It would be easy enough to just call her and her church racist and turn our backs. But because I’ve been in circles like that, I really believe that doing so would not only be wrong, but it would be a terrible missed opportunity and counter-productive.

I do not believe she or her church were being willfully ignorant or racist. They just haven’t had the right conversations with the right people. So instead of punishing them (and churches like theirs) for that, we should be the ones having that conversation. If we really want to root out racism systemically, there is such an easy place to start: a huge chunk of our white population who are not racist, they’re just unaware.

I’m like that. But because other individuals have been patient and kind to me, I now automatically assume a posture of listening when I encounter something I don’t understand, rather than a posture of defensiveness, which I think is totally natural for white people to do when it comes to discussions of race.

It just so happened that last week at about the same time we were having this discussion at General Assembly, a post was made on reddit by a user called “GeekAesthete” and started making the rounds that explained things very well. So to the woman who stood at the red microphone during the vote on the Black Lives Matter resolution, to her church, to other churches that struggle with this, to myself, and to anyone who wonders why it is controversial and offensive to try to change it to “All Lives Matter,” I invite all of us to read this take:


“Imagine that you’re sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don’t get any. So you say “I should get my fair share.” And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, “everyone should get their fair share.” Now, that’s a wonderful sentiment — indeed, everyone should, and that was kinda your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, dad’s smart-ass comment just dismissed you and didn’t solve the problem that you still haven’t gotten any!

“The problem is that the statement “I should get my fair share” had an implicit “too” at the end: “I should get my fair share, too, just like everyone else.” But your dad’s response treated your statement as though you meant “only I should get my fair share”, which clearly was not your intention. As a result, his statement that “everyone should get their fair share,” while true, only served to ignore the problem you were trying to point out.

“That’s the situation of the “black lives matter” movement. Culture, laws, the arts, religion, and everyone else repeatedly suggest that all lives should matter. Clearly, that message already abounds in our society.

“The problem is that, in practice, the world doesn’t work the way. You see the film Nightcrawler? You know the part where Renee Russo tells Jake Gyllenhal that she doesn’t want footage of a black or latino person dying, she wants news stories about affluent white people being killed? That’s not made up out of whole cloth — there is a news bias toward stories that the majority of the audience (who are white) can identify with. So when a young black man gets killed (prior to the recent police shootings), it’s generally not considered “news”, while a middle-aged white woman being killed is treated as news. And to a large degree, that is accurate — young black men are killed in significantly disproportionate numbers, which is why we don’t treat it as anything new. But the result is that, societally, we don’t pay as much attention to certain people’s deaths as we do to others. So, currently, we don’t treat all lives as though they matter equally.

“Just like asking dad for your fair share, the phrase “black lives matter” also has an implicit “too” at the end: it’s saying that black lives should also matter. But responding to this by saying “all lives matter” is willfully going back to ignoring the problem. It’s a way of dismissing the statement by falsely suggesting that it means “only black lives matter,” when that is obviously not the case. And so saying “all lives matter” as a direct response to “black lives matter” is essentially saying that we should just go back to ignoring the problem.

“TL;DR: The phrase “Black lives matter” carries an implicit “too” at the end; it’s saying that black lives should also matter. Saying “all lives matter” is dismissing the very problems that the phrase is trying to draw attention to.”

Source


And to everyone else who already gets it, if we care more about the success of this movement than we do about our own rightness on the matter, we need to be more patient and compassionate.

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Faith

Sandra Bland and the Call to Move

By all accounts, my GA15 experience should have me floating on cloud 9.

And still…

Adam Hamilton​ is in the house tonight; we just passed resolutions affirming that Black Lives Matter, about the terror of the Charleston shooting and finally one against gun violence tonight; I’m surrounded by all these amazing people who have shaped and continue to shape my faith, and still…

Still I’ve got this vague feeling, like when you know something is not right and you can’t remember what it is and it haunts you and you cannot make yourself comfortable or restful or happy.

I realized… I’m thinking about Sandra Bland.

I’m haunted by her abuse and the incredibly dark questions that have yet to be answered about her death.

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)’s identity is to be a “movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.” It’s a wonderful identity that is very difficult to live into. It’s hard to move a body that is so big and so diverse.

At several points during our business meetings this week, good Disciples objected to resolutions because they would be “divisive” or “exclusionary.” But we cannot truly be Disciples while also being paralyzed by consensus. The world is broken, so utterly broken, and wholeness will not come until we move.

That means some will not be able to keep up or perhaps we will just have to leave some behind. We don’t do this lightly. We will spend all the energy and time that we can afford to bring everyone along. But our budget to do so isn’t without limit.

Because if we spend our energy carrying able-bodied folks, Sandra Bland will die again.

We follow a shepherd who had no problem leaving the 99 to find the one. So, yes, sometimes you have to leave people behind. It is a double standard. Absolutely. There is preference for those who are in danger. So for all of us who live in safety and privilege and abundance and security, the message is: “Tough, get over it. There are much more important things than your feelings.”

There are even things more important that unblemished unity. And that is a very, very difficult pill for Disciples to swallow.

So we have to move. We have to move to less familiar and extremely uncomfortable new territories. We have to make agonizing decisions about how fast to go at the risk of leaving some of the 99 behind. We have to trust that the shepherd, in the end, will gather them all up again as we tell them goodbye.

We have to. Because Sandra Bland is dying. We have to move.

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Faith

GA2015 – A Post-Mortem for the “Church is Dying” Conversation

I’ll never forget when I was in high school and my youth minister came to me and said, “Brad, I have a topic for our Youth Retreat and wanted to run it by you. I thought it might be interesting to talk about Death. Do you think that’s too morbid?”

I quipped right back at him, “Well, I’m pretty sure that’s the definition of morbid.” At the time I was really proud of my wit, but now… well actually, I still think it was pretty clever.

My pastorally-minded youth minister knew two things: Death makes all of us uncomfortable, but it is worth talking about.

I’m at the 2015 General Assembly of my church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and I’ve been thinking about that quick conversation I had 17 years ago. It reminds me of the two things I love most about gatherings like this, as awkward and frustrating as they can be:

  1. I get to see so many of the people that have shaped my spiritual life (like my old youth minister!)
  2. We as a people are forced to have conversations that are difficult but ultimately so worthwhile.

Tonight we received a deep Word in worship. We received it as the youth of Light of the World Christian Church in Indianapolis performed a liturgical dance over the words from Isaiah 40 and a spoken word performance about facing our darkness so that we can truly soar on wings like eagles.

We also received this Word in the words of Rev. Amy Butler, Senior Minister of the historic Riverside Church in Manhattan. Of all the words she spoke, these startled me the most, as she shared how the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston affected the words she wanted to share:

“Almost exactly a month ago the big fear was the dying church. Then we saw nine people die in church.”

Death. It is everywhere. We don’t want to but we need to talk about it.

As I’ve sat through workshops and worship and business meetings and a hundred reunions in the halls of the Columbus Convention Center, death has been all over everything for me.

You have to understand, to be a minister under 40 means that we have been groomed and trained and ordained and sent off into a world where the church has been dying for over 30 years. And I don’t think I’m alone in just being so weary of that conversation. I get it. I’ve seen the stats. And yes, I’ve got plenty of old high school friends whose lack of interest in the institutional church backs all that data up. But when I roam the halls of General Assembly and see so much life, I just want to say, “Yes, the church we’ve known is dying, but who cares?”

And that is the Word I’m receiving this week. I’m starting to hear the conversation beyond “the church is dying.” And, more importantly, I’m starting to see a church beyond the one that is dying.

The question has never been “will the church die?” The church — the healthy church, the 2,000+ year old movement that started with an execution — has been dying all along.

The question we need to be asking is “which church is dying? and what church is being born?”

Amy Butler’s words arrested me because I realized that if we can witness to a world stuck on Good Friday and say, “Yes, this death and pain are real, and no, I don’t have all the answers, but if we can just hold on for a few more days and stand face to face with the darkest hour of death, I know God is working on something great. God is cooking up new life.” …

If the church that is dying is the one where we leave certain people behind because they don’t look like us or think like us….

If the church that is dying is the one where we spend more energy on maintaining our place in the community instead of actually getting to understand the needs of our community…

If the church that is dying is the one that is afraid of who will leave if we speak out for those who don’t have a voice…

 

Well, I don’t really care if that church is dying. Because the church that is being born will be the church of hope against all odds, the church of resurrection, the church of Jesus Christ.

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Faith, Media

Resisting the Path of Least Resistance – Searching for a Response to the Baltimore Riots

Our news media and our social media are not reliable. They force us into instant judgements. They typically have a particular narrative they’re trying to tell. A group of people is instantly either bad or good, either peacekeepers or rioters, either good American citizens or criminals.

That is the organic path today, the path of least resistance. No longer are we talking about complex human beings that we have to love, but we get to talk about flat caricatures of people that are easy to hate.

As Christians it is our job to resist that. It is our job to fight for the humanity in everyone. The humanity in the voiceless who feel they have no where else to turn. Yes, it is our job to fight to preserve the humanity of protesters, rioters, police officers and politicians alike. It is our job to protect God’s flame burning inside every precious soul. Because if we do not, well, you know what our news and social media, or even our own broken prejudices, will do to them.

It is also my job as a Christian to acknowledge that I don’t know what it’s like to feel completely powerless to change my situation. I am enmeshed in a network of powerful people that I could call if I really felt the cards were stacked against me. It’s my job to acknowledge that I don’t know what it’s like to have my entire complex, beautiful identity distilled down to my skin color. It’s my job to recognize that telling a story in which the powerless are merely thugs and criminals is a temptation too perfect and strong for the powerful to resist.

So when we do see the coverage on TV and in our Facebook feed, as Christians we have to recognize the natural reaction and then search for our Christian reaction. It’s easy enough, almost effortless in fact, to feel like you have it all figured out. “Those rioters are all thugs.” “I would never do that.” “Look, they’re all like that.” It’s easy to despise them, and to feel hatred start gripping your heart.

I’m searching for the Christian reaction to what is happening in Baltimore. I know that reaction is not the path of least resistance. I know that reaction must work to protect God’s holy light that shines in all people. I know that reaction includes not having all the answers and seeking understanding from people different from me. I know I am called to see everyone through God’s eyes. I know I am called to work for peace.

God, help us to protect flame burning in all of us and not burn one another.

God, help us all to fight for one another and not against one another.

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Faith, Life

18 Things That Will (Almost Certainly) Not be in Your Obituary (or mine)

tombstone

  1. Had this annoying habit of giving people the benefit of the doubt.
  2. Successfully allowed other people’s opinions to shape all your important decisions in life. Well done.
  3. Failed at that one new thing you tried 15 years ago.
  4. Did a beautiful job protecting God from the attacks of people with different opinions. Whew, that was close.
  5. Definitely should not have donated any money to that man on the street that one time.
  6. Definitely should not have served a meal to that one homeless lady that one time.
  7. Forgave your friend again after having already forgiven them seventy times seven times. Big no no.
  8. Showed mercy to someone who definitely did not deserve it in any way. Tsk tsk.
  9. Could have made more money if you just had spent less time with family and friends.
  10. Did not develop an acceptable amount of stress and worry.
  11. You didn’t beat yourself up enough over things that no one else cared about.
  12. Spent too much time being quiet and listening to friends.
  13. Successfully kept all out-of-the-box ideas to yourself.
  14. Could have felt more guilt and shame.
  15. Shared love with too many people.
  16. Laughed way too much.
  17. Bad dancer, should have never tried.
  18. Experienced too much grace.

Take a break. Breathe. Do not worry. Do not fear.

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