Let us Ramble: The Cannon

I was gardening a few minutes before it happened. I spent the majority of the day getting the tomato patch ready for a good season. I pulled weeds, I measured space, I marked holes, I prepped the area, and finally planted the tomatoes. We planted 3 cherry tomato plants, 2 slicing tomato plants, and 3 paste tomato varieties for sauces. It had been a really productive day. I even planted flowers. I came inside and this is who I was…

File_000

I was this guy from the circus. I was climbing on life’s cannon. I avoided the news all day, avoided Facebook most of the day, and was ready to climb into the cannon of life. I was totally ready for what life had for me, because if life gave me lemons, I could use them to add a certain amount of acidity to my tomato sauces.

Then I read the Judicial Council’s decision on the election of Bishop Oliveto. I immediately felt like the man from the circus in the following picture…

File_001

Do you see that blur? That’s a person being fired out of a cannon. I know this because my phone took a continuous stream of photos and that’s the guy! You’d better hope that pad is in place when this happens, because that is really fast.

I felt like this man being shot across an arena when I read that article not because I am a member of the LGBTQI community–I am pretty much as heterosexual as people come. I did not feel like a man being shot across an arena because I have any relatives that are out of the closet–they’re all heterosexual as far as I can tell. I have no familial investment in the LGBTQI community as far as I know.

I felt like a person being shot out of a cannon because these actions come across to me as neither right nor righteous. We live in a world where there are children being driven from homes by war, greed, and hatred. We live in a world where children are forced into exploitive circumstances where they are taken advantage of in the most criminal of fashions. We live in a world where we are regularly discussing the possibility of nuclear war between North Korea and the United States on a nearly daily basis. We live in a messed up world and THIS is where we are spending our time and energy. If you’re reading frustration into my words, congratulations. You are correct. I am totally and completely frustrated by what has happened.

We act as if God is losing sleep over what two consenting adults do in a loving relationship but is okay with the effects that our personal investments and privileges have on people around the globe. Continuing to waste time and resources on the oppression of a community that has individuals who exemplify and exhibit the gifts of the Holy Spirit is simply and completely confounding to me.

Let me put this another way. If I call the pizzeria down the street and ask for them to send me the best pizza they have, the pizzeria might make any of a number of pizzas. They might send a black olive pizza, a cheeseburger pizza, a pepperoni pizza… The possibilities are endless, but I know this: if I ask them to make me a great pizza I’ll probably get a great pizza.

We ask God to send us leaders and then we get upset when God sends us leaders who don’t fit our conceptions of what is acceptable. We ask for God to help lead us forward into this new millennia and new century and then we get frustrated that God continually asks us to accept who we are sent instead of who we would prefer. We’re given talented leaders like Bishop Oliveto and we respond by threatening any group of clergy with punishment that would even consider electing another person like her.

Is it any wonder that someone who was ordained to help care for the body of Christ feels like he has been shot out of a cannon? I just wanted to worry about my tomatoes and now I’m worried about my church bleeding out over the massive wounding we just gave ourselves. I think we’ve all just been launched into the sky. I pray we have a soft landing.

Let us Ramble: Images of the Police and God

The other day I read a sourceless (but probably not apocryphal) story about a police officer sitting at lunch with her partner when a conversation between a mother and her son was overheard. The child had been acting up and the mother was losing her patience. The mother pointed at the two police officers and said “You see those police officers over there? They take bad kids like you to jail if they misbehave.” The officer stood up, walked over, and said to the child “Don’t worry. We don’t take children to jail. We take bad parents there instead.”

The story was meant to inspire people to not tell their children that the police are the bad guys. If a child gets in trouble it becomes harder to help them if they truly believe that the police are going to hurt them. The fear children learn about police officers from others causes the children to be less safe in the long run.

The story re-entered my brain as I was reading through the first few chapters of “God’s Unconditional Love: Healing Our Shame” by Wilkie Au and Noreen Cannon Au for the upcoming session of the Academy for Spiritual Formation. In the introduction to the book the authors note that a lot of people carry two images of God with them. They carry the image that they are taught and verbally profess, but they also carry the image that is formed by their interactions with others, especially caretakers and parents. The authors call these images of God the professed image and the operative image (pg.2-3).

Looking at the story of the police officer’s interaction we see a great example of this kind of learned behavior. The child is likely taught through school programs, teachers, and neighbors that the police are there to be helpful. This image is reinforced every time they see an officer in a car with the words “To serve and protect” written on the bumper. If pressed the child might say that the police exist to help. This would be the professed image of the police.

At the same time, the child is being taught by his mother that bad boys are taken away by the police. The child is being taught that the police effectively exist to lock him up when he misbehaves. The child is being taught that they should avoid the police and this image may last for years in such a deep place that the child may not even remember. The child is going forward with two ideas in his head. He says the police are there for his benefit and yet believes (at some level) that the police exist to hurt him when he misbehaves.

I wonder how much this duality truly exists when it comes to divine education. I serve in a role as a pastor. I teach people about God on a regular basis. I tell people about the love of Jesus, the kindness of Jesus, the graciousness of Jesus, and that God deeply and truly cares for them. I try to teach this idea at a deep level.

At the same time, there are people who constantly and consistently undermine this idea. Yes, sometimes it is a parent saying that God will take them as a bad kid and throw them into a fire where they will spend all of eternity, but I honestly don’t believe many of the parents that I meet work out of that theological place. This idea is reinforced while flipping through television stations past an angry televangelist, while walking past the angry man with a sign screaming through a bullhorn, while talking with friends and relatives who have had bad experiences with hellfire/damnation preachers. All of these influences add up and in a world where there are a million and one places to get information it shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us that God sometimes ends up with a reputation as being someone who cannot and must not be trusted.

This whole concept begs a question or two for me. How does the church survive when there are so many people teaching the exact opposite viewpoint that we share of a loving and caring God? How do we help people connect the image of God they profess to the image of God that is acting on a level that might even exist below their conscious thought? How do we help people peel back the layers and find the God of love and grace below their misconceptions?

I know I have done my best to help my kids understand that police officers are good people by making sure they know how much we respect their Uncle Stefano (who is a police officer). We treat officers with respect and do our best not to speak poorly of the police (even when we don’t agree with everything that has ever been done by police officers). We do our best to connect our children with a positive image of the police.

I wonder if we might do the same thing by connecting our children to people who carry the love of God around with them in their everyday lives. I think that means making certain our children are involved in a Christian community and supporting that community as best we are able. I also believe that means doing our best to embody the faith we profess as opposed to the poor parts of the faith we may have inherited from others. I think it’ll take a lot of work.

Here are three things I think need to become a reality for this work to succeed:

  1. Caregivers and parents need to be aware that their viewpoints often help to educate a child about the role and nature of God. A lesson is taught when a child is dropped off for Sunday school by a parent who leaves to have “me time.” Awareness is necessary.
  2. Pastors, Sunday School teachers, and even parishioners need to be aware that their vocal-voice is not the only voice children hear. Our voices need to be compelling and backed up by our actions. We cannot sing “Jesus’ hands were kind hands” before saying terrible things around the table over a cup of coffee while expecting kids to remember only the first message. Our kids will hear both messages.
  3. Sometimes we need to state the obvious in worship so that the obvious is heard more than once or twice. Why do some churches have constant communion? Yes, there’s a theology of grace, but there’s also a richness to hearing words of grace and forgiveness regularly. Why do some churches repeat a creed or affirmation of faith every week? Perhaps a child needs the consistency of hearing the same message in order to combat the messages they see every day in the world.

What other things do you think the church can do to connect the professed beliefs of the church about God with their operative images of God? What have you seen work in your lives?

Let us Seek: Jonah and Judgment

In today’s readings from the Revised Common Lectionary we find that there is a good deal to chew upon… Well, I assume too much. I figure a famous prophet like Jonah would have been well fed enough to require a good chewing. No, my wife doesn’t laugh at my jokes anymore. I think she’s afraid to encourage me. She doesn’t realize or at least admit to me that it is too late. That ship has sailed and I do my best not to be swallowed by whales.

Anyway, obviously today’s readings include a section from the story of Jonah. The section of Jonah includes the speech which Jonah makes from within the whale before being spit ashore. His voice comes to the Lord (in the temple (of course…that reading clearly points to a very solid temple-centric theology)). Jonah owns his place in the depths and offers a promise of sacrifice to God. Others turn to idols, but Jonah will come with thanksgiving to the temple. Jonah is effectively owning his place at the edge of death, is operating out of a place of desperation but hopefully also honesty, and is claiming that deliverance belongs to God alone. Jonah is spit out by the fish and reaches a place of safety.

A reading of Jonah will show that Jonah still doesn’t really care about the people of Nineveh. He waits for their destruction before the end. He waits for the Lord to destroy people who call on God to relent. Yes, he waits for God to do to others what he does not want God to do to him. Really, for being such an effective prophet Jonah does not understand mercy.

To be fair, it appears as if understanding is contagious as the reading from Matthew contains the statement made by Jesus to the Pharisees that no sign will be given but the sign of Jonah. Jesus rises from the grave after three days and Jesus seems to state quite clearly that the people of Nineveh will stand in judgment because they repented after Jonah came. Their ability to stand in judgment comes from their willingness to repent when the word comes from Jonah.

I wonder what this could mean for us as a people. It is likely that early readers saw this as a condemnation of Jewish people and it has been used many times to foment anti-semitism, but I’d like to push past that point. The world doesn’t need any more anti-semitism.

I wonder if there aren’t communities out there who have at one point or another found themselves surrounded by enemies with weapons that were more than willing to slaughter. I wonder if they called out to God, God relented, and a word was spoken to “the fish” willing to swallow them whole. Could such a community stand in judgment over other communities that are more than willing to use violence to get their way? Could such a community stand in judgment over communities that enter into the pond of life to eat other fish and consequently risk being eaten? It is a bit off the original point, but is this a possibility as we read texts like these?

How many places have we been forgiven only to hold that same place in judgment over another? How many places have we found grace only to turn around and deny it to others? How many times do we effectively act blindly towards our neighbors while ignoring our own shortcomings?

When will Jonah learn? When will we learn? The God who scares the sea walks in our midst with hills skipping away. We should learn well. We should do so in a timely fashion. Whale teeth aren’t small and I bet they hurt.

Let us Pray: United Methodists and Magic Fish

Today I am in prayer for the United Methodist Church and I am reminded of a story referenced in last weekend’s Doctor Who episode. In that episode, the Doctor speaks with his companion Bill about a cautionary tale called “The Magic Haddock.”

In the story of the Magic Haddock, a fisherman catches a fish which offers the fisherman three wishes in exchange for freedom. The fisherman wishes for his son to be home from war and for 100 pieces of gold. The Magic Haddock grants his wishes, but not as expected. The man’s son is slain in battle and returns home in a coffin. The man is offered 100 pieces of gold in gratitude for his son’s service. Heartbroken, the third wish the man makes is that his first two wishes would be undone.

It is a story that reminds me of the Tale of the Monkey’s Paw that was a part of one of the Simpsons Treehouses of Horror when I was a child. The moral of the two stories is the same: You never know what you will get when you make a wish, so you’d better be careful of what wishes you make in your life. It is a common tale that relates back to many tales of genies, d’jinn, devils, and other mythical figures.

A lot of people are making “wishes” about what will come out of this Judicial Council meeting or out of the special meeting of General Conference in 2019. I am someone who is sitting on the sidelines and wondering if the wishes we are making might have disastrous consequences, especially as we have folks praying in extreme opposite directions. We need the Holy Spirit to be at work in these events for the future to have hope. We need the Holy Spirit to be at work in us for the future to have hope. We need the Holy Spirit for our wishes are often to our own detriment.

May God bless us and give us wisdom. May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. May God help us to be the church.

Let Us Seek: Lakes and Canoes

In today’s Revised Common Lectionary readings, I find a bit of a disconnect between the Psalm and the reading from Judges.The Psalm describes the coming of the Lord in fantastic ways. Psalm 114 asks questions of the sea and the mountains. Why would the sea flee from before the Lord? Why would mountains and hills skip away like wild animals?

A better question might be what kind of person could cause such a reaction to take place? I don’t know much about the seas or hills around the holy land beyond what I have read, but I can certainly tell you that North American lakes and mountains really don’t care what humans want of them (although we’re certainly doing our best to have a powerful impact on them).

When I was really young I was a Boy Scout. Yes, I was a Boy Scout and my troop loved to go camping. One year we went on an epic trip into the wilderness of Canada. We piled into canoes and went out into the wilds of Canada. We got into our canoes, paddled for miles, got out of our canoes, carried our canoes, climbed into our canoes again, paddled again, go out again… until we were in the middle of nowhere. It was beautiful and wild.

At one point a member of my group and I were canoeing when the boat capsized. I tried to stand up and my leg was stuck in the mud. I pulled and pulled until something gave…painfully. My scouting friend went to get help and I laid on a rock in the middle of the wilderness in insane amounts of pain. I could barely walk when I got back to camp and twisted my ankle further portaging the canoe on the way back. It was painful, it was traumatic, and the lakes did not care. The mud that I begged to let go of my foot did not care. The hill I tripped on while portaging the canoe did not care.

The Psalm describes seas and mountains as caring about what this God does. The implication for me is that this God is so far beyond me that I cannot imagine how powerful this God might be. It defies explanation. It defies science. This defies everything I experience about reality.

So, why is this silly Judge questioning God with something as simple as wool and dew? Does Gideon just needs a bit of reassurance or is he trying not to push his luck? Does Gideon not know what the seas and mountains would do? The whole Judge based system seems like it led to a lot of problems, but putting these two readings side by side really emphasizes how strange the perspectives of individuals can be at times.

Of course, I sometimes question whether it is reasonable or not to ask God for a good crop of apples this fall. God can make mountains skip, but it sometimes seems too much to ask God to keep the frost away from the blossoms for a few weeks. Perhaps this is why I was not called to be a farmer. Most faithful farmers I know have a deep faith that doesn’t seem afraid to ask for help with crops. Most of them are also bold enough that they’d likely continue to believe regardless of what the wool did the next morning.

In the meantime, I am thankful that I love a God who is so powerful yet lives out of a place of love and grace. I am thankful that I do not have the power of God as I would likely not use it very well. I will give thanks that I am beloved as a goofball who prays for apples and worries about the faith of people with wool. At least I am pondering and I know that is a good start.

Let Us Ramble: Fishing and Shame

This morning I made a terrible mistake. This morning I picked up the first book of many that I will be reading as a result of my time engaging in the Academy for Spiritual Formation. The book is entitled “God’s Unconditional Love: Healing Our Shame” and is written by Wilkie Au and Noreen Cannon Au out of Loyola Marymount University and the CH Jung Institute of Los Angeles respectively.

I say it was a mistake to dive into this book because I was unprepared for the depths to which this book would delve so quickly. I started keeping a list of potential blog-entries and had to stop after a few pages. This is a book that will require chewing, digesting, and redigesting later. I wish I had a brain as effective at digging through ideas as a cow’s stomach can be at munching through grass. I need a good four brains right about now.

Let me explain what I mean through an example. A question was raised in the book on the effect of shame in our spiritual lives. Shame can affect the way we relate to other people in our lives, but do we stop to think about how shame can affect the way that we see God? My first reaction is that shame definitely affects the way that we see God. The authors are right when they say that shame affects all of our relationships.

Let me give an example. When I was first married I decided that I wanted to be a fly-fisherman. I may or may not have watched “A River Runs Through It” a few too many times. I bought a pole, broke a pole, bought another pole, built a pole traveling case to protect the pole, learned to cast, and I spent hours sending a piece of yarn back and forth over the yard. I cast, cast, and cast again. I was pretty happy with my casting.

Unfortunately, I had two problems. First, my vision was beginning to deteriorate due to keratoconus and I couldn’t see very well into the water to find fish. I needed help learning where to cast as I couldn’t see what I needed to see below the surface. I had to learn to read the surface. Second, I didn’t know all that much about how to reel in a fish once I caught it. I knew I needed to strip the line, but I wasn’t quite sure how that worked. I kept casting and casting.

On our anniversary my wife and I went camping. I went fishing at the lake shore by the campsite. I caught a little fish and it went flying behind me. I didn’t even realize I caught it. My wife found it hilarious. She mounted a little plastic fish as a playful reminder of my encounter with a wild fish. It was funny, but I stopped fly fishing. I was so embarrassed by my fishing that I couldn’t bring myself to ask anyone for advice. I was ashamed of my ability. I stopped because it was easier than admitting my failure to any one of a number of friends who would have gladly helped me.

Shame stopped me in my tracks. The question becomes whether or not there are things in my life that stop me spiritually just as hard as my fear of being “found out” as a bad fly-fisherman. Yes, there certainly are things that weigh me down through spiritual shame.

When I was a kid I had a nightmare at a summer camp that the devil was going to steal my soul after a particularly rough Bible study told us about sin. The camp counselor was loving, kind, and helpful, but let’s be honest, I still carried around the image of a God who would abandon me to such a fate if I didn’t do things just right. I still carry that idea around. When people talk in church about shortcomings of an institution that is far larger than me, I sometimes see that divine head shaking at me. When people talk about younger folks who don’t come to church, I sometimes see that divine head looking at me and challenging me to do something worthwhile and amazing. I live with a lot of shame that more than likely doesn’t belong on my shoulders alone. I do live in a community, so why does everything that happens feel like it is my fault alone?

Jesus said that His yoke was easy. Why does my shame add such weight to the things I carry through my life? Why does the church (or at least church folk) sometimes seem to have an addiction to that sense of shame? Why does shame put a weight on all of us? Is shame what is killing the church rather than people who sometimes act cruelly and (ironically) shamelessly? Interesting questions to ponder…

Meanwhile, I both recommend this book and invite you to be careful. There’s a lot to chew on in these pages.

Let us Seek: Beloved Partner

So, when I consider today’s readings in the Revised Common Lectionary I see an unintentional correlation between two texts that are clearly unrelated. One of the readings is from the fifth chapter of the Song of Solomon and another is from the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians.

Do you know what stands out to me in this portion of the Song of Solomon? No? Well, I’ll tell you! It is one of the final descriptions of the beloved man. He is described as having legs like alabaster columns and smelly cheeks. His lips are like lilies dripping with a liquid that smells like burial spices. He has a body made of ivory encrusted with sapphires. He is described in ways that are altogether flowing and altogether over the top. He’s clearly well liked, but I want to draw attention to that one final description. The final thing she says in that chapter is “This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.”

What is the final compliment that can be made of this wonderful man? He’s not only beloved. He is her friend. The relationship between these two is not simply about physical attraction. The relationship includes friendship and I believe that is truly important.

Now, I love my wife with all of my heart, but she’s changed over the years from the beautiful bride that I married after college. She’s grown wiser in her eyes and she’s grown more lovely in her ways. She’s gained intelligence, character, and tenacity. Over time I have come to love her deeply and that love grows deeper each time I am reminded of one fact. She’s not just my beloved. My wife is my friend and her friendship is the fragrance that makes her more and more lovely…

As our marriage has gone on I have come to realize that her friendship is deeply important to me. As such, ten years into marriage I am as interested (if not more interested) in being a better friend to my wife as I am in being a handsome husband. I heard somewhere that: “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a person who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (Proverbs 31:30, alt.)

Here’s where I see the connection to 1 Corinthians. Paul has been writing chapter after chapter of advice to a community that is divided on multiple fronts. Paul has been trying to draw them out of their challenging behavior in an attempt to draw them back into life a loving community. Paul is working very hard to convince them of this reality when he writes the words from our reading: (1 Cor. 15:1-4)

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures…

These words are an attempt to reiterate a major truth of the epistle. Jesus Christ is the one who is ultimately at the core of the Corinthian community. Paul believed that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection were integral to the community of faith. Jesus’ work molded and transformed the ways in which the community lived, fought, and struggled together. To forget this integral truth would be to forget the very thing that made them into a community.

Ultimately, Paul’s call on the Corinthian church is also a call on us as a community. I personally hear it as a call that applies to my own marriage. Jesus’ life was marked by love, sacrifice, and servanthood. My relationship with my wife should follow Jesus’ example. I may appreciate how her teeth look like shorn sheep, but ultimately, her looks aren’t what is first and foremost important. She’s the woman I love, the woman I honor, and the woman who I am called to be a friend to for all of my days.

I normally would offer advice on how to be a better friend to your partner or spouse, but the best advice I have is to love them like you like to be loved in their shoes. Please note, I don’t mean that your partner wants what you would want–love them as if you were them and had their interests…

My father-in-law also once said don’t buy gifts that come with electrical plugs. Apparently he was into solar power before it was cool…

Let us Ramble: Dryness

Lately I have been thinking about dry bones. I have been feeling a bit dry myself. Perhaps it is the number of things that have been rapidly changing in my life, the busyness of the Lenten season, the stresses of being a pastor of a smaller church in a small town, or simply the constant headache from not wearing my glasses while my new cornea heals… Regardless I have been feeling like a bunch of dried out bones.

One of the books I have been reading lately has been “A Guide to Retreat for All God’s Shepherds” by Reuben P. Job. In that book, a poem by Joyce Rupp is quoted named “Dry Bones.” In that poem, the following stanzas are recorded:

tiredness grounds me

into a quiet stupor

of the spirit.

I yearn to be inspired,

to be lifted up, set free

beyond the place of deadness.

the struggle goes on,

however,

and you and I, God,

we exist together

with seemingly

little communion

Joyce Rupp goes on to state her belief in God feels stronger than ever despite the challenges she is facing. It is quite beautiful. I recommend both Joyce Rupp’s works and Reuben Job’s book because they each have their own beauty. I think that beauty is quite apparent in the words above…

I share these words because I know what it feels like to have tiredness wear me into a quiet stupor of the soul. I feel the dryness of my bones in a place of deadness. I yearn, I call, I seek, and yet here God and I exist together. The dryness is overwhelming sometimes.

Surely, the biblical quote you might lift up to me is the offer to the woman at the well. Doesn’t Jesus offer a living water that quenches this thirst? As a pastor, shouldn’t you (of all people!) know that these dry patches aren’t necessary when the living water dwells with us? Shouldn’t I know why these patches take place and be able to just walk through them into a bright future without a bit of dryness?

No. I do not know why there are dry places in life. Paul (in Romans 5:3-5) might tell us that suffering leads to endurance, character, and ultimately a hope that does not disappoint, but even with those words strike me as not explaining why there are dry places. The dry places may lead to this blessing, but I cannot tell you perfectly why any of us face dryness. Couldn’t there be an easier way?

Ultimately, all I can tell you is that almost everyone faces dry places in life. Almost every person sooner or later finds themselves in a place where they have moved away from the mountain top experiences, entered the valleys, and started wondering what happened and why. It is something that has happened to everyone from Mother Theresa to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

So, how do we live through these moments? I think Joyce Rupp hits it right on the head. We exist together with God in the dryness. We call out in prayer, we yearn, and when words fail us, we exist together with God.

One story I did not personally touch on during Holy Week was that one moment where Jesus says some simple words. Jesus says “I am thirsty” (John 19:28). John says that it is to fulfill the scriptures, but even so, it is a simple statement. Jesus is thirsty. The source of the living water feels thirst.

I can co-exist with Jesus in my dryness because I believe Jesus has been dried out too. Jesus knew thirst. Am I being too literal? Possibly, but I imagine the prayer in Gethsemane was a moment of dry thirst. Jesus prayed “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Go further back to the story of the temptation. If Jesus wasn’t actually hungry and thirsty when the devil offered rocks like loaves of bread, then was he truly tempted? In my dryness, I see the image of the invisible God. The image of God shown in Jesus is an image that knows difficulty.

I am pretty dry these days. I’ll still stay here with Jesus. I invite all of you who struggle with dryness to spend time with the One who knows dryness. Christ came, Christ rose, and Christ will come again. Even if we have to wait in the desert, Christ will come again.

Let us Seek: Might and Superheroes

Today’s readings in the Revised Common Lectionary are a bit challenging in a modern context. In the NRSV, Psalm 118:14 says that: “The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.” The reading from Joshua recounts the crossing of the Jordan into a Promised Land. Joshua’s campaign will be a bloody campaign. Mary’s experience in Matthew’s Gospel is far more shocking and frightening than the gospel reading we shared on Sunday from John. Jesus is described as being as having an appearance like lightning. The Mary of Matthew does not confuse Jesus with a keeper of the garden. This telling leads modern folks like me to ask which Gospel tells the truth of Easter morning, even when we’re wise enough to realize that gospels written decades apart would likely vary significantly.

In choosing a selection from these readings to ponder in our daily blog, I am drawn to ask a question. What does it mean that the Lord is our strength and might? Sure, Jesus appears as lightning in Matthew, but Jesus is also the man who willingly went to the cross. Jesus does exemplify strength, but this is not the strength you see very often in our culture.

Consider for a moment the representations of strength shown in modern cinema. In a few short weeks my daughter (who loves superhero films) will likely be asking me to take her to see the newest Thor movie. In that movie, Christopher Hemsworth will show strength in the person of Thor. He will face the Hulk in a battle and it will be powerful, but powerful in a way I doubt we’d connect with Jesus. A few weeks later, it is likely I will be asked to go see Gal Gadot portray Wonder Woman, because she is powerful and my kids are growing up in a house where we can accept the existence of both DC and Marvel comics. She’ll probably enter into a world of war while defending the person played by Chris Pine. James Tiberius Kirk would likely be shocked to know the actor portraying him in modern films will be defended by a woman far tougher than either him or Mr. Spock (it is true, sorry…), but he’s a fictional character without real emotions. Neither Kirk nor Wonder Woman would likely be accused of carrying the strength lived out in the person of Jesus.

Indeed, I’m a red-blooded American male, but even I understand that any of these characters would likely be a better pick in a game of dodgeball than someone like me. They’re strong, they’re tough, and none of them express the same kind of strength as Jesus. The question is whether real life requires Jesus’ strength or the strength of superbeings…

As a Christian reading this selection from the Psalms, I am reminded first and foremost that the Lord is my strength. My reading is affected by my very real and personal understanding that the strength which I rely on is found in the person of Jesus. When I read other words from this selection (vs. 22) around the idea that the rejected stone has become the chief cornerstone of a building founded on God’s work, I am led to ponder the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus.

None of the fictional characters of the movies that my daughter might want to see will bear the strength required to become the chief cornerstone. Are they kind of cool? Well, yeah. Do they bear the strength required to bear a Christian forward in an uncertain world? No. In fact, my knowledge of superheroes has taught me that the power and might of superheroes often leads to the loss of the people they love. Jesus makes a promise in John 17 about the people in His care and I believe that this promise holds true even as Gwen Stacy, Carol Ferris, and Colossus are left behind by the heroines and heroes that love them.

Here are three suggestions that might help a child to understand the difference between the strength of superbeings and strength of Jesus:

  1. Invite your children to participate in ministry with people who have real and present needs. Work on a Habitat for Humanity home, volunteer at a soup kitchen, or invite them to go on a trip (with a trusted group like UMCOR) to a mission field in another nation. When they see the need of the world it will help them to understand that most problems that people face require a strength that goes beyond the will and power of a superbeing. They need the loving hands of God as expressed through the body of Christ.
  2. Introduce your children to great literature. This may seem counterintuitive if you are not naturally a lover of books, but there is something about reading through the events of great figures of history and also great moments in fiction that may inspire your child to think about the world around them.

    Why is Star Trek so egalitarian in approach to different life forms? Why do the Jedi see the force in all living beings? Why does Doctor Who care so much about doing the right thing? Why did the Greeks stand so firm against the invading forces of Persia? You can find people dealing with deep issues if you look deeply enough into works of fiction and works of history. Most of those issues require an answer deeper than the average superbeing can provide. If you’re a part of that conversation you can invite your children to look deeper. Also, if your kids love books they can’t afford to get into too much trouble. Books cost too much and libraries have had their funding slashed in most places.

  3. Listen to the news with your kids and do your best to answer their questions. My kids regularly listen to WBNG on NPR One as we drive to do our errands. We do this together since my dad used to listen to WBFO with me in the garage when I was a kid.

    My eldest asks questions about the world and I am sometimes forced to learn new things to answer her with integrity. To be entirely honest, she sometimes asks questions that go far above what I understand about the world. When we discuss things like economic disparity (“Why can’t they just move somewhere other than Syria?”), violence (“Why would someone kill someone on Facebook? Why didn’t God stop them?”), or even school issues (“Why are kids hungry and why wouldn’t people give them the same lunch?”), I am forced to go deeper into the issues myself. When we seek answers together we both grow. This is a good thing and as you both grow, you’ll hopefully both come to understand the nature of true might a bit more clearly.

I hope these suggestions are helpful. As always, experiment and find out what works for both you and your family. Blessings!

Featured Image Comment: You go Lidia Valentin. You’re tougher than me by a long shot! Thanks Wikimedia Commons for sharing an image of such a strong and respectable weightlifter!

Let us Seek: Holy Clothes

Even though Holy Week is over I want to continue reflecting on the daily scripture readings found through the Revised Common Lectionary at least a few times a week. Today’s readings include the following passage from Colossians. This is Colossians 3:12-17:

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

I love the idea of clothing your body with love. Every morning I get out of bed and I choose the clothes I wear. If it is a day where I’m just with my family, it is usually just a pair of jeans and a goofy t-shirt. If It is a day where I’m going to be in the office or going on visits, I put on a clergy shirt and literally clothe my body with a collar–a symbol of my office, my calling, and a reminder to my own heart that I am a servant. If I am going to be leading worship, I might clothe myself in an alb, robe, and usually a stole. I wear a wedding ring except when I’m playing my hand drums (as the metal would ruin the drumhead). I clothe myself in many ways.

The idea of wearing love and letting it bind everything together is both heartwarming and powerful. It is the cloak that covers against a winter chill. It is the garment that wraps you and keeps you dry like a rain slicker. It is the undershirt that touches you and keeps you comfortable and safe even as you wear a scratchy but warm wool sweater.

It is love that comforts and connects all of you as you let Christ dwell in you. It is love that surrounds you as God’s love fills you with wisdom, leads you into song, teaches you gratitude, and is with you in the midst of every challenge you face. It is love that ties together the compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and forgiveness that marks the life of a Christian. It is love that covers all–even the goofiness of Christians like me!

Love is an important thing. For my family, it is increasingly important. Love can help us through all matters and my family could definitely use love along with the compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and forgiveness that are part of the wardrobe. As the months go on, you’ll learn why if you keep reading this blog.

Meanwhile, may you find the key to your wardrobe! May you find that there is adventure the likes of which C.S. Lewis would dream of as you try on the clothes of faith from the back of the rack. May you live in peace and may the God of peace clothe you in love!