Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Would the real Jesus please stand up...

One of the parts of my job as pastor of a new kind of church is that I get to facilitate a series of discussions we call Theology Pubs. They are designed to be a safe place where we can talk openly and honestly about our experience and ideas of some of the elementary ideas of the Christian faith. Last week we talked about Jesus (good place to start huh?). We discussed the historical man that lived in 1st century Palestine, and compared that to the Jesus we see in scripture, and the Jesus that popular culture identifies, and the Jesus Christian churches worship. Depending on your experience and history and worldview those four men are very different. When ever we discuss this topic at Theology Pubs we undoubtedly come to a point where we wrestle with the tendency we all have, whether we are people of faith or not, to turn Jesus into a bigger better version of ourselves, which ironically is pretty much the opposite of what the historical and biblical Jesus was all about.

I think most of us are pretty good at constructing a “savior” that looks like us, and acts like us; a Jesus who likes the people we like, hates the people we hate and supports our world view and behaviors. A Jesus who condemns the behaviors and worldviews that we conveniently condemn. Wars and violence have been waged with this understanding of Jesus. Policies and systems have been enacted because of this idea of Jesus, and as much as I hate to say it, the core ideas of forgiveness, sacrifice and transformation have been modified at best, and destroyed at worse, all in an effort to serve or share Jesus.

I realize that those of you who follow my blog or are reading this, are probably thinking “Ya! Those people I disagree with have perverted the message of Jesus” but I think Paul was correct when he wrote to his friends in Rome and said “we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). I don’t think the political left has a corner on the Jesus perspective, nor does the political right. We all manipulate, mold and create a Jesus that serves us. Which makes me think that God was warning us more about our selfish sinful nature and using God/Jesus/Holy Spirit (It’s a trinity thing!) to profit and get what we want, than saying “God damnit” when we crack our knuckles on the engine block of our 1978 Yamaha XS 400 we are restoring in the garage…(Sorry I’m telling you a bit more about myself than you need to know..) when he commanded us not to use the Lord’s name in vain (Exodus 20:7).

I guess what I am most convicted by this Lenten season is how easily my desire to be a follower of Jesus, and being one who is transformed by the one sent by God to show us a new way, can turn into a desire to manipulate the divine to get what I want, whether it be comfort, wealth, power or influence. Lent reminds me that my life needs the transforming work of a savior, not that Jesus needs to justify my world view. My prayer for myself and for all of us, is that as we wrestle with the transforming work of Jesus, examine the sin, both personal and corporate, in our lives that we would find peace wholeness and life as disciples.

I’ll keep stumbling through Lent. I hope yours has been equally as challenging!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Of Fernando and lab coats

So this week I was walking through the mall and I walked through Macy’s (if you walk into one of the stores it doesn’t look like you are “mall-walking” for exercise!) anyway. As I walked into the store there were several women wearing white lab coats walking the aisles of the store. Were these women medical personnel? Maybe they were scientists taking a break from some important research to cure some terrible disease. My next clue as to who these women were was the fact that they all seemed to have on very tall high heels and dangly earrings. I’m not positive but I’m sure that both of these accessories would hinder a certain amount of productivity in scientific lab research and/or medical field practice. Of course we all know that these were Macy employees who were working at the make up counter, but it struck me that the lab coat they were required to wear as part of their position was meant to send a certain message. I’m not certain what the message was but it seemed to me that it was supposed to inspire a certain confidence in the product as a “healthy product” if someone in a lab coat sold it to me. I’m not trying to impugn the quality of the make up in Macy’s or the ability of their employees but it illustrated to me how much appearances determine our feelings or how we can mask our insecurities or fears by “looking good”

When it comes to faith I don’t think it is much different. I know that in my own situation there have been times that I felt like I needed to look like I had it all together, when the reality was that I was struggling spiritually and emotionally. It is especially true for those of us who serve in ordained ministry. I think most of us like to know that our pastors and priests are human, but we don’t want to know that they have issues and problems like the rest of us. As one of my favorite SNL characters Fernando of Fernando’s Hideaway used to say “It’s better to look good than to feel good.” I’m afraid we have all bought into that thinking.

I have been teaching a very basic overview of the Bible at Salmon Creek United Methodist Church. As with most of the events or classes I lead I put a lot of effort in creating safe places for people to ask honest questions. What I have found is that for many of us church-goers we don’t really understand the story or themes of scripture. They are confusing for us and seem to be unrelated. We realize that they are important, after all we hear sermons about them every Sunday don’t we? So we tend to cover up our confusion or doubt, and smile and nod our heads when we talk about faith and scripture. I am so happy that the class has been a place where there are no stupid questions and the friends that are participating feel safe enough to ask questions that they may not otherwise, because we may see under their white lab coat. It also dawned on me that many of us don’t feel as though communities of faith are places where we can find the support or help when we are struggling with issues of faith and life. We talk a lot about unconditional love, but most of us are afraid to expose our struggles because we aren’t sure whether or not churches and other communities really mean it when it comes to us.

During Lent Christians for centuries have set aside 40 days to wrestle with exactly these issues. The problem I find myself and others, struggling with is that we interpret Lent as a purely individual effort. “it’s time for me to hunker down and ‘get right’ with God.” Although that is not a bad idea for most of us. I hope that we realize that a huge aspect of faith is living as part of a community and that we can find help, support and life in when we come across those dry, confusing and challenging times in our faith. I hope that this season of Lent is not only a time for you to deepen your relationship with God, but also a time where you can connect with a community of faith that fosters growth, joy and hope in you.

I pray this is a wonderful season of Lent for you!


Saturday, March 03, 2012

Little Wounds

Hi friends,

This last week I was asked by a friend who is not particularly familiar with the traditions of the Church or the idea of the “Christian Seasons of the Year”, what this whole Lent thing was all about. She, like most people, understood the season of Lent merely as the time of year when you give up something you like for a while (Of course only after over indulging in it on “Fat Tuesday” and collecting beads in the process). Having grown up in a protestant church I must admit that we didn’t pay too much attention to the seasons of the Christian year, other than the table cloth colors on the alter table in the sanctuary at church were a different color when we changed to a new season.

It wasn’t until much later in my life that I started to see the value in reliving the story of scripture through the seasons of the Christian year, and recognizing that there was a pattern to the seasons of preparation, celebration and growth that were evident in them. So how do I explain Lent to my friend you may be asking? I told her the story of something that happened to me, hopefully it will give you some insight into Lent as I see it:

I was sitting on my couch watching the opening round of the 2012 World Superbike races that I had recorded while eating a sandwich during my lunch break. As I was intently watching the races I took a bite of my sandwich only to also take a bite of my cheek! For those of us who have bitten your cheek or your tongue while eating (which is all of us!) you know how much it hurts. The momentary muscle freeze where you don’t move waiting for the lightening bolt of pain to hit… the combination of the “squeek” and “crunch” sound you hear in your head… all make this experience how shall I say?? …. intense. I spit my bite of sandwich out on my plate and instinctively put my finger in my mouth to feel a little flap of skin open in my cheek and of course a nice amount of blood accompanying it. I went to the bathroom and rinsed my mouth with cold water shoved a wad of toilet paper between my cheek and gum and after stopping the bleeding went back to work grumpy and hungry.

For the rest of the day my cheek hurt. No matter how I tried, I could NOT keep my tongue from touching the wound or playing with the flap of skin. It affected everything I did all day, and most of the next, yet the event that caused it took place in a nano-second, and the wound itself was about the size of sesame seed …. Oops I mean a “Mustard seed” for you churchy story type people. It is amazing how something so small can have such a huge affect on your life, physically and emotionally. There are lots of little things that affect us negatively, especially in a spiritual sense. Little things that have happened to us, little experiences we have had; some of them accidents; some of them small decisions that we made unconsciously or consciously thinking “oh something that small wont matter.” The problem is that little things easily become big things. Think of coral reefs, or the wad of lint you pull out of your dryer every time you do laundry (you do clean the lint trap don’t you? It’s a fire hazard!) Ok here is the punch line… thanks for hanging on so long!

Lent is the time we take a look at ourselves and we see what are those things we have experienced or picked up along the way that damage our relationship with God and others. They may be small, but they have a huge effect on us. For forty days (not counting Sundays) before Easter, Christians have been, for centuries, looking at themselves asking what are the things that damage my relationship with God and with others. Some of us have been asking God to reveal those things to us, some of us give up those things, some of us add disciplines like fasting or study or sabbath as a way of growing closer to God.

Whatever the mechanism is, the idea is that we spend a significant time in introspection and then emerge from that, sometimes difficult journey, with a celebration that pronounces the work of God is alive and well and not even death can stop God from transforming all things in Easter.

I hope that ya’ll have a wonderful season of Lent and that we all discover something new about ourselves and our relationship with God during this time. Now go clean your lint trap and be careful eating lunch!

See ya next week