Friday, September 16, 2016

Job (the man in the Bible) & a 21st Century Atheist

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A few years ago, the book of Job came up in the lectionary. (The lectionary is a system of weekly Bible readings that I often use for selecting my sermon texts.) Since Job's struggle with adversity has fascinated me for decades, I decided to devote several weeks to a sermon series using the lectionary texts from Job. I projected the series, named the sermons, and began to devote my studies to the book in preparation for the weeks ahead.

At about the same time, I began a conversation on Facebook with a young man who declared himself an atheist, the son of a minister who grew up in the church. So, unrelated to one another,  I began this conversation and my study in the book of Job. However, as my study and this conversation unfolded, they intertwined in my mind and I began to see several parallels!
  • Both Job and this young man were questioning and rejecting the traditional interpretation of God: Job, rejecting the tradition that said faithfulness brings blessings, unfaithfulness brings disease, disaster, and defeat; the atheist, rejecting the traditional view of the God of his youth.
  • Both Job and the 21st century atheist were struggling to find a new way of thinking about the world and what was happening in it, reconciling it with their understanding of God or rejecting God altogether.
  • A variety of voices bombarded both men, voices arguing for the traditional view of God. For Job the arguments came from his wife and his friends. For the young man it was his family and friends who tried to convince him of the error of his ways.
  • Both Job and the atheist eventually rejected the traditional view of God, but not without inner struggle and anguish.
  • There, for me, the parallel ends because Job came away with a stronger renewed faith... a new perspective on God's activity in the world. The atheist in the 21st century, at least this particular young man, continues to seek an expression of his spirituality while rejecting God. 

When someone says, I am spiritual but not religious, I hear Job speaking as he questions the traditional view of what it means to be religious... questioning and rejecting... attempting to define a new reality of spirituality that the religious institutions have blurred, marred, and in many cases, completely destroyed.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

#love4gabbyusa or Confession is Good for the Soul

My heart aches when I hear of the bullying messages flung at Olympic gymnast, Gabby Douglas, through social media. I still want to believe that human beings are better than that, that we can draw on our better nature or call on our better angels so we can feel empathy for others, assuming the best of them and for them. But, no, just when it seems we are "good" as the Creator declared, something like this happens, and we become the hens in the chicken house that gang up on one and peck it to near death! Are we trying to establish pecking order? What is the motive behind the bullying?

Lord, have mercy on us, a pitiful people!

Gabby's hair! Peck, peck, peck.
Gabby's performance! Peck, peck, peck.
Gabby's sour face! Peck, peck, peck.
Crabby Gabby! Peck, peck, peck.
Gabby is jealous! Peck, peck, peck. ...bloody feathers flying in all directions!

Lord, have mercy on us in our pettiness!

When I watched the women's gymnastic team receive their gold medals I noticed that Ms. Douglas held her hands to her sides during the national anthem while her teammates put their hands on their hearts, and I thought to myself, 'She will get flack for that!' ...not realizing that negative tweets already bombarded her about her physical appearance and countenance! (...if I'm understanding the sequence of events) And as I suspected, she did get flack for that!

Gabby is unpatriotic! Peck, peck, peck.

 Lord, have mercy! 

Yes, there is proper protocol for our attention toward the flag during the Pledge and during the playing of the national anthem.

  • Those in uniform give the appropriate formal salute.
  • Members of the military and veterans not in uniform may render the military salute.
  • Citizens salute by placing their right hand over the heart, removing head coverings.
  • Citizens of other countries present should stand at attention.
However, even this Wikipedia information leaves me with unanswered questions. I've heard Gabby's mother explain that they are a military family where the veterans salute the flag and the civilians stand at attention with their hands at their sides to pay honor to the flag. Her explanation is not difficult for me to accept, because as a child in public school we were instructed to stand at attention with our hands to our sides during the national anthem.  I entered the first grade in 1949.

Apparently somewhere between 1966 and 1982 (the years we lived abroad), that particular anthem protocol changed! Our family returned to the United States in November 1982 after living sixteen years in Switzerland and Germany. Our three children, ages almost 14, almost 13, and 7, all American citizens born abroad, had to adjust to the American culture as home for the first time. The adjustment was not easy for them, and in fact, it was not easy for my husband and me, either!

One day after school, out of the blue, one of our daughters said to me, "Mother, I can't put my hand over my heart when I say the Pledge of Allegiance because my heart belongs to Jesus." 

Lord, help us to see this world through the eyes of a child!

The truth of her simple confession cut to the core of my being--and to this day I can't think of it without tears welling up in my eyes. My heart belongs to Jesus! From that day to this, I have stood with my hands to my sides to express my love for the Lord and my respect for my country... in that order and to that degree. In reality, I am doing what I was taught to do as a child: stand at attention with your hands to your sides when the national anthem is played. Now, that expression of respect is declared unpatriotic!  

Lord, help us!

I am proud to be an American. I am proud to carry an American passport and enjoy the privileges it affords. I appreciate every woman and man who serves our country in the military and defends our flag. I honor those who died for our freedom. I do not take my American citizenship lightly, but I also remember that as a follower of Jesus, my true citizenship is in heaven! (...as heretical as that sounds to our American ears!) 

As followers of Christ we must not forget that we are in the world, but not of the world! We give to the secular government what belongs to the secular government and we give to God what belongs to God! Our heart belongs to our Lord. God's love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us. I pledge my allegiance to God as revealed in Jesus Christ and I stand with my hands to my side as the anthem is played or the pledge spoken.

Today I stand against all forms of bullying. #love4gabbyusa
Today I stand with my hands at my side to show respect for the flag.
My heart belongs to Jesus.


Friday, February 26, 2016

Wistful Thinking

Somewhere in Scripture there is a verse that says, roughly paraphrased, "...work out your salvation with fear and trembling." To tell you the truth I don't know exactly what that means, but the thoughts running through my mind seem to demand permanence so that they can be pondered, that I might be delivered from them! And maybe the pondering needs to be a community project... but I'll leave that up to my friends and foes to decide if they have a part in this project.  *wink* 

These thoughts that are attempting to take the form of an insight have come to me in stages over the last few days... and they have come from a variety of sources.  Memories posted by Facebook. An article written by one of my seminary professors. A CD of Belmont Songs of Praise that we sang back in the '80s in Nashville, TN. The CD arrived in the mail this morning and as we played it all these different memories and thoughts began to percolate in my heart... when I tried to express the insight to Thomas my voice broke and I probably should have stopped right then and wept for a while, but I just kept washing the dishes and wiping the cabinet... over and over again.


So, let me start from the top... and those who have known me since 1982 or before won't need any background... and for those who haven't, you are on your own.  No background given at this point.


Facebook Memories. This new Facebook feature made me realize last night that some/so many/several of my fb friends from our Nashville days have unfriended me in the last few years!  I don't know when and I don't know why, but I imagine they felt uncomfortable with my views of life and faith that I can now identify as 'left of center.' (I may have been left of center when I knew them in Nashville, but didn't have the words to express it... and besides that, Thomas and I were suffering 'Counter Culture Shock' because we had just returned to the USA after 16 years in Europe.) Back to the present, realizing you've been unfriended brings a temporary twinge of pain.


Article Written by a Seminary Professors. (available to read) A day or two ago I posted this article on my Facebook page, to be read later.  I appreciated all my professors, those at Asbury Theological Seminary and those from Lexington Theological Seminary, and now, I looked forward to reading what Dr. Linn had to say. It was the next day before I read the article, but immediately after reading it, I deleted it! He spoke with disdain about people I love (i.e. Christians who hold a different view of Scripture) and I chose not to promote that on my page, even though I agreed with much of his analysis.  As I deleted it, I felt sadness. 


Belmont Songs of Praise CD. Recently one of our acquaintances from Nashville found an old CD of worship songs made back in the '80s, and had gotten permission to make one for anyone who wanted a copy. Of course we did! As the CD played this morning, the memories flooded back! We received the hospitality that the congregation had extended to us in Nashville in 1982 when we returned to the States! They gave us a safe place to heal from physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion as we adjusted to life in the United States. Various ones shared their lives with us, welcomed us into their homes, included us in their circle of friends, saw more in us that we ever saw in ourselves, and blessed us in various physical ways, as well. 


They put a shelter over our heads until we were able to provide for ourselves. They outfitted our home with furniture, pieced together from hither and yon. One woodworker made us a set of beautiful shelves and another family, redecorating and discarding furniture, furnished our living room. In fact, I'm sitting in one of those Broyhill chairs while I write this blog! 


I picture us as we were then, a middle-aged couple with three children returning to the States after sixteen years in Europe with little more than the suitcases we carried. The church gave us a shower... like you give newly weds! You know, outfitting our kitchen with pots and pans, dishes, baking utensils, etc. They loved us in very practical ways. Many of these people had visited us in Switzerland and stayed in our home there. Others told us they prayed for us regularly while we ministered in Europe. 


The songs on the CD brought all of that back to my memory this morning... and I realized some of those people are the ones who have dropped me from their Facebook list of friends.  And even as I write, my eyes fill with tears and I begin to weep.


Insights? On the happy side, many of those friends from Belmont days still claim me as their friend on Facebook.  *smiley face* And some of those same friends have also begun to move in their thinking... so the distance between us varies.  And regardless of what Dr. Linn says, we are all one in Christ, of that I am certain. I doubt that our friends from Belmont days would describe themselves as 'fundamentalist' as Dr. Linn did in his article, but they would no doubt bristle at what he describes as a total disregard for Scripture. 


Insight: The lack of respect among Christians rips at my insides! 


One thing I've learned to do is to respect the place of other persons in their spiritual journey... to accept their understanding and use of Scripture... and hope they will extend to me the same courtesy, even if we don't agree, because we are connected in Christ.  As I reflect on my own journey I realize I have changed. Today I am certainly not who I was in 1959 when I came to faith in a fundamentalist church, neither am I who I was in 1974 when we met the Belmont congregation for the first time and began to explore the implications of the Holy Spirit at work in the world today. And of course, I had matured even further in my thinking and understanding when we returned to the States in 1982 and settled into the Belmont fellowship. By that time my husband and I had concluded people function in the church according to spiritual gifts, not limited by gender. 

What I realize now that I didn't realize then, is that Belmont leadership and I didn't have a common hermeneutic (a seminary word meaning, a method or theory of interpretation). That got me in trouble when I applied for a ministry position at Belmont and was informed it was open only to men. Our interpretation of Scripture differed, but we did have a common love for the Lord--and that community of believers (Belmont church) extended God's love to us in powerful ways, healing ways, and in some instances, nurturing ways for the years we were there.


I recently read a quote attributed to the late Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk from the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky. 
"If the you of five years ago doesn't consider the you of today a heretic, you are not Growing Spiritually." ~ Thomas Merton. 
I think that is what I'm trying to do when I say I accept people where they are, and accept them with respect. 

Those of us who claim to be followers of Christ or disciples of Jesus are all on a journey, headed in a similar direction. However, as I write this, I know that many of my friends and acquaintances from Seminary days, 1989--1995 (professors and students included) and many of my friends from Belmont days, 1982--1989 (leaders and 'pew packers' included) could not/would not abide one another if they were to meet face to face or find themselves in a context of worship. 


Insight: That realization of mutual disrespect breaks my heart, and as I think of it, I think it breaks the Lord's heart, too.  Didn't he prayed that we all be one so that the world might believe? We'll never all be at the same place at the same time in our journey of faith. We'll never be united in our understanding of Scripture, but we can realize we are all on the same journey and the place of that journey is in Christ, who makes us one.   


Sometimes when a phrase of Scripture comes to my mind, I've discovered to look it up because more often than not the greater context of the verse sheds more light on my situation. 

"...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world."  
~ Philippians 2:12b-15  
 Oh, if we could only be blameless children of God, without murmuring and arguing.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

muesli: Why must it be either/or? Reflecting on journals a...

muesli: Why must it be either/or? Reflecting on journals a...: My love affair with personal journals began in the early years of the '70s. Overwhelmed with motherhood, living in a foreign country, h...

Why must it be either/or? Reflecting on journals and blogs.

My love affair with personal journals began in the early years of the '70s. Overwhelmed with motherhood, living in a foreign country, husband working long hours in the city, I found myself lonely, desirous of adult conversation.  Lacking that, I began writing down my random thoughts. Some came from my study of the Scriptures; others, from observing my son and daughter, (one born in December 1968 and the other in January 1970, 13 1/2 months apart).   Whether from my observations of their interactions or from my readings in the Bible, my thoughts were often expressed in spiritual parallels, one example being: My love for my children gave me insight into God's love for me! ...and for the first time, I began to understand my own worth. At other times I wrote out of desperation, crying out to the Lord. 

Initially I scribbled my thoughts on loose leaf notebook paper or a yellow legal pad.  Then I came across a discarded ledger book, the kind in which you keep financial records.  Someone had attempted to keep financial records, I suppose, but had given up rather quickly!  (I say this because the first two pages had been removed, cut carefully very close to the binding.) The column format of the ledger pages did not hinder me from adopting this book of empty pages as my very own journal.  This would become the first of many journals that I would fill over the next several decades.

My first entry begins: Hechendorf, Germany.  January 1972.
"Lord, can it be that I am pregnant again? I trust you when I read, 'All thing work together for good....' But in my human weakness, at this moment, I have doubts."

For the next two pages I poured out my heart to the Lord, my doubts, my weaknesses, my fears, concluding with a prayer, "May your hand rule over all and receive praise and glory for it.  Amen."

Writing in a journal has been helpful, allowing me to explore issues and clarify my thinking. My journal entries let me to look at ideas and situations from different perspectives. I could shine light into my own heart, and eventually the fog would began to lift and I could embrace a new insight or celebrate a long held conviction. 

Journals served me well for many decades and were a safe place to protect my private reflections. One whole section of my bookshelves is devoted to them and I added a full book ever so often, although, not as often as in the earlier years. 


Now, in the last few decades this sort of writing has become known as blogs... and very public blogs, at that!  However, I don't see this spiritual discipline of reflection and writing as an either/or issue. I still write my most private thoughts in my journal (a paperback book enclosed in a removable leather cover, a gift from my son), but, from time to time, I write a public blog... especially when I think my ideas might benefit others. I recommend both journaling and blogging to you, but my love remains faithful to my journals. 

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Reflections on the Day After... (2014 Elections)

Many of my Republican friends are praising God for the landslide elections, declaring that God has answered their prayers--and that has caused me to begin to reflect on the matter of political elections.
When President Obama was elected I heard the same praises to God expressed. Many declared their prayers had been answered. God had broken down barriers and opened doors. God made a way where there was no way! Tears of joy flowed and praises ascended to God.
There are godly people who happen to be Democrats. I'm not one of them (by that I mean, I'm not a Democrat, but I do aspire to be godly)... but IMO God had just as much to do in the election that brought Obama into the White House as God did in this election. It is difficult for me to believe that God takes sides.
The inability for so many of my Christian friends to see all that God is doing breaks my heart. When we put on our political blinders or our denominational blinders we limit God or, perhaps better said, we limit our ability to see all that God is doing.
God works beyond our understanding and beyond our self-imposed boundaries, whether denominational or political. Until we are able to see that, we can only claim and worship a limited God because we limit God to our understanding, our side of an issue, our interpretation of scripture.

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