Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Relate With People By How They Are Not What They Look Like

January 16, 2023

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream

I was a student when Martin Luther King delivered that speech. I don’t know the degree to which this comment inspired me or if I was just always this way. I have always tried to treat people individually where they are. If they are poor or rich or powerful and they have more stuffing than a Christmas goose, I deal one way. Most people are just hard-working individuals trying to do their jobs. I don’t care if they are CEO or junior assistant account executive. They deserve to be treated with honesty and respect. And I try.

Today in the US is an official holiday observing the birth and work of Martin Luther King. It is good to remember the good he did, what he stood for.

The movement did some good. Laws were passed. Barriers were broken.

Today I believe that there is broader acceptance of people of varying skin colors, races, languages. Yet, still much work remains. Some prejudices are hard to overcome. They require a change of heart in each individual.

If you read the gospels carefully, you’ll see that Jesus was doing just that. He met with people of different ethnic groups at their level of need. He healed regardless of being Jewish or not. He was forever concerned with the status of one’s heart.

How do you change hearts? We have certain Christians who think that passing more laws will suffice. That didn’t work out so well in the end for the Pharisees of Jesus’ time.

Unfortunately, you don’t change hearts with laws or with one magnificent speech. Ann Lamont wrote a wonderful little book Bird by Bird, where she tells the story of her brother. He procrastinated over writing a report on birds for school. Now it’s the night before it’s due. (Sound familiar?) He whines to his father about how he’ll ever get it done. “Just write bird by bird and you’ll get it done.”

Just like a good bread requires time to rise, so a changed heart requires time for the change to root and grow. And it happens one heart at a time.

Dr. King set out a vision. Much good did happen. But the hard work remains for each of us. What is the condition of our own heart? Where can we nurture another’s heart?

Can We Live With Mystery?

December 1, 2022

There was a man with whom I once co-taught a Bible class who would often say, “This is going on my list of things to ask when I get to heaven.” He recognized that he didn’t know everything. He knew whom to ask.

We are in Advent. It’s a mystery.

A virgin becomes pregnant. We know that can happen. A couple of hormone-driven teens, sperm gets sprayed a bit, who knows, it happens even without intercourse. But with Mary, we don’t know. There is no detailed manual of exactly what happened. It is a mystery.

Joseph has a vision. Zachariah has a vision, Mary had a vision. Simeon had a vision. Anna the prophetess had a vision. Why so many? At the same time? It’s a mystery.

Jews at that moment of history were living with heightened expectation. I think Greeks and Romans were, also. It was a time ripe for something to happen. Why then? It’s a mystery.

I have some engineering training. Engineers are notorious for seeing things in black/white. A problem solved or not. But I also forged a Liberal Arts education. I’m comfortable with shades of gray, nuance, mystery.

I am not driven to figure out a logical, rational, scientific explanation for all this. It’s a marvelous mystery. And where would we be without the birth of Jesus? But that’s a mystery.

Maybe more of us need to be like my old friend Omar, who admitted he didn’t know everything. But he could be patient and ask and wonder.

Advent isn’t a time to figure out the mystery. It’s a time to revel in it.

Closest To God

October 17, 2022

Humans often ask impossible questions of God. The questions often are a variation on the theme of just where is God, anyway.

Where was God when the tragedy occurred? Where was God when I needed support and care and strength?

I used to ask how will God get me out of this mess I’ve gotten myself into.

If we keep our awareness antennae focused, we discover later that God was there all along. God doesn’t prevent tragedy from occurring. Well, sometimes I think maybe he does. But many writers have told stories about discovering God at work in the midst of doubt, despair, fear, worry.

God was closest to us in those moments. We often don’t realize the support we get until later reflection reveals God and our friends were there all along.

Maybe we spend hours in meditation, contemplation, and prayer hoping to be close to God. Maybe we don’t realize the presence surrounds us ready to pounce when most needed.

You Are Blessed

August 25, 2022

What a great way to begin a long session of teaching:

  • You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
  • Your blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the one most dear to you.
  • You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
  • You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
  • You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘carefull’, you find yourselves cared for.
  • You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
  • You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
  • You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s Kingdom.
  • Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

No matter what season of life you are inhabiting right now–you are blessed.

So many of us can only see all the bad things around us. We open “social” media–other people are either parroting misinformation designed to make us feel bad or extolling how great their life is (making us think about how much we are missing). We turn on “news.” It is designed to capture our emotions to keep us tuned in to sell us stuff through advertising. This has been true for many years of the news media. We used to nickname a leading local TV station as “wrecks, rapes, and murders.”

But Jesus says we are blessed.

I think I will sit in contemplation for a bit today and soak in this blessedness. Perhaps tomorrow and the following day, also. Perhaps I can experience what being blessed feels like. Must be good.

Blessed When People Don’t Like You, or Worse

August 24, 2022

We are reaching the end of the Beatitudes. Sort of an outline for Jesus and his teaching. This one is a bit different. We must be careful how we approach this one, which is longer.

You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s Kingdom. Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

Some people, at least in America I’m not sure about other places, seem to go out of their way to achieve this one. Or perhaps look for instances of this. But their view of persecution stops short of anything personally threatening. It’s more along the lines of “the popular people in town don’t like me.” Some actually use this as a source of pride.

I think of people who emulate the preacher in the stage play and movie Paint Your Wagon who thought it was his role to condemn people and took a perverse pride in not being liked.

I don’t think that Jesus told us to try to be disliked. That is merely being obnoxious. But in Jesus’s day, choosing him (God) was rejecting both the Roman power structure and the Jewish power structure. Either one of which could cause death in the extreme cases.

Continuing to live on the path of following Jesus–living in the moment with-God–will threaten some people who may attack you physically, emotionally, financially. You are blessed because you are still with God. It’s not a disgrace. It’s not a source of pride. It’s a blessing to live with-God no matter what.

In The Beginning Was Trust

February 17, 2022

Paul patiently brings us through the steps of spiritual formation in his letter to the Romans.

He looks at we humans and lists all the ways we separate ourselves from God. Then he talks about looking at what God does, not at what we do.

Then, for example

He talks about Abraham. That Abraham who is the father of the Jewish nation—and also other nations. But in this example, the Abraham of the covenant. The agreement between God and Abraham that was sealed by Abraham cutting the foreskin off his male organ. Circumcision. That mark of a Jew even unto this day.

But Paul asks, what came first? Was it the circumcision or Abraham’s trust in God?

In the beginning of this special relationship between God and Abraham was trust.

Trust comes before ritual. That is trust in God. Not trust in some charismatic church leader or the like. Trust God and all these things shall be given to you.

What Christians Believe

March 22, 2021

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.  Through him all things were made.  For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.  For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.  On the third day, he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.  With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.  We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.  We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  Amen.

Nicene Creed from 381AD

If you read me consecutively, you know I’ve been going through a study of the Church Fathers. You might ask, how did they come to be known as the Church Fathers? Good question. The one defining thread is that they defended the Nicene Creed against all the battling ideas circulating at the time.

And most of the controversies revolved around understanding just who this Jesus guy was.

The first Nicene Creed of 325 amended a little by a meeting in Constantinople in 381 was developed for two reasons. First, the Emperor, converted by his mother to Christianity, proclaimed the religion an official religion of the Empire. So, people needed to know what that religion was. Secondly, there was a philosophical movement afoot to convince people that Jesus was never a real human. The church needed a statement that affirmed both the divinity and humanity of Jesus.

Christians have always been an argumentative lot. Already by 55, the Apostle Paul was combatting “heretical” ideas. And the Creed of 381 didn’t resolve things.

We must have a thousand Christian denominations today. A couple of dozen (at least) traditions. Social issues that give us something to argue about. Sometimes minute theological issues to give us something to argue about.

However, all believe that Creed (except for a very few outliers).

What if we decided to follow a discipline of going back to the basics. Finding that we agree. Maybe some of us like the “rock concert followed by TED Talk” style of worship. Maybe some of us like the mystery and majesty of a formal liturgy. I know of some (many?) who like a little of both–charismatic Catholics do exist. Maybe some are comfortable within certain traditions. Those should not have divided us to the point of war.

A great spiritual discipline is to return to the roots periodically and ground ourselves in order to make our priorities right.

I Have Written These Things So That You May Believe

January 16, 2018

Jesus did many other signs in our presence, John told him.

But I can’t believe that those things could really happen. Was it just a magic trick? Some sort of sleight of hand? Something we can explain away?

I understand that it’s difficult. That’s why I wrote about so many of them. I was even honest about it. Even when Jesus fed all the people on the side of the hill by the shores of the lake, we couldn’t figure it out. Then he was walking on water. We still couldn’t figure it out.

You see, none of us started out as believers. We knew he was a powerful man with new teaching the likes of which we had never heard. Not even from John the Baptizer.

You mean you were with him, saw those signs, and you still didn’t believe?


We just couldn’t figure it all out. Even in the garden when he was arrested in the evening. Even during his trial. We kept expecting him to stare down Pilate and do something to strike down the Jewish ruling council. Yet he did nothing.

Even when we stared into the open and empty tomb it took a bit before our understanding began to open.

Then we met him–risen. Alive, not dead. And it all came together. We just didn’t know what to do next. It took a few weeks for us to put all the story together and discover our lives’ mission–to go out and tell people about what we experienced.

And in so doing helping others believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the provider of true life.

So, what is this life?

That you may know the one true God, now, and Jesus his Son.

You see my child, none of us started out as believers. We grew in understanding and belief. And we found true life. He changed our lives, and he’ll change yours.

I am finishing a long reading of the Gospel of John. The conversation came to me about people not just jumping into belief. Don’t criticize them. Understanding takes time, but eternal life begins now.

Longing For God

September 6, 2017

I stretch out my hands toward you, longing for you like a parched land. (Psalm 143)

In today’s readings, there was this teaching from 13th century mystic and theologian Meister Eckhart, “The soul must long for God in order to be set aflame by God’s love.”

So many of us miss out on this life of being filled, set aflame as he says, with God’s love. 

Where I live, and probably where most of you live, the dominant teaching is to “accept Jesus into your heart.” The typical meaning is to tell people that you acknowledge Jesus and agree with the teachings of whatever group you did that statement of belief.

And with that statement of belief, that’s all you need. Life is changed. Everything is beautiful.

They miss the rest of the teachings of Paul (see Roman after Chapter 8, for example). The parts like “work out your faith in fear and trembling.” 

Do we even use the word “longing” any more? It means wanting something so much that you feel a pain deep in your guts. Even more than wanting that new big pickup truck. Even more than that large house. Even more than that attractive person you just met.

When we stop at just repeating the words, we miss out on life–what Jesus kept talking about and John repeated in his Gospel. Abundant life. Filled with the love of God.

And like flames, to carry on Eckhart’s metaphor, they need to be rekindled and refreshed constantly, fed with new fuel. We do that by reading spirit-infused writing and contemplation and singing.

Tending To Overthink Things

August 30, 2017

Here’s a man who has always lived outside society. Although we are talking about 2,000 years ago, in today’s terms he’s like a homeless man who hangs out on a downtown street with a cup or bowl asking for money.

Maybe he picked up some training and education as a young person just listening in on conversations.

Oh, he’s blind. Never has seen anything in his entire life.

Then one day someone comes by and heals his sight. (And his soul, but he didn’t know that then.)

So there are these men in town. They don’t have any obvious job, but they think they are important. And…they do wield some political influence. They could cause people to be killed.

These men have spent their entire lives studying the Scripture. They have post-Docs from the University of Shammai (a famous teacher). They think they know everything that matters.

(Know anyone like that? Likeable people, aren’t they?)

So they bring the homeless guy before them to question how he was healed. And they talk about the man who did the healing and about how he couldn’t possibly be from God. And they get all theological.

And the healed man says, “I do not know if the man is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

To the man, there is no theology. He was blind, and then he could see.

Instead of rejoicing over a remarkable event, the leaders bound up tightly in their traditions and thinking couldn’t comprehend it.

Later the homeless man meets Jesus and his response is similarly simple yet profound, “I believe.”

We have to believe that from that day the man’s life was completely changed. He lived differently.

In the growth of the early church as recorded in the book of Acts of the Apostles, Luke reported that people joined in large numbers because of how the Christ-followers lived. It was different from everyone else.

The question John (I am telling stories from the Gospel of John chapter 9) leaves us with is do we simply believe–or, do we overthink things and let our theology and tradition get in the way (blind us, if you will) of belief?