Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Poem about "the still small voice"

Sheer Silence
(a poem based on I Kings 19)

You come to me hiding in
your cave
What message do you expect-
A shaking of the earth
A fire that consumes
A wind that blows
away all fears?

O Elijah, you expect too much
and too little
You must learn to wait
on me
in a time of

And now you wonder about
this silence
And you think it is nothing
compared to
wind, flame, and thunder
But listen, O seeker
of truth

I am found in the silence
This stillness that
seems to be nothing
is full of the
something of my

You must learn to wait
at the edge of
your cave of knowing
I will speak not in words
but in moments
of a faith that
trusts in  the
whisper of a
truth that is
below and beyond sound

It is the sound of silence
(Jody Seymour-Lent 2018)

Sunday, February 18, 2018

My Rights and Your Soul

The Gun Issue Again:  My Rights and Your Soul

            So here we are again with flags at half staff and crying crowds holding yet another candlelight vigil.  In the midst of the violence that is woven into our culture we now have a subtotal of seventeen school shootings in the last year.  Since the shootings at Sandy Hook school there have been 239 school shootings resulting in 438 people being shot and 138 killed.
            I do not even want to go into another list that would include other shootings like the one in Las Vegas that killed 58 people.  So now there will be more fireworks of words from broken hearted people and some politicians who will try to scream our way forward.  If history repeats itself after the fireworks we will get back to business as usual and nothing will change.
            We will hear the familiar debate about the “right” to bear arms.  It seems sown into the very fabric of our national DNA as well as our Constitution.  I know that, but what about our “need” to heal our soul?  We are told that guns are not the problem and new guidelines are not what are needed.  Well, something is needed if we are to be a people who care what is happening, especially to our children.
            The word compromise is lost in our contentious culture.  We need some compromise if for no other reason than to respond in some way to our collective soul, if we still have one.  I once read that when it comes taking faith into the real world, there would often need to be compromise but that in order to remain faithful one must strive to compromise up and not down.
            How about using that as a doorway to respond to the carnage at schools and elsewhere? Banning assault weapons, doing comprehensive background checks, and closing loopholes at gun shows does mean a kind of “giving up” of rights but it would be for the sake of our collective soul.  Would it make a difference?  Some say no and others say yes. 
            What I know is that hopefully it would impact the real situation, but if it did not make a difference at least it would make a statement that we as a people care enough about our children to speak from our soul to our soul.  The statement would be something like, “I give up some of my rights for the sake of the common good.”
            Most type of guns would still be available for the sake of sport and protection.  The fear offered that to give up some rights means to give them all up is simply that; fear.  Lowering the flag does not help.  Lowering the fear ratio and offering a peace offering at least helps us say who we are.
            In our culture we have allowed fear to rule too often.  Fear breeds a “don’t tread on me attitude.”  Because we have the right to do something does not mean that we should do it.  To offer a compromise on some rights would be in this case a compromise up and not down.
            The argument that people kill people not guns and that the issue is mental illness and violence is often voiced.  The truth is that both are true.  Violence and mentally ill people use guns to kill people.
            The gun issue has become a heated political debate.  In light of what has happened in our nation over the past years it is really a soul issue that portrays what we believe about community.  Am I as an individual willing to give up something that I have the right to have for the good of the community?
            At least it is doing something rather than doing nothing, which is what we have done in the face of the horror we have witnessed.  It is time to say something about our character not just about our rights.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Is the Church full of Hypocrites. Yes, Next Question

Is the Church full of hypocrites?  Yes, Next question

            So I suppose there is an ever expanding list of reasons that people choose not to attend church but there is one for which I want to offer a disclaimer and that is that the church is full of people who go in and listen to all kinds of good that they should do and then go out and not do it.
So what do you expect?
            For forty-five years I served as a pastor to churches full of hypocrites including yours truly.  I once heard a story about a man who asked his preacher, “Can you do all those things you preach about?”  The preacher’s response was, “Heaven’s no.  If I only preached what I could do you would be receiving a very weak message.  What I offer you is a challenge to me too.”
            I often told people who affirmed what I said in a sermon, “Well, I preach the best about stuff I need to hear.”  The church is made up of people who know they need something beyond themselves and yet that “beyond” is a powerful message of both judgment and redemption.
            When I was a young buck I was not happy with all kinds of institutions especially the church.  One evening when I was debating my mother about how petty and insignificant the church could be, she pointed her finger at me and said in no uncertain words, “Look boy, I put up with the church so that the church can be the church when the church needs to be the church.”
            I “grew up” and discovered what she meant.  As a pastor it is true I observed the church being too ingrown and mired at times in petty disagreements.  But then I would see meals fixed for grieving families, sheltering services for lost people who faced dark valleys, places of safety for young people who faced all kinds of questions, and a place to learn about a defining story.
            I used to tell my people to let folks “out there” know that we did not have all the answers but that we were a people who welcomed people just as they are with all their questions.  One of my favorite phrases comes from the poet Rainer Maris Rilke:

            “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

            I used to tell couples who wanted me to marry them that I was not a boat captain or a Justice of the Peace so if they wanted a pastor to do the wedding they had to at least “try” being part of a church.  I would even encourage them to “shop around,” but like buying a sofa don’t not go back because the first place fails to provide what you want.

            I would tell them to keep shopping and find a church the “suits” them, but after they get their needs from the “buffet” that when they join the church it was time to get behind the buffet and serve.  A “good” church reminds us that we are not self-made and that life is a gift and we are to give back.

            Yes, the church is full of hypocrites who constantly fail to do what the “message” asks of us but we keep coming back to try again because we learn that we need a defining story.  My first and last Sundays at my churches I always quoted from Martin Bell’s Rag Tag Army.  It is a great image of what the church really is.

            The church, at its best, is a Rag Tag army made up of “tiny soldiers” who cannot even keep step.  The drum beat isn’t even regular and the tiny soldiers often get lost or end up marching around in circles.  Here is one of my favorite parts:

If God were more sensible he’d take his little army and shape them up. Why, whoever heard of a soldier stopping to romp in a field? It’s ridiculous. But even more absurd is a general who will stop the march of eternity to go and bring him back. But that’s God for you. His is no endless, empty marching. He is going somewhere. His steps are deliberate and purposive. He may be old, and he may be tired. But he knows where he’s going. And he means to take every last one of his tiny soldiers with him.
Only there aren’t going to be any forced marches. And he won’t go on without us. And that’s why it’s taking so long. Listen! The drum beat isn’t even regular. Everyone is out of step. And there! You see? God keeps stopping along the way to pick up one of his tinier soldiers who decided to wander off and play with a frog, or run in a file, or whose foot got tangled in the underbrush. He’ll never get anywhere that way!
And yet, the march goes on…(From “The Way of the Wolf” by Martin Bell)
            Ah yes the church is full of hypocrites…next question.
Jody Seymour



Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Being Great

Time to Ponder

            So I find myself home-bound due to this beautiful snow falling outside my window.  I enjoy scattering birdseed and filling the feeders for those winged creatures who seem to rejoice in the resources I share with them.
            Alas it gives me time to ponder just what is happening in our land.  As I listen to the “news” it seems that we are a people who have fallen victim to fear.  We fear those who have transgressed and gotten into our country without deserving it.  Does anyone understand why they came?  Or do we care anymore?  We used to care, didn’t we?
            We are afraid someone is going to get something without paying the dues.  What dues did I pay?  My dues came at the hand of being born to the right parents and having the means to get an education.  My earning came from being brought up in a white, middle class church and listening to both the Gospel and the “gospel” of success which became part of my very being.
            We are afraid that under every rock is a terrorist which means they are winning the war while we think we are.  We are afraid that health care should be for those who pay the price instead of thinking of it as a basic right because we are all children of God who get sick under the same umbrella.
            We have allowed the mantra of making our nation great again to erode what it means to be really great.  Being really great is not about being number one or having a flag that reads “Don’t Tread on Me.”  Being great means having a great heart that cares, especially if you have the liberty to be able to care without worrying where your next meal comes from.
            What is happening to us?  In that gospel I mentioned earlier, not the one about success, I was taught that being great means being willing to be a servant.  I learned from a tutor that said that being great means getting at the back of the line sometimes.  The teacher I learned from talked about the being great means paying attention to “the least of these.”  His teacher must have taught him from an ancient book that portrayed God as being angry at people because “they had sold the poor for a pair of shoes.”
            The word “repent” in my sacred book means to turn and go another direction.  It means that there needs to be a change of heart.  O well, it is snowing and it is beautiful out there.  The birds of the air who “neither sow nor reap yet their heavenly father provides,” are outside my window enjoying seeds that they did not earn.  Of course the truth is that it seems that Heavenly Father is depending on me to help out…so I do with joy.
            Let us find joy again in being family with all creatures great and small.  That includes our brothers and sisters who walk on two legs.  Let us find true greatness again by “turning” and having a change of heart.