Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Counting for Something

So what do you count for? It may not be good grammar but you get my point. To the world you are a Social Security number. To the State you are the number on the back of your car. I had a "number" during the last Selective Service draft. It was an important number: 305. It meant I "did not have to go to Vietnam."

I have two more numbers for you: 2,394,415, 296 and 498,836,520. No it is not anything to do with the National Debt. Unfortunately both of these numbers are far too small to even approximate what we owe.

The numbers are from the calculator found on health You put in your date of birth and you find our what "you count for." So the first number is my number of heartbeats since the time of my birth. The second number is the number of breaths I have taken.

You might want to stop now and see what you count for. Both of those numbers are really "what counts" not the number of dollars in your stock portfolio or what is left on your mortgage. Either of those numbers do not really matter if you don't have the first numbers.

I would imagine that no one reading this right now has as much money as either of the first two numbers mentioned. If you do we need to become really good friends before you take your next breath.

When I saw "my numbers" I almost lost my breath...nice turn of words, huh? I mean I have not been counting, have you? But someone has because those breaths and beats come from somewhere.

Psalm 139 says that the place from which the breath and beats come has this cosmic calculator. It seems we are "known" inside and out. Every aspect of our insides are known. There is a phrase in this Psalm that I love, "We are fearfully and wonderfully made." We are not put together on an assembly line nor or we ordered from some kind of "Lands End" catalogue. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.

It may sound strange to say "fearfully" because we live in such a fear-filled world where terror lurks around corners but this is the kind of "fear" that means "wow...awesome...unbelievable." It is the kind of fear I felt when I looked at our first child just after she came out of the womb. There was joy mixed with...well...fear at what just happened.

We loose that fear and wonder don't we. We just go about our days beating and breathing as if it does not "count." Well, it counts to someone. Someone is doing the numbers. It all adds up.

So today I think I'll stop somewhere and listen to my heart and pay attention to my breath. If I do that perhaps I will pay more attention to all the breaths and hearts out there around me.

Part of the problem in our wonderful yet broken world is that we no longer see each other as fearfully and wonderfully made. That is why we can blow each other up in the name of the wrong kind of fear. We need to go back to the beginning where real fear and wonder come from.

It all counts...people count..."breathe in breathe out move on"....


Friday, August 20, 2010

Does the 800 Pound Jesus Give Medals?

For those who know the Bible well or at least have hung around it for a number of years (there's probably a difference) the words on the page can become a bit like elevator music. You hear the words but they blend into the background of the familiar so that the "tune" sounds good but you do not really pay attention and then go on about your business.

I don't think it's supposed to be that way. So being one who has "hung around the Bible" for a number of years and who falls victim to the "elevator music syndrome" I use Eugene Peterson's translation of the Bible, "The Message" so that I can hear the words in a different and often refreshing way.

He translates Jesus' words at the end of Matthew 5 this way: "If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run of the mill sinner can do that...In a word GROW UP. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity."

Last week I used a wonderful song in the sermon by Sawyer Brown, "800 Pound Jesus." Here again sometimes we need different words to really "hear" Jesus. The song is a country song so of course it tells a story...and as often happens in country songs the story has a sad ring to it but offers "redemption" in the end.

The story song tells of a guy on the way home one day who sees an 8 foot statue of Jesus at a garage sale. The concrete statue "held out his arms and seemed all alone so I loaded him up and drove him home." The new owner paints the rebar and concrete statue "white with a long purple robe" and then declares "He's a rock of ages on a gravel road."

Now don't you love that phrase! Eugene Peterson could have used that somewhere in his translation.

Anyway, back to the story. The guy who lives on this gravel road loses his job to tough times and his best girl to his best friend so life becomes unbearable. He takes a rope and climbs up on the 800 pound statue of Jesus which happens to be placed next to an old oak tree. He is going to "buy the farm" and end it all when he jumps off the limb and lands in the "arms" of Jesus.

Hold on there's more. Realizing that Jesus has "saved" him from a moment of despair he acknowledges that he has never had a more "solid he planted some flowers all around his feet and bought him a flock of ceramic sheep."

I mean come on this is too good to be true. So the chorus is now a haunting refrain in my mind:
"He's an 800 pound Jesus standing taller than a tree.
He's an 800 pound Jesus, a bigger man than you or me."

So do you think this 800 pound Jesus gives medals if we are simply nice to those who are nice to us. Such a big man expects much more of those who get caught up in his arms. He even talks about loving enemies, for God's sake!

I'm sorry but I'm not usually "big" enough to love those who "give me a hard time." But then I/we are dealing with an 800 pound Jesus...or in reality one even bigger than that. Most of us want medals if we show up at church and try to be "nice" most of the time. Well....this Jesus is "bigger" than that and expects bigger things than simply being nice.

To really follow Jesus is to take a "flying leap" and hope that he'll catch us because living as "kingdom subjects" will require us to really "grow up." Can't you just imagine an 800 pound Jesus coming to life and walking around saying something like, "What have you people done with what I gave you? You have domesticated it like some pet. What I gave you is untamed and wild and you've locked it in a cage only to feed it once in a while and go on about your life. Grow up."

He's an 800 pound Jesus, a bigger man than you and me....and he doesn't give medals, he gives love...not to be love...even our enemies. You say, "That's ridiculous these days." Well, that's because he's the "rock of ages on a gravel road" and remains a "bigger man than you and me."

He probably does not need any more ceramic sheep but I bet he could use a few good once in a while take a flying leap. Don't expect medals when you jump but you can expect some pretty big arms waiting to catch you...

Bless you

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Leaviing the Faith and Keeping the Faith

As I read the recent article about the author Ann Rice who announced that she was "no longer a Christian" and that she was "leaving the faith for the sake of Christ" I could not help but think of Billy Joel's song, "Keeping the Faith." Joel tells in this narrative song of how he was "saved" by the music of "wild boys." His hunger for that music later lead him to be what he is today so his refrain is, "the good old days weren't always good and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems" so he's "keeping the faith" and singing his music.

Ann Rice says that she is leaving the faith because she can no longer be part of a faith that is full of rigid doctrines and people who condemn homosexuality while speaking of love. She then goes on to say how she does not want to be part of a Catholic Faith where the Pope issues an "edict" preventing people from using condemns in Africa in spite of the AIDS epidemic and then excommunicates a nun who allowed a woman to have an abortion in order to save her own life.

Well Ann, "the good old days weren't as always good and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems" so there are ways of "keeping the faith" in spite of the faith. Heck, years ago I left the Christianity you just left and I'm still keeping the faith. The problem with most religion is that we all paint with broad brush strokes when small fine brushes are needed to paint such an important canvas.

Ann, the faith you walk away from also includes those folks mentioned in the book of Hebrews who were fed to lions and set on fire for "keeping the faith." Don't paint with such a large brush. In fact I do not want to be included in your painting.

At the place I hang out, called church, we are starting a New Faith Community for people who once thought they had to "walk away." In fact some of them have and we are inviting them to look at Jesus for a second time. We are offering them a faith "in" Christ and not just a faith "about" Christ.

The religion about Christ comes in a lot of different forms some of which I walked away from years ago when I realized that the Jesus "they" were espousing was not the Jesus I had come to know. The Jesus I came to know included people who were excluded. The Jesus I discovered did not recite creeds but told stories about lost boys who deserved not to be taken back but who were, lost sheep whose finding caused a party even though the "ninety and nine" did not quite understand, and a Jesus who got the door of religion slammed in his face. In fact it was religion that contrived to slam him up on a cross to make sure that "orthodoxy" and business as usual stayed put.

No Ann, leaving is too easy. Staying...well that's another story. I've wanted to leave at times. The most judgemntal folks I know are church folks and yes the church, if it is not careful, can end up being a self-preserving, condescending institution focused too much on survival. But so many before who have kept the faith have known that the "good old days weren't always good" but they kept on believing that "tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems."

Hey Ann, don't leave. Come join our New Faith Community and stay restless within the church so we can help that revolutionary Jesus who started the whole thing keep on keeping on. Yes Ann, the church is a mess. It's made up of people like you and me. Remember what that Catholic heritage of yours emphasizes, "The church is the BROKEN body of Christ," but it still offers so much healing for so many.

In my rebel days when I tried to walk away from a God I thought too distant and a church I felt was too confined to be relevant, my dear mother pointed her finger in my face and said, "Look boy, I put up with the church so the church can be the church when the church needs to be the church."

She's gone now but because of her and some of those distant folks who hung in there and who were hung out to dry for their faith I think it's worth "keeping."


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bonhoeffer, Spiders, and Sunrises

What do the above all have in common? It takes time to take them all in.

Last week I had time. The new biography about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is almost 600 pages so that takes time but it and he were worth it.

Then there was that spider that spun its web just off the porch at the beach house where I spent the week. I watched him or was it her all week. After seeing the patience it took to both spin and constantly repair the web I'm going to assume it was a "her." No man would ever be that enduring when it comes to the persistence it took to tend that web.

And then there was the waiting. She waited. She waited through an unbelievable storm one evening. The winds blew at 40 miles per hour. The rains came in torrents. She held on and never moved. Most of her web held although there were noticeable spaces where the wind took its toll.

It takes time to weave a web and it takes time to watch a spider. Jesus missed a chance by not telling the parable of the spider or maybe he did and those busy minded disciples were again not listening. They obviously did not know how to "ponder and consider." That's why Jesus sat them down in the middle of a wildflower field one afternoon and told them to "consider the lilies." They were not paying attention.

I also got to ponder some sunrises. To watch the sun come up over the ocean early in the morning is one definition of "mystical." You observe the sign of the gift of another day. As the massive star peeks over the horizon you realize that for some this will be their last day and for others it will be their first day. For most of us we are somewhere in between but that between is sacred space...but...we do not pay attention.

We simply assume the sun rise and go on.

So on those sunrise days I spent some time with Dietrich Bonhoeffer...a lot of time. I do not usually read anything that takes 600 pages but then I usually don't guessed it, time. Bonhoeffer's time was one of standing up to the church and to the government in Nazi Germany. I could not help but wonder if I had anything in me that was anything like him.

Would I have gone against "my" church when it went along with the nationalistic tidal wave and forgot who its true master was? Would I have risked family and everything because the haunting voice of God would not let me alone? Would I have walked away from the woman I loved, as he did, to tie his morality to the convoluted knot that lead him to participate in a plot to murder the evil leader whom we now know was a true personification of cruelty and deception?

How many times have I sold out because the masses wanted comfort? How many times have I spun a web only to desert it because I could not hold on? Bonhoeffer believed enough in God to offer his life for a cause he felt was bigger than the popular religion that opted for the road well traveled.

So today I did not take time to watch the sunrise. I'm back to business as usual. There's probably some spider outside right now "holding on" but I will not see her. And Dietrich....well he's gone but not really. His holding on will haunt me as it should. O God of sunrise and spiders let me not forget how hard it is to hold on in the face of the storms of comfortable culture. I figure you and Dietrich are having ongoing conversations about how we miss so much in the time we have. Help us pay attention....