Monday, August 29, 2016

A Spinning Kind of Love

Yesterday I stood before a group of people, most in wheelchairs, who looked to me to give them some words of hope.  It was what is called "an assisted living" community.  The words say it all for these dear people need assistance just to keep on living.  I sensed that many of them felt "used up."

What words could I offer them?  So I remembered those words that came to a restless prophet named Jeremiah.  He balked at God's call to him.  He claimed that not only was he too young but that he was not good on his feet and had little to say.  God already had his number and would not let him out of the choke hold that was placed on  the young Jeremiah's soul.

The book named after him contains a whole series of complaints and attempts to get out of the job.  Jeremiah ended up in the pits, literally.  His conspirators, and yes they were real not imagined, threw him into a dry cistern and left him to die.  Fortunately Jeremiah did have a few friends left and they tied together some rags and pulled him up by his arm "pits."

Needless to say Jeremiah was still in the dumps about the long term success of his mission.  "What's the use.  The cause is hopeless and the people you long to have me save for you are not worth it.  The whole situation is 'spoiled.'"

So God sends Jeremiah down to the potter's house.  "What's the point of going to a potters house," thought the tired prophet, but sometimes you just have to do what the boss says.  So he goes.

It was the words that God spoke to Jeremiah that came to me as I stood before a group of souls and bodies that perhaps felt "spoiled."  I told them about how hard it was to "throw" a pot onto a potter's wheel.  The unskilled person like myself could not get the clay centered.  I know this because I had to throw a pot in order to pass a class in college.  How many times had I failed, only to have to turn off the wheel and start over.

A skilled potter can actually reshape the clay and not turn off the wheel.  Jeremiah discovered this as he watched the potter reshape the clay that seemed spoiled on the wheel.  Then came the words that Jeremiah and those assisted living people needed to hear; "You are like the clay in my hands," says God the potter.  "I never give up and you are my clay.  You may feel spoiled but I can and will reshape you.  I am the potter you are the clay."

I told those dear people that one day the spinning would stop and only then will we benefit from a final reshaping but it will happen because the potter never gives up.  After I came home I wrote a poem to sum it  all up:

A Spinning Kind of Love
  (based on Jeremiah 18: 1-4)

Spoiled I thought it was
  the clay so without
  a kind of form

What shape could come from
  a motion that
  seemed so random?

And then the potter entered
  and hands were
  gently placed

I could feel the movement
  of love that wanted
  more of me

So I am not of my
  own making for
  clay is a gift

Never spoiled though it
  may seem that
  way to me

But the potter never ceases
  to create from what seems
  to be so incomplete

And one day the spinning
  will stop and only
  then will I know...

Know that from the beginning
  a shape would come
  because of creating
    hands of love

Friday, August 26, 2016

A Dot in the Night Sky

A Dot in the Night Sky

            Want to feel insignificant or perhaps just the opposite?  Here is what one of the Psalms says about us.
Psalm 8:3-6New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    mortals[a] that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,[b]
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under their feet,
            So in 1990 the Voyager space craft, which is most distant man-made object from us now, turned its camera backward and took a picture of earth.  That picture is now known simply as “the pale blue dot.”  You can look it up on Y tube if you want.  All you will see is a pale blue dot that is our planet.
            The picture was taken from 3.8 billion miles “out there.”  Out there are around 170 billion galaxies, we think, give or take a few.  When the Hubble Space Telescope looks at them they are a little bit bigger than pale blue dots but not much.
            The dots we see out there are images from the past since it takes light years for the light to get here.  That means the “old” dots appear from light sent our way as far back as 13.7 billion years ago when, according to an old story, God said let there be light and there was light.
            No, there is not a conflict between religion and science if you let religion be religion and science be science instead of trying to put a square peg in a round hole.  Trying to make the first two chapters of Genesis into science is to create not a round hole but a black hole; to stretch my analogy a bit.
            The beauty of Genesis is diminished by trying to use it to counter everything from  evolution to climate change.  Give dinosaurs their time and place and do not try to tell me that they lived alongside people.  And of course those people I suppose looked like Ken and Barbie and not like the character scratching his armpit and swinging from a rope in a Zoo.
            God is not stupid and can use evolution as well as beautiful stories like the ones in Genesis that tell why God created and not how.  Science tells us that we are made of star dust.  Genesis tells us that we are made of dust.  Both are true and real.
            The 400 billion stars that make up our little galaxy are shinning lights in a cosmos that is 95% dark; dark energy and dark matter.  As a pastor I dealt all the time with people who asked some form of the question, “Why is it so dark out there?...Why are bad things happening to me?...Why did I get cancer…Why did my child die…Why is it so dark out there?”
            Well, it has been dark from the very beginning.  Even though the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago created a heck of a lot of light, and God said “it was good” even so the explosion left 95% of what was created dark.  That may sound like bad news but the God whom the above Psalm wrote about was not finished.
            We hear later that, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” and “The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it.”  The 95% is real but could not overcome the Light.  That is why it is called “good news.”  Hey, but it is still dark and according to science always has been dark.
            The Word mentioned earlier is the “word,” Logos in the original Greek in which the Gospel of John was written.  The first chapter of John is called the prologue and is meant to be both John’s “creation story” and Christmas story. Logos is the creative power of God that has always been even before the Big Bang.  Just think, that Logos became flesh and joined us in our neighborhood on our pale blue dot.  No, that is not science but it is even better than science because trust me it is sure true.  I shared that “light in the darkness” with countless people in my 45 years of being a pastor.
            I sure love science but I love the truth even more than the facts.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness…even though it is damn dark out there…cannot overcome it.   Thanks be to God, and that is both science and religion.  God created with a burst of light and yes with evolutionary timing, but God created.
            So we are but a pale blue dot barely visible in the dark background of the cosmos but read on; we are created a little lower than God and given dominion. We are God breathed star dust.  What shall we do with our dominion?  Will we act like we are the creators and treat each other and our pale blue dot as commodities?  Or will we act like we are created a little lower than the Creator?
            Will we see each other as God created star dust or will we use our dominion to label each other as if we are not created in the image of God but are a kind of god who selects who is in and who is out?  Are we still evolving or are we going backward and deserve to wallow around in the mud from which we came or stand on a mountain and gaze at the stars from which we are made?
            What are human beings that you are mindful of them?  Does God sometimes wonder just what we are and what we have become?  On the next dark night go look up at the stars and breathe in the life that was given as gift.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

My Bucket List for America

My Bucket List for America

1        To rediscover that it is not all about “me” and my rights.  To regain a sense of what true community is and to make the common good a priority.  To remember that life is a gift and not a commodity and that the earth is not something to be used up but prized.

2        To find a reasonable compromise on the immigration issue including some kind of logical border security with an understanding at least of why desperate people take such risks to come here. (Take a mission trip to Mexico and see why they risk so much for their families)  Offer some kind of documentation program so people can come out of the shadows, pay taxes, and be a visible part of a community.  Do not “fine” them as a penalty but perhaps require some time in community service to invest into the community that they long to be part of.  That would be a response to the need for “accountability.”

3        Come up with some reasonable gun control to at least acknowledge that we have a problem.  Reasonable background checks and a limitation of assault rifles is not doing away with the second amendment.  It is an investment into the common good and would take awhile to make a difference but it is time to take some steps toward sanity.

4        Put prayer back in public schools but not like it is requested by those who want only Christian prayer.  Have students hear the prayers of the many faiths that now make up our country.  This would teach respect and tolerance and also be a way to learn how those who are different make meaning out of life through religion.  That should be a part of a good comprehensive education and would not be religious compulsion but an investment into what true community can be.

5        Find a reasonable way to provide health care for all people that does not cost the wrong people the wrong way.  Health care should be a right not a privilege.  Are we not smart enough to figure this out?  I for one do no mind giving something to provide this as long as I know it truly is helping all of us.

6        Change the system when it comes to money and our political framework.  Limit the money paid to campaigns put a cap on money that goes into influencing our elected officials.  Have term limits so that we do not create career politicians who have to spend so much time and money just to be re-elected thus allowing them to be real public servants which is the idea.

7        Do away with the Electoral College.  It does not make any sense anymore.

8        Institute a tax system that really is fair or as fair as any tax can be.  After all the tax system is supposed to support the common good.  Come up with a system that at least reminds us that taxes are fundamentally an investment into what community should be.

9        Get rid on the “one and done” thing in college basketball…or…require those who do take the leap to donate at least 10% of their ridiculously high salary to a fund that would increase public school teacher’s salaries. (Okay, this one is more a personal gripe.)

  Have everyone in America start sharing their bucket list so that we can all see what it is that we really want and then realize that we each can’t have everything we want but must learn to listen and compromise for the sake of all.   

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

What if God Had a Facebook Page

What if God Had a Facebook Page?

            Name: God, The Almighty
            Born:  Not really, always been around
            Studied:  No need to, all knowing
            Occupation:  Creator and a number of other things
            Interests:  You name it, most everything
            Friends:  All who wish to follow or who like me (but prefer love)

What’s On Your Mind?
            Well a lot lately.  I am sure concerned about my people.  There is so much division among them especially when it comes to religion.  Don’t you people out there in Facebook Land know that I am more interested in what religion was created for than in religion?
            I am the creator of life.  People create religion and that’s fine as long as it is a means to an end and not an end in itself.  Religion is the plumbing that gets water to people.  It seems so often that people worship the pipes and forget that I am interested in thirsty people finding water.
            The history of the way people fight over religion really gets me.  I am bigger than any container you make to try to put me in.  So many times religion ends up being a way people think they can control or contain me. It is just not going to happen; never has, never will. 
            Back in the old days I would not allow those who discovered me to even say my name.  By the way my middle name is Mystery not The Man Upstairs or Copilot.  People can never fully understand me that is why it is called “faith.”  I am not in any one book or in any one place or even in any one religion.  I am bigger than that.
            Religion is fine if it helps people realize that they did not come from some catalogue or that they are some kind of commodity.  Each person is crafted by me.  And yes sometimes things do not come out even as I want.  There are people who struggle from the very beginning with all sorts of handicaps and challenges.
            I love them even more than those of my people who think they are whole.  Things do not always get worked out on this side of eternity.  By the way there is eternity you know.  That is where I fix what is not fixed on this side, trust me.  People really have a hard time with trusting me but remember my middle name is Mystery so folks will just have to deal with that if they want the real me and not those little gods that are often substitutes.
            I will stop now even though I could go on and on.  There is always something on my mind after all but mostly my people are always on my mind.  At the center of all Creation there is pure love.  That is me and where you find real love you will find me.  Keep trying out there in Facebook Land.  I am always paying attention.

(Like    Comment   Share)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Jesus in the Olympics

What if Jesus was in the Olympics?  Think about it.  It might go like this:

Jesus barely passed his drug test to get into the Olympic games because even though he was accused by some of being high a few nights before the test the results seemed to be a false positive.  Some said the high came from some wine he consumed but the only thing found in his room were some bottles of water.  Some others were overheard commenting, "But you can't believe what he can do with water if given a chance."

The "water to wine" thing is of no use since there is not a competition in that field although if there was one it seems that Jesus would sure have the edge.  Anyway back to the actual competition.

Jesus passed the time trials to get to the finals.  His first trial came in the "Temptation" contest.  He was matched against a former champion from the Evil Empire.  Many were worried that Jesus would not complete the contest because he refused to eat for forty days before the actual event.  Unlike the horse jumping going on down the venue, Jesus had to "overcome" three obstacles.

The Evil Empire contestant knowing full well of Jesus ability to do the water to wine thing put before him the chance to turn stones into bread.  The odds makers were pretty sure he could do it but Jesus refused on grounds that he did not need magic to win the contest.

Next came the platform diving competition but this time it was not in the pool of water that other contestants were accustomed to but from the pinnacle of the Temple.  The Evil Empire guy offered Jesus  the opportunity to do a three and half cut-away with a twist in the pike position.  Jesus whispered something like, "That would be a piece of cake but sine I did not even make the bread a few moments ago I'll pass on the cake."  Jesus then walked away from the platform again disappointing his adversary.

Next came the final trial before the big event.  The Evil Empire captain offered Jesus a gold medal without ever even competing.  The only catch was the Jesus would have to defect to the Evil Empire.  The captain of the Evil Empire team then showed Jesus how he would be greeted with a ticker-tape parade back home in the Empire if only he would go ahead and take the medal thus avoiding all the upcoming demands of a grueling competition.

Jesus held the medal in his hand as it glistened in the noonday sun.  He smiled and handed it back to the captain and simply said something like, "Not today my worthy opponent; not today and not ever."

So Jesus wins his first preliminary heat.  Now it is time for the real events.  He has to hurriedly recruit a team but word has it that all the first round picks are long gone.  He will have to pick from the left overs.

His chances of winning the gold in the the area of Religious Truth seems almost impossible.  At least he has the consolation that he won a medal in the Temptation contest.

The captain of the Evil Empire team was overheard saying as he walked away, "Just you wait and see.  He will loose in the end.  His team will never come through and I know the judges.  His scores will be so low there will be no more medals in his future."

Reporters could not find Jesus for an interview.  Someone said that he went to talk things over with his Dad but others said that his father was not supposed to even show up at the Olympics.  Only time will tell.  Meanwhile according to the schedule Jesus is next up to compete in the Love Marathon.  Many think he does not have a chance especially with the kind of diet he often follows.  Others say he has a real chance since the route of the race goes next to a large body of water.  He has been known to run not by it but across it thus saving a good deal of time.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Pope Francis for President

So now that I am retired and "free" I'm thinking about becoming a Catholic.  I really like Pope Francis.  In fact I am nominating him for President.  Forget the need to be born in America.  We need real leadership no matter what the birth certificate says.  Well, I know that in North Carolina the birth certificate thing is the topic of yet another issue, which by the way also could use some real leadership.

Anyway back to my campaign for Pope Francis.  Recently at a "leadership" conference Pope Francis urged the many thousands of young people there to "take a risk, because life is not meant to be tucked away."  He then said, "People may judge you to be dreamers because you believe in a new humanity, one that rejects hatred  between peoples, one that refuses to see borders as barriers and can cherish its own traditions without being self-centered or small-minded."  Wow, what a breath of fresh air.  We sure need that kind of vision in an American where a lot of people are so angry and frustrated that  they seem willing to follow a kind of leadership model that is "self-centered and small-minded."

In terms of me switching denominations perhaps I am jumping ship too soon but I sure like what the Pope said about God at this same setting.  He said that negativity was a "virus infecting and blocking everything."  He must be keeping up with our recent political scene.  He then advocated that the young people there remember to hold on to the real God.  Then he offered some really good insight into what the real God is like.  I mean he is the Pope, he's supposed to know such things.

Pope Francis said, "Trust the memory of God: His memory is not a hard disk that saves and archives all our data, but a heart filled with tender compassion."  Maybe he can't be President but I am sure glad he won his own election.  We need someone telling who God is rather than some of the word-smiths who seem to know a God I care not to know.

So I suppose I will remain Methodist, at least for now, although we Methodist seem to have our own set of barriers when it comes to including people.  We have been "fighting" over what it means to be a sexual being for what seems like an eternity.  When the Pope was asked about this issue a few months back he simply said, "Who am I to judge?"  Someone was overheard responding, "You're the Pope, for Christ's sake!"

Well yes it seems he is the Pope "for Christ's sake" and not just for the church's sake.  The Pope for President.  He uses only one e mail server, or does he even do e mails?  He is interested in building bridges rather than walls.  His "spin doctor" died of natural causes years ago so he tells the truth whether church leaders like it or not.  He loves to kiss and bless babies so see he knows the political ways.

So I'm e mailing him and signing up to be his campaign manager.  I have time now.  So here is his first slogan:  "Francis, Francis; he's our man.  He can do it better than what we presently have can!"  I am also volunteering to be his speech writer, although I tend to think he does not need one.  I have some one liners for him though:  "Let's make American humble again"....or..."Working with you!"   And by the way I already know his "platform."  You can find it in the words of his namesake; "Lord make me an instrument of your peace...."  Look up the rest.  It is time tested and works if tried.  The Pope for President!