Archive for March, 2013

I Can’t Be it All

March 19, 2013

How do you determine who you are, what you do, what you say no to and how in general you prioritize your life?

I suspect that for many people, there is no good answer to these questions.  The result is stress.  Mind-numbing, paralysis-inducing stress.  Without a filter of some sort, we are deers-in-the-headlights of data and culture.  
Others seem to agree that something is wrong.  
I vividly remember a snippet of conversational exchange as a young child at my grandparent’s house.  Thumbing through a book of science and nature facts, probably with Nixon or Ford on in the background.  My grandmother made the comment to me (as I was viewing a page on cryogenics) that I could grow up to be the President someday.  I remember thinking that this was an odd thing to say, an odd thing to be true, and an odd thing to aspire to.  
I grew up with realists – people who worked hard to achieve what they had in life.  I don’t remember a lot of conversations about me going to Harvard, or heading up the UN, or changing the world in any mind-numbing and socially glorified way.  Goals were modest.  Perhaps that’s more a testimony to the lack of direction I showed as a youth rather than a particular philosophy of life, but regardless, I grew up assuming I’d figure out a job to do and do it.  I wasn’t going to be the Next Big Thing.  
I suspect this conflicted with my adolescent, overly-romanticized views of The Meaning of Life.  Didn’t I have A Gift to share with the world?  Some deep insight into the nature of human existence?  A Great American Novel waiting to spring forth from my inexperienced mastery of what it means to be human?  
Apparently not.  I may not like admitting that still, but it’s a truth that is hard to avoid as well.  By the grace of God I’m blessed to do and be so many wonderful things, but very few (if any) of them are recognized by the world as being worthy of adulation.  I can’t do it all and be it all.  
Nor do I expect my children to, either.
These days, it seems tantamount to child abuse to say that I don’t have grand visions of my children graduating from an Ivy League school or becoming President or curing cancer.  They may do any or all of these things and I’ll be thrilled and proud and supportive of them each step of the way.  But I don’t think that healthy parenting means attempting to micro-manage their route towards such things.  
We live in an affluent part of the country, but I don’t think that the effort to do-all and be-all personally and for your children is exclusive to areas like ours.  Parents jockeying years ahead  of time to get their kids into just the right preschool, which will prep them for acceptance into just the right private schools, which will prepare them for just the right private high schools, which will best position them for Harvard or Yale or Berkeley.  Which will give them the best shot at a hugely successful and lucrative career.  
I have my biases like anyone.  There are things I’d prefer (and not prefer) to see my kids do when they grow up.  But most importantly I want them to love God.  I want them to be happy with themselves.  I want them to be able to identify things they’d like to accomplish and have the tools to accomplish them.  I’d like them to be realistic, but also enjoy dreaming, since sometimes dreams can become reality.  
Is it wrong to not only acknowledge that you can’t have it all, but to also say that at a very practical level, you don’t even want it all?  Is this just a sign of aging?  A malaise and lethargy of existence that beats our youthful energies and passions into mediocrity?  Or is there something more at play, something perhaps, healthier, than the lives of stress that so many people seem to be living – and teaching their children to live?  
I see the answer to the problem the above-linked article poses.  How do I filter the world and myself, and thereby hope to provide my children with healthy filters?  I have faith in the God who created the world, and who created me and my children without any of my input or guidance.  Who has declared that I am loved and have value not because of where I graduate from or how much money I earn, but simply because He created me and sacrificed his Son for me.  
I don’t have anything to prove.
Without this filter, what would my expectations for myself and my kids be?  How could I ever find a sense of peace with who I am, what I’ve done, what I’m likely to do, and how I can best help my children launch their lives?  I don’t know.  For many people (whether Christian, other faiths, or no faiths), I suspect the answer is that they don’t find that sense of peace.  They bounce from expert to expert, trend to trend, always feeling inferior and behind the curve, always envious of and competing with their friends and family for the best spots and the top honors.  Life becomes a race because if you aren’t racing then what are you doing and how do you know if you’re any good unless somebody else tells you that you are?  Unless your children are beautiful and gifted and grinding away at satisfying your own needs for validation, let alone theirs?  
When I was younger, my cousin told me
Boy you’re gonna be President.
But just like everything else
Those old crazy dreams just kinda came and went.
– John Cougar Melloncamp – “Little Pink Houses”

Reading Ramblings – Palm Sunday, March 24, 2013

March 17, 2013

Reading
Ramblings

March
24, 2013

Date: March 24, 2013, Fifth Sunday
in Lent

Texts: Deuteronomy 32:36-39; Psalm
118:19-29 (
or Psalm
31:9-16
); Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:1-23:56 (or
Luke 23:1-56 or John 12:20-43
)

Context: Palm Sunday
begins the highest point of the liturgical Church Year – Holy Week,
which leads up to and culminates in Easter Sunday. The final Sunday
of the Lenten season has been known as Passion Sunday since at least
the mid fifth century. Around or shortly after the first millenium,
a practice from the Spanish and Gallic churches of carrying palms in
procession was integrated into wider church acceptance and practice –
something that had been observed in some churches for 500 years
already. Part of the Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday tradition is that
the entire account of the Passion is read – a much longer Gospel
reading than we are typically used to, yet one that intends to tie
all of the events of that week into a greater unity, since they will
be revisited in part on Maunday Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter
Sunday.

There are several alternate reading
selections possible for today – the ones noted in italics above
were not selected for use today.

Deuteronomy 32:36-39:
Known as the Song of Moses, Deuteronomy 32 is a song of Moses towards
the end of his life. Verses 1-4 extoll the nature of God. Verses
5-6 criticize the waywardness of God’s people. Verses 7-14 remind
the Israelites what God had done for their ancestors. Verses 15-18
describe how Israel fell away from worshiping God, and verses 19-25
describe how the Lord vows to punish them. Verses 26-27 form an
interesting pause, as God determines not to carry out the full
measure of his anger against Israel so that her enemies might not
mistake God’s judgment for their own prowess in war. Verses 28-35
are God’s response to these enemies, calling out their own
foolishness and promising eventual judgment against them. The verses
for this morning, 36-39, describe how the Lord will continue to
pursue his people with his judgments until they are forced to
acknowledge him as the one true and only God. There is none beside
and none greater. The critical verse in light of Palm Sunday is
verse 39. We know that Jesus will be put to death and raised again
to life, and we need to see this as the overarching work and plan of
God the Father.

Psalm 118:19-29: This
psalm is used in the context of worship, and seems to capture the
movement of the people into the Temple and the presence of the Lord.
Verses 1-4 are a call to worship, verses 5-14 are a confession of
what the Lord has already done both for the individual as well as for
the collective people of God. Verses 15-29 are an extended praise,
the focus is not what God has done in the past but the response of
the faithful to God’s goodness. The people of God naturally will
praise and worship him for all He has, does, and will do for them.
Starting at today’s reading of verse 19, we can imagine the people
standing outside the temple doors or gates, calling to be admitted
into the house of God to praise him. Once inside, they continue with
verses 22-29. These verses echo images from the Gospel reading today
– Jesus entering the gates of the City of God, Jerusalem; his role
as the rejected stone that in a few short days will be entirely
rejected and then revealed as the cornerstone; the blessing of the
one who comes in the name of the Lord and the call to praise God for
his eternal goodness.

Philippians 2:5-11: The
more traditional Old Testament reading for Palm Sunday is Isaiah
50:4-7, the Suffering Servant passage. The Epistle lesson
historically is this one from Philippians, which serves as the
bridge between the events of the Passion Narrative read for the
Gospel today, and the Suffering Servant prophecy of Isaiah. Paul’s
letter to the Philippians makes it clear that the Suffering Servant
refers to Jesus. To do so, Paul writes out the Christ hymn – a
piece of early Christian liturgy. Paul does this on many occasions
in his letters, slipping into liturgical language that helps to
reveal the nature and content of earliest Christian worship. In this
passage, how the Philippians deal with one another in the midst of
suffering is exhorted to be how Christ handled suffering – in
obedience to the will of God.

Although the full impact of this
passage is dulled because Isaiah 50 is not the assigned Old Testament
reading, it still links beautifully with the Gospel passage. As we
read the full passion narrative, we see the Son of God in total
obedience whether being acclaimed by the people, interrogated by
Pilate, or hanging on the cross.

Luke 22:1-23:56: Easily
the longest Bible passage reading of the year, this full account of
the last days of Jesus life and ministry sets the stage for all of
Holy Week. Palm Sunday – and Maunday Thursday, Good Friday, and
even Easter Sunday – are placed in proper context with one another,
which only serves to enhance the impact of what occurs on those days.

Traditionally the Gospel lesson is
divided up somewhat, so that the verses dealing with Jesus’ triumphal
entry into Jerusalem are read during the processional into the
church, and the remaining verses are read at the time normally
reserved for the Gospel. Through it all we see a man who is not
carried away by the emotions and circumstances of the moment, but
grounds himself fully in obedience to his heavenly Father.   

A Sharp Tongue and a True Aim

March 15, 2013

I think I’ve linked to this guy’s stuff before.  Excellent food for thought in today’s post.

It is particularly interesting in light of the events of several weeks ago in our denomination, when the human propensity for infighting was put in the media spotlight.  You can see my posts on it here, here, here, and a little bit here.  My basic stance in it all was that regardless of what was done, how we addressed it was the important thing.  Meaning that both sides in the fray needed to calm down and consider how they conveyed their points, otherwise their salient points would be lost before they could be considered, and true dialog would be impossible.  
But Matt Redmond’s post today has me questioning my stance.  At least a little bit.
He’s an Evangelical examining not just what Luther said but how he said it, and arguing that Luther had a particular reason for his vehemence and rhetoric which ran deeper than whatever personality quirks he might have had.  Redmond’s point is that when you’re trying to reform, a sharp tongue might well be necessary to be heard and continue to be heard. 
In our circles today, this isn’t just a point of historical interest.  We continue to have those among us who speak very pointedly (Herman Otten, for instance?), and it is easy to dismiss their claims because of how they express themselves.  I’m not trying to defend any particular stance or person, but rather pointing out that perhaps they have to speak in a certain way in order to even be heard – even if they are dismissed immediately, before they are even heard.
Which seems problematic, at best.  
I still see the commandments regarding how we speak about one another to be hugely relevant.  If I misrepresent the position of someone I disagree with, I’m violating the command against bearing false witness against my neighbor.  If I represent his stance honestly, but insult him personally or otherwise, I fall into sin with the commandment against murder (as per Jesus in Matthew 5:21-26).  I can’t help but believe that regardless of its effectiveness, if we truly hope to change things, our conduct in attempting to do so – including how we speak – is just as important as what we are trying to accomplish.  The two are linked together.
So, like Redmond, I still have problems with Luther’s vehemence.  But unlike Redmond, those problems remain for me, despite Redmond’s suggestion that Luther’s means were justified because he was directing his vitriol internally, rather than against a neighbor.  But I appreciate being made to think about it further, in light of recent events.  
Good food for thought, even on a Friday.  

Google Giveth…

March 14, 2013

…and Google taketh away.  If there’s one aspect of Internet life that people should get used to, it is that free stuff doesn’t always stay free, and free stuff sometimes doesn’t even give you the option of paying for it before it just disappears.

I don’t know how most of you find this site, but Google has a popular service called Google Reader.  This is a rich site summary (RSS) feed – it allows you to indicate web sites that you would like to keep track of.  If those web sites provide RSS updates, then Google gathers all of that information and presents it to you for relatively easy perusal.  You see the headline and a few lines of the story, and then you can click on it to be taken to the actual site where you can read the rest of the information.
It’s a terribly handy tool, one that allows me to scan through dozens of web sites and peruse hundreds of headlines every day.  
But Google is discontinuing it effective July 1 of this year.
It’s a hard loss because first of all it’s a free utility.  Secondly, it allows people to quickly find out which web sites have updated content for them to read.  For big web sites that are name brand, this isn’t a big loss.  But for smaller sites and particularly for small bloggers like myself, this is a painful tool to use, as it will require some or many readers to either find another tool to do the same thing (and others are already lining up to fill the gap, and other tools are available), or they will have to manually come and check the site every day to see if there is new material to read.
All of which to say, if you access this site or receive update notifications from my blog through Google, you’re going to have to find another way of getting those updates.  You can utilize an alternate RSS-feed as noted in the links above, or you can just bookmark the actual web address for my blog and click on it manually.  Hopefully I won’t lose many of you in this transition!

Apples to Apples

March 13, 2013

Thanks to Becky for a link this morning to this article regarding the very real differences in what the term marriage means between heterosexual and homosexual communities.  

The basic upshot to this synopsis is that within the homosexual community, monogamous relationships are far less common – and less expected/desired – than in the heterosexual community.  While I had been aware of this stereotype for many years, this was the first time I actually investigated research on the topic.  It would seem that there hasn’t been a lot of research done on the topic.
Of course, one might be skeptical that a religious web site would be skewing presentation of the data, so I investigated some of the links provided in the article.  Another synopsis of the study here.  Another article from almost three years ago here, with links to the less-authoritative report published here.  

In other words, this isn’t just a religious spin on something.  The homosexual community is very aware and supportive of the idea that a monogamous relationship doesn’t need to involve monogamous sexual relations.  If this sounds kind of oxymoronic, it’s because in the West we have tended to link the idea of monogamy to sexuality and not just marriage.  
Why is all of this important?  Because in the ongoing argument for gay marriage, the assumption is made by many in the heterosexual community that we’re defining marriage in the same way – an exclusive relationship between two people.  Exclusive emotionally as well as physically.  But this is not the way many in the homosexual community see marriage.  This ought to lead us to consider – what is being lobbied for in legalizing gay marriage?  Is it the idea that two homosexuals should have the right to enter into an exclusive relationship the same way heterosexuals do, or is it a much deeper redefinition of the idea of marriage?
I’d suggest that among the most vocal advocates of gay marriage, this deeper redefinition of marriage is part and parcel of what is being pushed for.  While many heterosexuals may find the idea of homosexual marriage poses no challenges or concerns to them from an educational standpoint, does this altered definition of the exclusivity of marriage change that?  Will textbooks need to not only include drawings of two men or two women in illustrating marriage, but three men, or four women?  
Definitions matter, otherwise, we may end up thinking we’re getting one thing when we’re getting something much, much different.

Reading Ramblings – March 17, 2013

March 10, 2013

Reading
Ramblings

March
17, 2013

Date: March 17, 2013, Fifth Sunday
in Lent

Texts: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126;
Philippians 3: 4b-7)8-14; Luke 20:9-20

Context: Last week’s
reading focused on the beauty of the Gospel – the forgiveness of
sins we inherit through faith in the incarnation, death, and
resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ. This week builds
on that theme, emphasizing joy and trust in the work that God is
doing. Why is trust necessary? Because the full effects of the new
life begun through the death and resurrection of Jesus are not fully
apparent yet. So we wait for their fulfillment, trusting that the
God who has rescued his people in ages past will fulfill and
accomplish our rescue from the final effects of sin, death, and the
power of Satan.

This is the last ‘official’ Sunday in
Lent. While next Sunday is part of Lent, it is also the beginning of
Holy Week – Palm Sunday.

Isaiah 43:16-21: It may
sound paradoxical at first – after the Lord reminds his people what
He has accomplished for them in the past He exhorts them not to dwell
on the past! We are always to put our trust and faith in God’s
promises for the future based on God’s fulfillment of promises in the
past. We look forward to our resurrection to new life based on the
resurrection and promises of Jesus regarding new life. We anticipate
the release from struggles and hardship based on God’s deliverance of
his people in the past. But in Christ, God is not merely repeating a
temporary, historical rescue that will last for a while and then be
buried in ancient history. In Christ, God has begun reconciling all
of creation to himself – He is doing what He promised from Genesis
3 He would do, but in a way that differs from all of the
mini-fulfillments and rescues of the past. Those who look to Jesus
for temporary political or military rescue – and indeed those who
place their hope in these things today – are missing the larger
work of God.

Psalm 126: One of the
Songs of Ascent, recited and sung by travelers on their way to
Jerusalem for annual festivals, this psalm focuses on the blessings
God’s people have received in the past, and springboards to a
petition for such blessing and rescue in the future. In between
remembering what God has done in the past (vs. 1-2) and asking for
God’s blessing in the future (vs. 4-6), verse 3 is a powerful
statement that regardless of what we still hope for from our Lord, we
live in a state of blessedness and joy this very minute, in the midst
of struggle or peace. We are filled with joy through the hope
of Jesus Christ!

Philippians 34b-7)8-14:
Spiritual pride is a constant temptation for Christians. The urge
to consider ourselves in comparison to others is a strong one. But
Paul makes it clear here that such pride has no place in a
Christian’s life. Paul calls our bluff. What do we want to boast
about, precisely? He lays out his credentials in terms of being a
righteous Jew in verses 5-6. If we want to take pride in our own
spirituality, Paul should be at the front of the line, because his
credentials are impeccable.

But this isn’t what Paul does. He
chucks his credentials out the window – they mean nothing! Does
this mean we shouldn’t strive to be good people? Of course not –
but it does mean that what we need to place our faith and trust and
pride in is not ourselves, but rather the person and work of Jesus
Christ. Why is this? Because in Jesus Christ we have the promise of
resurrection and eternal life.

Paul’s hearer/reader might be inclined
at this point to glorify Paul and his faithfulness! What a source of
pride it must be to be so spiritually humble! But Paul refuses to go
down this road either. He is not a spiritual master in Christ, but
he continues to diligently pursue that idea.

Luke 20:9-20: How easy
it is to take for granted all of the goodness of God. Not just
salvation, but life and creation itself. It is easy to be lulled
into a contempt of creation. To see it not as a divine gift, but as
some sort of right we inherit by the fact of our existence (a fact
which is a gift of God as well!).

The vineyard is a common motif in the
Old Testament representing the people of God (Isaiah 5). The
religious leaders congregating around Jesus understand exactly what
he is saying about them.

The passage begins with Jesus’
authority being questioned. He now demonstrates what such questions
ultimately reflect – a desire to usurp God from his Lordship over
all things, and to place ourselves in that role instead. God the
Father is the vineyard owner, the tenants are his people. They are
called to give praise and glory and honor only to God, but they don’t
wish to do so. God sends messengers – prophets – to call his
people back to faithful obedience and a right understanding of their
relationship to him. But they won’t listen. Now at last He has sent
his Son, and they will continue to act in rebellion, ultimately
killing the son under the mistaken notion that in doing so they
eliminate the heir for the vineyard and will possess the vineyard for
themselves.

Spiritual pride blinds us to the glory
of God because we are so impressed with our own efforts. While we
may pay lip service to God, we are concerned that others recognize
our piety, our humility, our obedience. This is a dangerous road to
walk down and only by remembering first and foremost not how we
compare to others, but how we fall short of the requirements of the
Law can we hope to remain humbly grateful for the goodness of God.   

What Is Your Favorite…?

March 9, 2013

…part of worship?

As a parishioner, I always enjoyed the benediction.  Now that I’m privileged to be giving the benediction, I still find it a truly moving moment in the worship.  Someone shared today that one of their favorite parts of worship was the silence during which we were to be silently confessing to God, prior to receiving absolution.  
What parts of worship do you find particularly touching or meaningful and why?

Somewhere, Over the Rainbow…

March 8, 2013

…flies a drone.

Thanks to Gary for sharing this article from The Guardian, calling out the American Congress for not being more united in demanding clear statements from the President regarding the role and appropriateness of drone strikes against American civilians on American soil.  If that seems a bit presumptuous of our friends across the pond, consider the fact that drone usage abroad is widening in scope.
Once again, this is an issue of major importance.  The idea that unarmed civilian citizens not currently engaged in any unlawful activity can be executed without a charge being made against them, an opportunity to defend themselves, a trial where their side can be heard and judged, and sentencing based on a body of prescribed options is dangerous.  Deadly dangerous.  The idea that American citizens should accept living under that sort of threat day in and day out, not in a time of war, not under an Executive Order implementing martial law, but just as standard operating procedure is unreasonable.  
This is not an annoying threat-level indicator that never seems to go down.  This is the issue of life and death – not just for the individuals who may be targeted for reasons that needn’t be explained to anyone, but for those around them as well, who could easily become collateral damage in an operation.  

Rethinking

March 7, 2013

Thanks to Billie for directing me to this article by Terry Mattingly, which is carried in our local paper.  

The article highlights a trend that some pastors and theologians across the theological spectrum are aware of – areas of American Christianity that previously had ignored or rejected different traditions of the Christian Church are beginning to rethink their stance.  
The rejection or ignorance can often be traced to a rejection to some of the teachings and practices of Roman Catholicism, a process formalized in the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, spearheaded by Martin Luther.  He wasn’t the first to object to some of Roman Catholicism’s teachings and practices, but he was one of the first to successfully continue to object and continue living.  It’s important to note that schism was not Luther’s goal, at least initially, and he maintained an insistence that a large bulk of the Roman Catholic Church’s theology and practice was good and not only could but should be maintained.  He argued against other reformers who felt that his objections to Catholicism stopped too short, and who proceeded to purge their practices more extensively of rites, traditions, and teachings that they felt were popish.  
Which means that a lot of good stuff got thrown out with the bathwater, an objection Lutherans have continued to maintain for 500 years.  It would seem that others are beginning to recognize this as well.  
A few weeks ago on Ash Wednesday, as I made and then applied ashes for the children of the Christian school that leases property from us, I had just about concluded.  The new headmaster of the school paused as I offered he and their music director the ashes.  He decided to participate, and his comment after having watched the whole event indicated a certain level of surprise.  He was surprised that the event wasn’t ritualistic, but rather a simple way of remembering the sacrifice of Christ.  I wondered a bit what he had expected me to do that morning, but whatever had happened seemed to be acceptable to his non-denominational understandings.
That’s a good thing.
Two thousand years of Christian history and practice is a lot of material.  Some of it is undoubtedly a bit wonky and in need of critical adjustment or elimination.  But some of it is beautiful.  I think the beauty lies in the physicality of it – that our God who created us as spiritual and physical beings has provided his Church with a variety of physical moments.  These have great value for us, value that I suspect has been diminished greatly by our post-Enlightenment obsession with the intellectual and the emotional, with our attempt to divest ourselves of our physicality – an effort that in all circles ironically seems to lead to a certain level of carnality.  
We need to understand ourselves as whole entities – spiritual and physical.  When we do this, I believe we can begin to see the physical aspects of our faith tradition in a higher and more appreciative light.  
In the article I mentioned earlier, I found it humorous that the author warns about how tricky it is for “Protestants in churches born through the work of John Calvin, Martin Luther and other reformers” to access the Church’s rich history.  Perhaps he has never worshiped in a traditional Lutheran congregation, or eavesdropped on our internal dialogues.  I would encourage him to stop in some time.  He’ll find that a great deal of tradition and history has been maintained.  I’m excited that some of our brothers and sisters in non-denominational traditions (because they definitely have traditions of their own!) are beginning to recognize that there might be room in their circles for some of the blessings that have maintained the Church for two thousand years.

How Is That Tolerance Working Out For You?

March 6, 2013

Meanwhile, another example of the progressive notion of tolerance.  Meaning, we won’t tolerate anyone who doesn’t agree with us.  Splendiferous!  Not even the Man of Steel is immune to this potent force of tolerance!