Archive for the ‘Vocation’ Category

Book Review: How the Church Can Help Alcoholics

December 10, 2019

How the Church Can Help Alcoholics by Father Gene Geromel, Jr., Claretian Publications, 1980

I couldn’t find this book on Amazon.

Properly, it’s more a pamphlet than a book, a brief English and Spanish discussion of alcoholism and how the church can minister to alcoholics.  Much of  the pamphlet discusses identifying alcoholics and ways to address alcoholism rather than avoiding it or ignoring it or misdiagnosing it.  There is far less practical direction for church workers as they address alcoholics in their congregations.

An important thing to realize is that there are alcoholics in likely any and every congregation.  The statistic cited in this pamphlet is that one of every twelve drinking Americans is an alcoholic.  It doesn’t take a lot of complicated math to realize that even in a small congregation there is likely one or more alcoholics.  The Church needs to recognize this, and individual pastors and priests need to be aware of it as well.

This wasn’t something I learned about in Seminary, but it didn’t take long to learn about it on the job.  And don’t by any means presume that just because your congregation is mostly older folks that there aren’t any alcoholics.  A young alcoholic who never deals with their addiction will eventually become an old alcoholic.  Barring an accident, suicide, or general health failure linked to their alcoholism.  The first alcoholic I dealt with up close and personal in ministry was in his 70’s.

The pamphlet stresses the importance of confession and absolution, and rightly so.  It stresses the need to preach the value and worth of every person, including an alcoholic or the spouse or family member of an alcoholic, and rightly so.  The pamphlet also stresses the importance of Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon as resources for coming to grips with alcoholism.

The importance of pastoral care is pertinent to alcoholism as it is to every other facet of life.  Law and Gospel are both important.  Care for those around the alcoholic is critical.  None of this is easy and very little of it can be scripted.  But what you also find is that there are frequently recovered alcoholics in your congregation as well.  When the reality of alcoholism can be addressed as a community of faith, it gives those who are in recovery a means of sharing their story, and that process is often helpful not just to them but those around them.  If there’s one place alcoholism shouldn’t be ignored, it’s in the Church.

A short read, and as indicated, pretty general in nature but a good reminder of the reality of alcoholism in Christian congregations and the responsibility of God’s people to address it head on with the Law and Gospel of God and the forgiveness of sins found  not in recovery but only in Jesus Christ.

Book Review: How NOT to Say Mass

December 9, 2019

How NOT to Say Mass: A Guidebook for All Concerned About Authentic Worship

by Dennis C. Smolarski, S.J.

 

There is a newer edition of this book released in 2015.  However I inherited this copy in a round-about fashion and so can’t speak to any changes in the updated edition.

I like these kinds of books as they give me an idea about how others who take worship and liturgy seriously view these things.  The author  is firmly Roman Catholic and presumes only to give instruction as to the Roman Catholic mass.  However it is useful to me as a Lutheran who utilizes the historic structure of mass.  Although our culture has largely moved to idolize efficiency and utility and to disregard symbolic meaning, worship is laden (at least historically) with symbolism and meaning.  We do things a certain way for certain reasons (at least usually).  And while yes, we are free to make changes insofar as the Bible is silent on these traditions, we should do so more in a sense of reverence for the past rather than a dismissiveness.

My wife and I were talking last night about the nature of community and how Christian community is created through traditions over literally two thousand years or more.  We do things a certain way because Christians have done them this way for a long time.  It provides a depth and meaning for deeper than deciding arbitrarily to do things a certain way for our own expediency or rationale.  Worship and liturgy links the Church today to 2000 years of Christian community.  Doing things more or less they way they did them is an affirmation of that community.  It is not a necessity, not a Biblical law, but it is a very tangible acknowledgment that who we are today is directly related to who God’s people have been long before us.

Much of this book will not make sense outside the Roman Catholic Church, as certain words and terms are used without definition or explanation.  Likewise this book won’t make much sense in a non-liturgical setting.  But I’d encourage even those who avoid historic liturgical practices in favor of current or individualized worship service formats to read this, as it in places provides very serviceable reminders about why Christians have done things a certain way.

Just Cute

December 5, 2019

It could easily be maintained that I have no heart, based on my typical posts that veer (successfully or unsuccessfully) more towards the cerebral than the emotional.

But just to prove I am somewhat human, here is an adorable example of how something can be done well without resorting to excessive expense, profanity, nudity, sexuality, or any of our  other popular marketing gimmicks.

Take a few seconds to watch this if you’re in the mood for something wholesome and sentimental.

Sin and Title

December 3, 2019

….But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.

So goes part of the corporate confession I’ve heard off and on either as parishioner or pastor for the entirety of my life, and that Christians have used prior to me.  It addresses one half of a complicated dual identity – that of being a poor, sinful being.  Not poor in the sense of material poverty, but rather poor in a sympathetic or empathetic way.  I am poor in that I am unable to fully change my sinful nature.  I am unable to fully refrain from sin perfectly in thought, word and deed.  I may put on a good show, but my thoughts and emotions betray me to God regardless of my self-control that might fool others.

I was talking with my parents this weekend and they were relating one pastor’s disagreement with this statement.  His argument is that we are no longer slaves to sin but rather we are free in Christ.  We live in the kingdom of grace rather under the tyranny of Satan.  This is who  we are, he  says.  And he’s half right.  Because the complicated, aforementioned dual-identity consists of this other reality.  Because of the sacrificial death of the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus  the Christ, and because of the faith worked in me by God the Holy Spirit that this historic and objective reality is also subjectively true and real and efficacious for me, I am now washed in his blood and raised from death to  my sinful nature with him.  I am now, this moment, perfect and holy and righteous.  This is how God the Father sees me.  Or more accurately, God the Father sees me this way through the blood of Christ, so that his perfect sacrifice becomes part of my identity.

So we can emphasize one part or the other of this dual-identity.  And one day, this dual identity will no longer be.  The sinful part of me that I confess daily and weekly privately and in corporate worship will be gone, and all that will remain is the holy and perfect and righteous me.  I look forward to that day.  I try to emphasize that reality here and now to myself  and my parishioners.  But I also know the sneakiness of  sin, and some of the dangerous tactics of Satan.  He can’t change the sacrifice of the Son of God on my behalf.  He can’t take away the grace and forgiveness that are granted to me in faith through my baptism.

But he could convince me I don’t really need these things.  He could convince me to ignore and neglect these realities until they are no longer my subjective reality.  Until I’ve committed the unforgivable sin of declaring sin to be righteousness, rejecting the good forgiveness of God as something evil and intrusive.  And because I believe – based on Scripture – that these tactics are deadly real and effective, I will  insist  on continuing to address both aspects of my dual-identity.  Because Satan is always prowling about, internally and externally.  And he isn’t always blatant and obvious about it.

This morning I returned to the office from taking Holy Communion to Suzanne and her sister as I do nearly every Tuesday, augmented with another visit on Thursdays to share another Word from Scripture but without Communion.  Her pattern now  at this care facility is to be lifted into her wheelchair for 45 minutes or so of fresh air and a cigarette outside.  A small freedom she dearly enjoys.  So if I arrive and she’s not in her room, I know to search for her outside.

And outside I found her this morning, surrounded by several friends and co-residents at this care facility.  They gather for cigarettes and coffee, to laugh and shoot the breeze and catch up on the latest goings on.  They feed the pigeons as they smoke and chat.  A few weeks ago I invited one of the other residents to join us.  This morning, he was back along with another two women, at least one of whom was Christian.  It was a beautiful time of sharing God’s Word with an unexpected number of people, and then figuring out how to make the Eucharist available to them when I only expected to commune two.  God is good and things worked out.

Which is all secondary to the whole point of this post.

When I got back to the office there was a car parked in the parking lot that I didn’t recognize.  Sure enough, when I got out, so did the man in the car.  He was sharing flyers for an ecumenical conference in 2020.  I’m generally skeptical of these things but didn’t want to be rude.  I flipped through the brochures as he pointed out the keynote speakers.  I presume he assumed I would know who they are and be somewhat impressed.  He then went on to list off some of the other people who have presented at this conference over the years.  Again, a list of names he assumed I would know and be impressed by.  I didn’t know any of them.  Doesn’t mean they’re bad or not worth knowing, but it’s just not my thing to get into the whole name dropping stuff.  I’ve run into this recently with several different evangelical Christians in different contexts.  Oh, you know so-and-so don’t you?  They’re starting up a new church plant.  Oh, I used to study under so-and-so but now I’m over with so-and-so.  I’m not sure if it’s a Lutheran thing or my own weirdness, but I don’t know these people.  I don’t care, frankly.  If they’re serving God faithfully, thanks be to God!  I don’t need to know  their names.  I probably don’t need to read their books or attend their workshops either, which are oftentimes – in my limited experiences – just a chance for social or professional networking and more name-dropping.  When the conference ends I never hear or see these people again.

Apparently I’m not notable enough for follow-up contacts – unless it’s a mass e-mail advertising the next conference.

Which brings me back to confession.  You know, where we started a few hours  ago?

I thanked the man and made my way to my office, where I flipped through the brochure.  It actually looks halfway interesting.  Focused on youth ministry and reaching young people, the Holy Grail of church focus these days.  But it struck me odd that instead of talking about the purpose of the conference, he chose to emphasize the cool people leading it and previous cool people who had led it.

And a little green voice reared up inside my head wondering why I wasn’t speaking at such conferences and having people drop  my name.

There it is.  That subtle little nudge.  Nothing over-the-top or too noticeable.  Something designed to cruise in under the radar and lodge in the mind and slowly begin taking root.  Did God really say….?

It’s easy to say I’m not speaking at conferences because I have nothing to say and have done nothing notable.  And this is true.

But it’s also true that I just communed five people in a care facility in varying stages of waiting to die.  I brought them the Word of  God.  I brought them the body and blood of their Savior in with and under the bread and wine.  I managed to drop half a wafer and feed it to the pigeons.

And that is something.  It’s not about me, of course.  And so I pretend not to hear the one person complimenting me to one of the other people as I’m nearly out of earshot.  But the ear pricks.  The imagination flares.  Conceit and vanity are stoked.

It’s  not about me.  And that’s ultimately why I reject the popular Christian cult of name-dropping and professional networking.  Perhaps if we had more people focusing on bringing the Word of God to the least of these, the Church might be in a different situation in our culture.  Or perhaps it’s because that’s what the Church is doing that we’re in this situation of free-falling  membership levels.  It could work either direction, and I suspect Satan enough is experienced enough to tack into whatever breeze happens to be blowing.

Perhaps if more people focused on what’s important without thinking about themselves, like me, things would be better and the Church would be healthier.  And there’s the seed of sin and pride and vanity again.  It never stops.  Never goes away.  Not until I die in faith or my Savior returns.  And at that point, all those weed seeds will die off and I won’t have to worry about vanity and conceit or any other type of sin again.  I’ll be holy and perfect and righteous.  Just like I am right now.  Not because of me and my theories but because of the Son of God and his blood.  Because of the Holy Spirit pursuing me with faith that connects me to the grace and forgiveness of God.

But I still struggle with sin right now.  Sometimes I know it and see it.  Sometimes I don’t.  So I continue to confess.  Also imperfectly and incompletely, but as faithfully as possible.  To call  my sin out as sin rather than pretend it’s not.

….But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.

 

 

 

 

Friends in Low Places

November 14, 2019

I spend a lot of time in institutions.   Hospitals.  Skilled  nursing facilities.   Rehabilitation facilities. Assisted living facilities.  All institutions made necessary and profitable by the large wave of aging folks known as the Baby Boomers.

Few people want to be clients in these places. And if news reports and other anecdotal sources  are accurate, few people want to work in these places. At least at the lowest level of care providers.  Anyone from the janitors to the non-credentialed employees who assist with moving patients, changing them, cleaning them, feeding them,  even delivering pills to them.

It isn’t glamorous work.  The halls echo with the moans and shouts and cries of the lonely, the confused, the needful.  It takes a special kind of person to work in these places, regardless of what our society may think of them.  To a culture obsessed with glamour and youth and power and prestige these are low places filled with low people.

When I first met her nearly three years ago she was fairly mobile.  Walking with difficulty.  Living with her sister.  She became a member, dependent on her sister to take her to church, which didn’t always work out.  A year later or so, I received a note from a friend of hers out of state indicating she wouldn’t be coming to church any more  but would like Communion at home.  I contacted her, confirmed this, and began regular visitations.   I learned she suffered from a rare degenerative neurological condition.  So rare, a major research university in the north of California requested her brain and spinal column after her death, and would handle all the necessary costs for those issues.  It was a waiting game at this point.

She moved to a hospice house and I continued to see her regularly.   She outlived her prognosis, and her Medicare coverage for that facility, so earlier this year she  moved to a new facility.  Not a house but an institution.  Over these few years she became wheelchair bound.  Then bed-bound.  The condition slowly paralyzes her.  First it was just the left side of her body.  Now she can only move her head ever so slightly to the left and right.  Her eyes are always active.  Her mind is keen and she’s always looking and listening to everything around her.   Speech grows more and more  difficult..  Thankfully, she has no pain.

But she’s in an institution, and institutions are large, impersonal places.  It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle.  It’s easy to be on the neglected end of a system that employs the bare minimum number of staff to provide adequate care for all of the patients and clients.  But adequate care is not necessary personal.  Not necessarily timely.   And for someone now immobilized, that can be terrifying.

She has a wonderful personality.  A faith as strong as any I’ve ever witnessed.  She’s ready to go, but God apparently isn’t ready for her yet.  We talk about this often, which sometimes elicits loud wails and tears, which come more easily as a result of her condition.  When the research university called to check in on her last week, they asked her sister – who spends hours every day with her – whether she was afraid or not.  Good grief, no.  She’s not afraid!  She knows what lies ahead.

In the meantime, until God is ready to bring her home, she becomes a joy to everyone who meets her.  Staff pop in to say hi to her, knowing she’s almost  always smiling.  She’s a rare source of sunshine in a place often filled with clouds of confusion and despair.

But with shift changes every day,  and with changes in institutional ownership that further affect who stays and who goes and who is hired on, friends are rare and special things in an institution like this.   An institution that tries to do well and by and large does, but still operates within the broken confines of a sinful creation.

But friends can ease that brokenness.  They can attend to her quickly when she needs them.  They remember she needs her food pureed now because swallowing is becoming more difficult.  They are as close to clockwork as is possible in a place like this with the hoyer lift, an amazing device that enables a single elderly caregiver to hoist this woman from her  bed and deposit her in a wheelchair, and visa versa, almost every day for a few moments of cherished fresh air and sunshine and a cigarette outside.  Friends help ensure she doesn’t sit alone in her wheelchair for hours on end because nobody remembered to return her to bed.  Friends remember to bring her pills on time.

Friends make things bearable.  Little touches of God’s grace for a woman who has lost everything but her mind.  Who is kept awake most nights by her insomniac roommate.  Whose family is all the way across the country and isn’t able to get out to see her very often.  Friends offer a smile, a bit of humanity in a place that can be very dehumanizing.  Friends help her sister rest easier, knowing she is taken care of for the other 20 hours a day she can’t be at her side.

It’s not a glamorous place or glamorous work but it so vital and necessary, and when it’s done with a little bit of care and love, with a smile, it means the world to the one receiving it.  Who can’t do anything but smile back and try to speak her gratitude, try to share a bit of the love of Christ with whomever is with her at the moment.  Who prays and worries when her friends aren’t on shift when they should be, and rejoices for and with them when she learns it was just a cold and not a layoff.

Friends in low places are beautiful things.  Pity they aren’t the heroes of our days.  Pity they aren’t the ones feted and followed by the Instagram crowds.  Pity that sex tapes and obscenity are more revered and respected than honest, difficult, sometimes very unpleasant work.  But thanks be to God for those people who do this work anyways.  I hope they know how special they can be when the become not just an employee of an institution, but a cherished friend of the patients because of  a little love and care and extra effort.

Leading and Serving

October 31, 2019

The last six months have been interesting for our Sunday evening open house.  Two of our core  members moved away last April to pursue further studies across country.  Another of our early regulars will be leaving at the end of the year.  We’ve wondered how these departures would impact who showed up.

We’ve noticed a marked uptick in attendance by friends of our children.  We now regularly have a teen-aged Russian guy coming by to game with our kids (and enjoy taunting us with his predilection for eating everything with ranch dressing).  Others have been coming as well, but he’s our regular.  And with him, on an increasingly regular basis, comes his mother, a recently naturalized Russian.  She has become closer friends with my wife over the last year or more.

Two weeks ago we got into a religious discussion.  We invited her to join a new Bible study I am leading at my congregation.  But with her busy schedule between work and school, she hasn’t had time.  But she’s clearly interested.  So we started talking about how to get the ‘big picture’ of Scripture.  Then she asked for help for a scholarship program in her graduate work.  We talked about the difference between how the world (and business schools) talk about leadership and how Jesus and the Bible talk about leadership.  We talked about the difficulty of maintaining humility in a world that essentially values pride as a necessary qualification for leadership.

I shared with her Jesus’ teaching in Mark 10:42-45, and showed her how Jesus made this teaching tangible in John 13:1-17.   And I talked about God as the ultimate example of humility and servant leadership and commitment to others in John 3:16.  We talked about the challenges and limitations of applying these truths in a business setting as a CEO or CFO or COO.  There, service to other is defined in terms of shareholders and perhaps clients/customers.  Commitment and service to others is often seen as a means to another end, like profitability, or employee retention/attraction.  We talked about how hard it is as broken, sinful people, to stay focused on serving others when the point of an MBA program is essentially the promise of skills necessary to make one successful in business leadership, and many people desire those skills and positions not for serving others but for pride, greed, etc.

All of this discussion with someone who is not Christian, but recognizes a universal need to have  some greater, deeper calling outside of yourself.

Christians should have a lot to say on this topic of servanthood and leadership but we all too easily are like James and John, confusing the standards and benefits of the world for the standards of the kingdom of heaven.  We can shake our heads and laugh condescendingly in at these two chuckleheads in Mark 10, but we share their assumptions, even though we have Jesus’ teaching and example in hindsight where they didn’t!

We talk about servant leadership, but we really mean doing things the way we want, presuming others are best served with our ideas until we quit bothering to listen.  We talk about serving but we often times mean ruling, dictating, demanding, forcing if necessary.  In the interest of higher ideals, to be certain, but reliant very heavily on the tools of the worldly leadership trade.  Tools that authorities have always kept on hand to ensure things run the way they want them to.

We don’t talk about servant leadership the way Jesus demonstrated it.  We don’t mean leadership that washes filthy feet.  We don’t talk about leadership that allows itself to be maligned.  We don’t mean leadership that suffers being called a liar and a thief.  We don’t mean leadership that leads by patience, day in and day out, year after year.  We don’t mean leadership willing to die for others rather than seek personal  protection or glory.  We hold these things lightly.  We see them as signs of weakness.

Just like the Jews did.  Just like the Romans did as they mocked Jesus with a fake royal robe and crown before leading him away to die.  What leader would suffer such a fate?  Isn’t it the mark of a true leader to avoid such shame, such failure?.  A leader who does things these ways, the way the kingdom of heaven does them, is no leader in our world today.  We don’t trust it if we see it.  We don’t respect it if we encounter it.

Challenging realities to face for someone who aspires to leadership, whether in the corporate world on in the church, which all too often prefers to borrow corporate principles rather than stick to Biblical ones.  Because it isn’t easy.  It isn’t perfect.  None of us have the perfect wisdom and insight of Jesus, and so have to make do the best we can with what we have.

I look forward to future conversations, and marvel how God the Holy Spirit continues to foster these possibilities.

Comfort Near Death

October 30, 2019

In seminary I remember being warned by a prof about the danger people can be in near death.  This may sound a bit oxymoronic – isn’t anyone near death already in danger?  Certainly this is true, but the gravity of the situation can be aggravated.

This happens by well-meaning doctors, nurses, and family members.  Wishing to spare the person additional stress, sorrow, or any other negative emotions, they deliberately mislead the person as to their condition, or the odds of their survival.  By telling lies they seek to bring the person comfort.  With good intentions, however, the potentially deprive that person of being aware of their condition and intentionally spending time making peace with God.

I’ve always remembered this, and I’ve tried to be straightforward with the people I visit at home or in the hospital.  When the understanding of those around them is they are near death, I try to specifically ask them if they are fearful or have anything they would like to confess or otherwise talk about.  I am encouraged by the faith of some who are ready to meet their maker, firm in the promises of Jesus Christ.  I am likewise encouraged by some who take the opportunity for a confession or question or discussion.

But they need to know their situation accurately in order to best prepare themselves.  This especially true as, more and more often, final hours and days  are spent heavily sedated and unable to engage in conversation.  The goal is comfort, but comfort goes beyond the physical to the spiritual.

I had an interesting discussion the other day where someone expressed a reluctance to trouble the people of our congregation with the difficult reality of our congregation – that they are almost all well into retirement age and beyond, and there is no younger generation of kids and grandkids behind them to take over the congregation when they are no longer able to run it.  When this group of people pass (and barring a miracle of the Holy Spirit), only a handful (literally) might remain, not enough to sustain things as they are and have been.

He felt it was inappropriate to trouble them with thinking about the future of the congregation beyond their lifetime, that it would be a source of stress to them and could result in some of them leaving the congregation.  He spoke from a position of empathy, personally having experienced the loss of a spouse, the struggle of long-term care for a spouse with debilitating conditions, and other very real struggles people often face as they age.  And I know many in my congregation do deal with these issues or have in the recent past.  While I can sympathize and empathize with them, I haven’t been through these struggles personally and therefore there is much I don’t know and can’t begin to imagine.  This doesn’t change the reality that I have been called to be their pastor and shepherd, but it does make me second-guess myself at times.

Which is more loving, to not talk about hard things with people already facing hard things?  Or is it more loving to be honest about the hard things and allow people the opportunity to grapple with them for themselves.  I have a high opinion of my members.  Some of them may be less vigorous now in age as they once were, but they have lived long lives through difficult times.  The Great Depression.  World Wars.  The loss of loved ones.  Challenging economic times.  As such, I credit them with a deep reserve of resilience – a reserve only heightened and extended by their faith in Jesus.  I’d rather honor their capabilities even when that is challenging and requires a lot of time and explanation, than simply not tell them everything soas not to add burdens to them.

And just like with visiting the seriously ill, most of the time there is an awareness already of the gravity of the situation.  We talk optimistically, but when reality is broached, most people are willing and able to respond to that.  I pray the same is true of my congregation and the future of the congregation.  I believe some challenging realities need to be faced and challenging decisions made.  But I’d rather give them all the details so they can make those decisions to the best of their ability, even if it’s challenging.

I pray and believe they’re capable of it, and I trust that through it all, God the Holy Spirit is present and more than capable of providing the strength and clarity needed to make those decisions, so they know they are ready for whatever the future holds, to the best of their ability, resting in the promises of our Lord who has conquered not only the physical death we each will likely face, but all the powers of evil arrayed against us individually and corporately while we yet live.  

I know I tend to expect more from people rather than less.  I like to think this is the better, more honoring thing to do.  But it might not always be, and I am grateful for those who challenge me to examine my way of approaching people and things to make sure it seems appropriate given the situation.

Missed Messages

October 26, 2019

I wonder if he would have left a message on the machine.

I wonder what that message would have said.

You don’t call a church at 8:30 pm on a Saturday night expecting someone to answer.  Frankly, anymore you don’t call even looking for service times and information.  Even Baby Boomers know to find that stuff on the Internet or through their mobile devices.  So I wonder what he would have done if I hadn’t picked up the phone.

As it was, when I answered, there was a short pause, a fumbling  to find the right words for an unexpected situation.  And then a simple confession.  I had an experience with God.  God touched me.  

Interesting, and not the normal lead off.

Why would He do that?

Very interesting indeed.  The man’s voice is cracked and ragged.  The sinful part of me wonders if he’s been drinking,  and that has driven him at this hour to pick up the phone and call a church.

That was 45 years ago.  But I feel it just like it was yesterday, like I was still in the car.  It’s that real.  I spent my life trying to figure it out.  I majored in religious studies at USC.  I’ve been trying to figure this out for a long time.   Why did He touch me?  Would He do it again?  I need to get back to church.  I was raised Norwegian Lutheran.  I need to get back to church.

I can hear the sincerity, the reality of his questioning.  Why indeed?  Or why not, just as easily.  I talk about the Transfiguration, about those brief moments on a mountaintop that Peter wanted to stretch out indefinitely.  But Peter was told to shut up.  And then he and the others were led back down the mountain.  Into the real world again, as we like to think of it.  A place where the reality and touch of God can seem much more remote, and the presence and work of evil so much more palpable.

I need to get back to church.  

I tell him our worship time for the next morning.  I invite and encourage him.  But I doubt I’ll see him.  He reached out not expecting to find anyone, and he found someone.  The one touched by God now fumbling because he unexpectedly touched someone.  Perhaps he was unexpectedly touched back.  I pray he was.  That he does show up some Sunday for worship.  I encourage him that perhaps that is why God touched him so long ago, knowing that he would wander even as he sought God, that he would get lost in the maze of life while never forgetting that moment in the car when God touched him.  And that touch, so many years ago, maybe that touch was intended to draw him back.  To ensure there was a way back out of the maze and  into the arms of his creator and redeemer and sanctifier.

A way that maybe didn’t rely on an answering machine, but an unexpected dialogue.

 

Picture Language

October 24, 2019

Here’s a fascinating image gallery of anti-Christian propaganda posters produced during the time of the Soviet Union.  Hopefully it isn’t lost that some of the same caricatures of religion as backwards compared to the progressive movement of the State are being utilized today.

In our own country.

 

Income Disparity!

October 14, 2019

When I was a kid, we couldn’t afford to purchase school lunches.  Every day I brought my lunch to school in a pretty cool lunch box.  My preferred sandwich was peanut butter and jelly.  I ate that pretty much every school day for lunch from as far back as I can remember to sometime probably in late high school when I started working and could afford to – from time to time – eat out.

I never really gave this much thought.  Some people could afford to buy school lunches, just like some people – once we hit junior high and high school age – could afford to buy shakes and french fries and other luxuries for lunch.  It was a reality of my life.  Yes, it meant I wasn’t part of the in crowd (although there were plenty of other, non-economic reasons why I would never be invited into that hallowed clique).  I learned to deal with that.  As generations of kids did before me and after me.

Yet politicians today are outraged that not everyone can afford to buy school lunches.  Or some people sign their kids up for them but then fall behind in their payments, racking up debts with the school.  This has apparently been handled up till now by those children getting a “cheaper, alternative” lunch.  And this stigmatizes them.  They stick out from their peers who can afford the pricier lunches, or can afford to have the luxury of choosing what they want to eat for lunch instead of just having something handed to them.

Note that everyone is getting a lunch.  But some get to choose what they have for lunch while others are denied a choice, or their choice is less desirable.

So our state has decided to eliminate the stigma for these children by assuring that all kids – whether their parents can afford to pay their lunch debts off or not – get the same lunch.  No mention is made in the article about how this decision will be paid for.  I presume it will be paid for with yet another sob-story appeal to the voters about how the school systems can’t make ends meet and need more money in taxes and bonds to ensure all children receive a quality education.

Seems as though education is in order, indeed.

Starting with the hard, cold reality – both present and historical – that some people make more than others.  Some people have more than others.  In my studies of history, this has always been the case.  Even including efforts at socialism and communism in the 20th century, a basic fact of life is that some people are always going to be a little better off than others.  Or a lot.  Whether they’re supposed to be or not.  That’s the way life works.

Yet news stories today present this as though it’s some sort of newly discovered corruption in our society.  Did you know that some people can afford to buy portable generators when faced with possible power outages?  Did you know this is evidence of income disparity?!  Wait – you mean some people live paycheck to paycheck?  How is it that reporters and politicians are so surprised by this?  For pretty much all of my life, myself and the vast majority of people I’ve known live more or less paycheck to paycheck.  We don’t have vast sums of money in the bank.  Sometimes we have a little more.  Sometimes a little less.

But we live in a country founded on the principle that if you worked hard, you could improve your situation.  You might start out with not much, but you could try to do better.  It wasn’t handed to you.  It wasn’t paid for by other people.  But you had the chance to try and improve your lot in life.  Generations of people have done just that.  Millions of people from around the world have undertaken great risk and expense to come to our country because of that principle.  And many, many, many of them have found that principle isn’t just a nice marketing gimmick.  It’s true.  They’re witnesses to it, and that reality is what continues to fuel the desire to come to our country.

That’s not good enough for our politicians, apparently.

Maybe more of them needed to bring their lunches to school.  Maybe more of them needed to deal with the fact that some people don’t eat fancy lunches every day at school.  Some people don’t wear the latest designer fashions to school every day.  Some people aren’t invited to the cool parties and hang out with the popular kids every day.  That income disparity is just one of the pervasive realities of life, and despite good (or bad) intentions to the contrary, is amazingly difficult (or impossible) to eliminate.

Now that lunches are free, I guess we can move on to mandating a fashion fund so kids with parents who can’t afford to shop at all the cool stores aren’t stigmatized by having to wear off-brand clothing.  Maybe another fund to help poor families buy nicer cars so they don’t stand out when they’re dropping off and picking up junior from school.  The list could go on and on.

Life is not fair.  Not in income and not in a stunning variety of other ways.  Kids can be very cruel, it’s true.  And if it isn’t school lunches, it will be something else where they demonstrate this truth generation after generation.

Because the real issue isn’t school lunches or portable generators or even income disparity as a whole.  The real problem, the real root of cruelty and social and economic stratification is sin.  Brokenness that can’t be legislated away.  Sin that can’t be taxed out of existence.  We have to be saved from it, but the government isn’t up to that task.  Never has been.  Isn’t now.  Never will be.  We can seek to make improvements, to be sure.  And I know that good intentions are at the basis of writing about income disparity and trying to give free lunches to everyone.  But what we really need is a God willing to enter into our world to save us from the sin we can’t always see and sometimes don’t want to get rid of, as well as the sin we’d be happy to do without.  Jesus has done this.  My state – or Federal – government can’t.  They can’t fix the level of brokenness that leads to hurt feelings and social stigmatization.  At best, they can try to give away more free lunches.

But that’s something I learned in school as well, along with the fact that some people have more money than others.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch in this world.  Somebody, somewhere, always pays.