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God: “I have seen suffering…”

“I have seen suffering make heroes of some of my children.

The strength with which they endure their pain is a shining example to all.

But sometimes, child, suffering is only suffering.

It seems gratuitous.

It feels meaningless.

It teaches nothing.

It brings no gifts.

It just is.

It just is and you feel alone,

Abandoned, Forsaken.

You think I have gone

So you run.

Your mind skitters away from the hurt.

Your body shrinks away from the pain.

Your heart tries to shut itself against the suffering.

I see you run.

You don’t believe that I am with you.

But I am there.

When you stop running from the pain

And turn to face it,

When you can step into the agony and let it be,

When you can turn to your own suffering and know its name,

Then you will see me.

You will see me in the heart of it with you.

It doesn’t matter if your body is wracked by pain

Or your mind is spiraling through aches and anguish.

When you stop running you will see me.

I will not forsake you.

I cannot abandon you.

You are not alone.

I am with you.”

-God, through the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu

(Made for Goodness, 109-110)

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2013 in prayer

 

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Who makes all your crap?

UPDATE (1/18/12): The major networks have picked up on what’s happening in the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen—and now the Daily Show has followed suit with an amazing clip/gag, that you can see by clicking here.

I recently heard about This American Life, an NPR/WBEZ radio program, from a classmate—so when I found it on the radio (as a repeat broadcast) while coming home from Groton (where I pastor) this past Sunday, I was interested.

When I heard the host of the program describe the topic of conversation, I was hooked.

And as I listened to the program, taking the long way home, making unnecessary stops and staying in the car for 10 minutes even after arriving at home, just so I could continue to listen (and even at the expense of running upstairs as fast as possible to watch the football game), I was moved and changed in a way that I have not been in a long time.

(click below for a summary and a link to the podcast)

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Posted by on January 10, 2012 in Muffins

 

Interruption, and a song that gets me every time I hear it.

“The shortest definition of religion: interruption.” –Johann Baptist Metz

Strange as it may sound, one of the foremost topics that I explored during this first just-recently-completed semester of doctoral study was the topic of “interruption.” Especially since, for those of you who know me, interruption is something I already do pretty well on my own. (Just ask Amy.)

As a theological/philosophical category, though, “interruption,” or “irruption,” is about our assumptions being challenged—it is the moment where we are confronted with something or some insight that forces us to reassess the way things are. (And I think It’s one of the most interesting categories about which postmodern thought and the Christian faith can be in dialogue.)

And so since many of the church communities that I have been a part of have struggled to contend with cultures of complacency and comfort, it’s really not that strange that “interruption” would be a category of interest for me.

According to theologian J.B. Metz (quote above), interruption is the very purpose of Christian faith—and yet so often faith and religion and religious practices are associated with everything but interruption—i.e., challenge, confrontation, awe, exposure, humility, spirituality.

While I’ve been studying this phenomenon the past few months on an academic level, earlier this week I was reminded of an example from my own life—a song that I first heard about seven years ago.

(Click below to find out, and to get a link to, the song.)

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Posted by on January 6, 2012 in love

 

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On judgment.

It’s time for us to admit it: Being “judgmental” is actually necessary to being a person of faith.

Just be really, really careful (and humble) about it.

Odd timing for a post on judgment, I know, since we just finished Christmas and I’m presently sitting in perhaps the last place on earth that you would consider nasty things like “judgment.” (That place being Hawaii).

Kona coast

But in the peaceful early morning hours here in Waikoloa, listening to Mumford and Sons and sipping my Kona coffee, I came across this article in USA about some comments that Bill Maher made about Tim Tebow following their recent loss to Buffalo.

I’ve shared my opinion of Tebow and Maher to others before—and in case anyone’s curious, I don’t deify or demonize either of them. I know this is a bit like comparing apples to Slip n’ Slides, but  I’ve found Maher to be both hilarious and needlessly-offensive (I’m not necessarily against someone being offensive if it makes a point)— and I’ve found Tebow to be both annoying and refreshingly sincere. If there is a comparison to be made, they are both in many ways poster children (and caricatures) for the two “sides” of the so-called “culture wars.” But none of this is the point I want to make.

My two main concerns are: a) do I have a right to say the things I just said about Tebow and Maher?…. and b) is a Christian called to “not judge”?

The comments of the above-mentioned article feature a man who says that Maher is “evil, vile, and mean spirited” and defends Tebow…then several people proceed to call the man out as a hypocrite (and many proceed to name-call right back). Such scenes have become about as common on the Internet as Youtube videos of laughing babies and tweets about the newest Apple gadget… and I sure most of you reading this are as tired of them as I am…. but I think a point of clarification needs to be made about what “judgment” is and isn’t.

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Posted by on December 28, 2011 in jesus

 

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God wants “Godly things…” God wants YOU.

Here is another excerpt from a sermon—this one is from our most recent Sunday at our church in West Groton, Mass.

In all likelihood, this will be a common trend on this blog for the foreseeable future— to either reflect on readings from my doctoral study, or to post excerpts from recent sermons. So, it will be a combination of me trying to make sense of faith, and of me trying to explain faith to others. Either way, I hope to continue receiving feedback from others in the blogosphere.

This is the middle portion of the sermon, part of a series of sermons teaching on the Kingdom/Reign of God, using the lectionary passages. This Sunday, the passage was Matthew 22:15-22:

(NRSV) 15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?19Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius.20Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ 21They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ 22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

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Posted by on October 18, 2011 in faith, love

 

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But I’m bored already: a call to long-suffering

 

As a church… as a culture…. we are easily seduced by the instantaneous.

Never has that been more true than in the age of Internet, fast food, and airplane travel. Yet the seduction of doing things as quickly as possible has been a part of Western life for over 150 years, since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. The effect has simply snowballed.

Church communities have long since bought into this as well:

* The 19th century saw a rapid spread of Protestant Christianity in the US, which necessitated more “efficient” ways to become a Christian. Tenets of faith were reduced to simple “fundamentals” that everyone could digest, understand without much intense study, and were easily replicable. Theology became the means to substantiate this “Christianity Lite.” Circuit riders and wagons followed Manifest Destiny west.The proliferation only increased in speed with the advent of technologies such as the steam engine and the railroad, followed by the automobile and airplane.

* Pastoral care had to speed up, too. Inspired by the miraculous events in the scriptures, and perhaps by the testimonies of healing, some of these evangelists took up “healing ministries”—which was a convenient way to both continue full-fledged proliferation of the “gospel,” without having to get bogged down in slower, messier activities like relationships or compassion.

* Of course, while many denominations and groups maintained their devotion to compassion and justice, many communities spent less and less time on such things, unless of course doing so posed some direct benefit for their cause to “spread the easy-to-swallow Gospel.” Justice, fighting prejudice, challenging unjust laws, these things take time. The 19th and early 20th centuries still saw some progress, but it was around that time that people advocating for a “social gospel” were being demonized as heretics and Communists…such causes were deemed as ‘getting in the way’ of spreading the real Gospel message.

* All of these incipient trends began to accelerate in the mid/late 20th centuries. Along with it, churches and revivals became places of mass religious consumption, designed for maximum conversion rates. Reactions against liberation movements for women, blacks, and others led many churches’ silence or outright condemnation, which allowed abuse, scandal, and corruption to go unchecked in homes, businesses and in churches themselves. In the face of threatening post-Christian culture, churches catered more and more to the styles and modes and fashions that they hoped would make their Gospel-nuggets palatable again. Missionaries were being slowly replaced by the medium-term, and then the short-term missionary. This allowed more people to have “life-changing experiences,” but cost far more money, less of which actually went to the poor… but it was all good, because the trips gave the participants all the feelings of “investment,” without actually investing. Needs of the community have been farmed out to committees and sub-committees, all to find convenient, cost-effective solutions, advertised as easy, not-too-life-consuming “ways to get involved,” nearly always in the form of a structured church program.

Is it any wonder why people feel lonely in our world? Even at church?

It’s time for the church to think long-term. 

To not do a hundred things at the shallowest of levels, but to do only a few things, and to do them well.

The new benchmark for church success? That people build deep, long-lasting, long-suffering relationships.

With each other. With community projects. With the poor, young, abused.

It’s time to stop judging a ministry on the basis of whether or not it “grows,” or if it leads to “conversions” (but probably not disciples)… but on the basis of the love that is shown, and grown.

It’s time to think in terms of years, not months…. and in DECADES, not years.

It’s time to realize that deep, systemic, deeply rooted-within-societal problems don’t go away with our prayers, if no loving action goes with it. And they don’t go away with our one-time action, or even, oftentimes, our one-year action. It takes deep, systemic, deeply rooted responses to such deep problems… which includes prayer, AND involvement, for the long-haul.

It’s time for churches, as well as the individuals in them, to build relationships. Real, two-way relationships. And to realize that these, unforced and uncajoled, take time to develop.

It’s time for churches seeking pastors, and new church leaders, to see the inevitable “downswing” that happens after new relationships are forged and the “honeymoon phase” is over, as an opportunity to “long-suffer” with another, rather than high-tail it and to look for another community, group, individual, etc. to fawn over, or to let fawn over you.

It’s time to stop patting ourselves on the back for only the things we measure as “success.”

And for the love of God, we must, we must, we MUST stop supplementing our quick-fix, easy-answer, instantaneous-results orientation with a “Gospel Lite.” The “Good News” is not truly good, until it affects every strata of living— physical, emotional, social, spiritual, political, ecclesial. Until it is Good News for those who long-suffer and carry heavy burdens of oppression, guilt, abuse, neglect, poverty, self-worthlessness. Until that Good News becomes Incarnate, en-fleshed, in the very midst of that suffering, and we then “suffer with” (com-passio) the suffering.

Even if it takes a while.

A LONG while.

….

Are we willing to work on behalf of others without immediate or continual payoff?

Are we able to?

Does our theology, our Gospel, give us the resources to do so?

 

“Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen

 http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/4837.Henri_J_M_Nouwen

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2011 in church, jesus, theology

 

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Sermon Excerpt: Learning to Marvel

Here is a (mostly) unedited excerpt from the sermon I preached this past Sunday at West Groton Christian Union Church. I hope you find something here that grabs your attention, and turns your heart Godward, today.

 

(Exodus 16:2-16) This morning’s text is of course the famous story, as you might know, of manna…. which as we already noted, means “What is it?”

So I think it’s kinda funny that when we call this bread “manna,” we have named this bread, the “what is it?” bread! There’s a lot of great lessons about God’s grace to pull out of this story of manna, but I think the fact that it’s named after an expression of CONFUSION is perhaps the most interesting part of the story for me. What is interesting, is that after the people say, “manna?” to Moses, he explains it for them. “It’s bread, you goofs. It’s what you asked for. You see? God listened to you. God hasn’t forgotten about you.” Manna was their God-sign…. and you’d think it’d be a pretty obvious one, wouldn’t you? Yet they still looked at it and were dumbfounded! “What is this stuff?”

The truth is, that’s why we must look for God, because if we’re not looking, if we’re so wrapped up in ourselves, and our own problems, that we forget God, God’s mission, and God’s people, God’s creation…. we can even look at God’s care for us straight on, and still miss it completely.

So when we look for glimpses of God in our midst…. there’s another step we take…. so that what would be confusion, turns into MARVEL. We are AWE-struck. We are TAKEN IN by the beauty, the love, the sense of belonging, the compassion, the justice…. Just like Moses translates the scene for them, so that the Israelites look at this strange stuff on the ground, and stop seeing “stuff…..” they start seeing BREAD. LIFE. HOPE……so must we look for God in our lives, because when we do, it gives the ordinary, the new and challenging, and even the confusing, “stuff,” meaning…. we can find Bread. Life. Hope.

We can look at our stories of the past (where we’ve come), and LEARN, to MARVEL at God’s past care, and the sense that God is taking you somewhere that will really make a difference.

We can see ordinary trees and rivers and LEARN, to MARVEL at the Beauty of God’s creation, and consider His loving craftsmanship for all things, including ourselves…. seeing that as its said, “God doesn’t make junk.” Or we can overcome with the charge we’ve been given to be caretakers of the earth.

We can see love in our relationships, and LEARN, to MARVEL at the power of love to grab us, to change us, to make us better people. To see ourselves as deeply and fully loved, and worthy of love. To share that love with others, freely and selflessly.

We can encounter great music or art, and LEARN to MARVEL at the creativity that God has placed in every human being.

These are all acts of prayer, but of course we can, and should, also sit and pray, perhaps sit in the silence, and instead of praying a rote blessing, or praying “for” things we THINK we need, or saying lots of words, we can just sit… and LEARN to MARVEL at God Himself.

We are indeed “pilgrim people.” We all are on journey with God, not just as individuals, but as a community, together. And that journey goes through ebbs and flows, ups and downs, as all journeys do. But there is one who has “pilgrimed” before us. And in the thick, and thin, moments, we can see Him… sometimes clearly, sometimes as if through a haze, but he’s there. If we seek Him, in the ordinary, the everyday, in the “what is it?” moments, we will be able to see Him in the Big, life-changing moments, too. And if we as a church community, can LEARN TO MARVEL, together, as we step forward into uncharted territory… we will find ourselves to be exactly what we’re called to be… a community of hope. An oasis in a desert. The people of God.

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2011 in sermon

 

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